A Letter to Parents Whose Children Decide Not to Get Married In a Religious Ceremony

Do we trust God to act in all the events in our lives,

or only the ones that meet our approval?

Barbara Brown Taylor

Last weekend I officiated a wedding that the groom’s parents boycotted because he was marrying a woman of a different faith (not the couple pictured above). His father was embarrassed and worried about what his relatives in their country of origin would say.

The groom spoke of his father with love, compassion and understanding.

He was hurt but somehow not angry.  I marveled at his generous spirit.

Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve had one or both sets of parents boycott a wedding because of religion.

And so this post is intended for the mother or father who is thinking of not attending their child’s wedding because they don’t approve of them marrying outside “the” faith.

My intention is not to scold. Rather, I invite you to reflect on my perspective. . .

Over my years of ministry I’ve come to realize certain things that I believe are true about God and religion.

I ask that you forgive me if at any time I sound presumptuous or arrogant. That’s not my intention.

“I’m spiritual, but not religious” is what many engaged couples tell me.

Although they grew up in homes that had some religious affiliation, much like yours, they themselves no longer attend weekly church services.

While many of these couples have drifted away from the church rituals of their upbringing, they still believe in God.

They desire a ceremony that honors the sacredness of what they are doing without it being religious, i.e. denominational.

With many of these couples, their parents, like you, still go to church and, like you, often times are disappointed with the couples’ decision not to have a religious-based wedding.

I believe God is never found in a church building simply because it is a church building.

People bring God to a church building. 

Family and friends, knowingly and unknowingly, bring God with them to the ceremony.

It is their love, joy and wishes that make a ceremony sacred – for God can only be found in the love and joy of God’s people.

I believe that when a couple sends out wedding invitations, they are really saying to family and friends “come celebrate the great good we have found in each other, and bear witness as we give our word to each other.” 

It really is that simple.  And what could be more sacred?

I believe a couple enters into the mystery of life and love when they give their word, their vow, to each other.

In an age when talk is cheap, what could honor God, who is “The Word,” more than for a person to give his or her word to their beloved with an open heart?

I believe the sacredness of a ceremony also comes from recognizing that family and friends are the “collective memory” of the day.

In years to come, when life gets messy, they are to remind the couple of the love they celebrated and bore witness to. And that is a sacred responsibility.

I believe a wedding ceremony, when done right, renews and refreshes everyone present.

When done right, a wedding ceremony reminds us what life is all about – friends, family, love, loyalty.

What could be more sacred than creating that simple, yet profound reminder?

I am saddened – and at times angered – when a couple tells me their mother and/or father have threatened to boycott the wedding because they’re not getting married in a church.

I don’t understand how a parent could inflict such cruelty upon their child, especially when this daughter or son is marrying a good person – a person of integrity.  I can’t understand the harsh words you inflict upon your child.

How often do we say, “God is love”? 

Can any one of us truly comprehend the magnitude of this belief?  I don’t believe any human can – not even the head of a religion.

Do you not believe that God’s graciousness encompasses more than we can imagine?

Where there is love, there is God. 

Every religion holds some understanding of this tenet.

Is not God in the love your child has for their partner? Is it not possible that God’s love extends far beyond any church service?

To believe in God is to believe in an awe-inducing, life affirming mystery. To believe in God is not to believe in magic.

Do you really believe that in the face of love God could be angry?

Why do you claim your anger is a reflection of God’s anger?

Embrace your child, bless your child in and through your hurt, believing all the while, as did all the holy ones of every religion, that in the end. . .

all will be well. . . 


If you’re a parent who’s upset that your daughter or son is not getting married in a religious setting, and you’ve been laying a “guilt trip” on them (hey, let’s call it for what it is), then here are seven questions I invite you to reflect upon.

Let these questions spur a conversation with your son or daughter and their partner.

Talking is way better than guilt-tripping!

  1. Why is it important to you that your son/daughter get married in a religious setting?
  2. Do you understand that your child no longer attends church?
  3. What do you think will be the consequences if your child does not get married in a church?
  4. What do you think God thinks of all this?
  5. Is your child’s “love” for their partner a gift or a curse?
  6. What is your biggest fear regarding your child not having a religious wedding?
  7. If you are worried “they” will judge you or the couple for not having a religious wedding, why are “they” being invited to the wedding?   COURAGE!

How To Deal With the Unspoken Expectations of Family!

When not officiating weddings, I’m a corporate communications coach and trainer (The Business of Confidence). In addition, I teach business and cross-cultural communication courses at UCLA Extension.

Last week my eleven-week course on business communication wrapped-up. Rose (name changed) wasn’t able to make the last class and here’s an excerpt from the email she sent me. . .

And, YES, all of this does have something to do with wedding planning – trust me – read on!

I’m so sorry that I missed last night’s last class. I was in the car on the way there and ended up having a tough conversation with my parents about wedding planning – the source of many of our family’s conversations these days. We ended up talking on the phone for 2 hours and it was such an important, necessary conversation for us to have that I made the tough call to continue on and miss the class. . .The most important thing I’ve gained from the course is the idea of the “family motto”. This is why I skipped the class last night: My family and my fiance’s family have completely different family mottos and it’s been clouding the way that everyone communicates with each other. My family motto is “wear your heart on your sleeve” and his is “keep your cards close to your chest”. Our parents have been having so many misunderstandings and disagreements lately and it’s all a result of them not understanding where the other ones are coming from. My parents are transparent and want everyone to share their feelings during our meetings and discussions and his parents just don’t operate that way. This has resulted in my fiance and I putting ourselves in the middle, which has turned into a giant game of telephone, which we ended last night. After asking our parents to talk directly to each other, we had conversations with each set of parents and it became clear that our mottos are in conflict. And it was because of what I learned in your class that I feel that I was able to take control of the conversation and get everyone to realize that we’re all operating towards the same goal but we’re getting there different ways. Our best course is to understand that about each other and accept each other for who we are.Thank you for giving me the tools and confidence to do so.

So what is this “family motto” thing that Rose referred to?  Well, let me tell you a. . .

true story

When Paulann and Darius (names changed) hired me they’d not yet chosen a venue. He had a large family and wanted a place where they could invite everyone “plus one.” She had a small immediate and extended family and didn’t care where they got married.

As the weeks passed, they still hadn’t found the right place and were bickering to a degree that surprised each of them. She nixed every venue he liked and he began to wonder if she even wanted to get married.

When we got together it was clear that they were working from different visions of their day, guided by what I call family mottos.

Our family’s beliefs and rituals are like the air we breathe.

Every family lives life guided by a motto, a mantra. Sometimes it is spoken aloud; other times it is implicitly understood. But no matter, this motto guides a family as it navigates through life.

When I was growing up, my family’s motto was – “trust no one”.

My father was a cop. His job demanded that he be leery of all. And as is often the case, his work flowed into his home.

I breathed in that mantra without thought or doubt. Later in life I had to work hard to overcome its limitations and to trust people.

When growing up, Darius’ home was where all the neighborhood kids wanted to hang out. His mother loved to cook. His family made a good fuss over holidays and birthdays. “The more the merrier!” was their motto.

Paulann’s family was close-knit and very private. Few of her friends were ever invited for dinner. Holidays and birthdays were celebrated in a low-key way. By ten o’clock the dishes were done and everyone was heading to bed. “Proper and Private” were the guiding words in her family’s life.

Darius saw their wedding as the celebration of all celebrations. Paulann didn’t want to share her day with so many people.

What to do?


They had to talk openly and trustingly. They had to have some hard conversations, revealing feelings that surprised each of them.

Once they were able to see things from each other’s perspective, they were able to go about making honest decisions that honored them both.

They were able to begin to create a new family motto—one that was their very own.

Sanity Saver Questions:

  • How were you taught to see life? What is your family’s motto regarding life?
  • How was your fiancé taught to see life? What is your fiancé’s family’s motto?
  • How do those assumptions about life influence you in your life together? As you plan your wedding?

Without understanding your family’s and your partner’s family’s assumptions about how life is lived, you will be setting yourself up in subtle ways for the stress of misunderstanding.


The challenge, the responsibility and the excitement of creating a life together involves embracing a new motto of life.

If your family’s motto limits you and your partner, then respectfully work around it or put it to the side.

Choose a new motto – the motto that will guide you and your partner.

Is Your Mom a “Momzilla” ??!

photo: marianne wilson


In this world without pity, when all the answers, they don’t amount to much,

you just want someone to hold onto,

you need a little of the human touch.

Bruce Springsteen



Sandy Malone, a guest blogger on the Huffington Post Wedding Section, wrote about how not to let a “momzilla” ruin your wedding day.


It’s a good posting. However, the comments of some of the brides fascinated me as many suggested you not fight your mom and let her have her way!


Well, although I’m not a bride, that kind of advice makes me feel queasy.


If you let your mother trample on your vision for your wedding will she be satisfied and let you and your husband (wife) live in peace?


I don’t think so.


I think she eventually will go on to tell you how to cook, keep house, and be a wife (or husband). And, then, when you have kids, I have no doubt she’ll weigh in on your parenting techniques.


Here are some questions I think you and your partner need to talk about at the outset of your wedding planning. 


These are issues you need to consciously talk about and not take for granted.


The more clear you are in your answers, the better you’ll be in containing your mother (or father) in their efforts to hijack your day (and your married life):


  1. How do you deal with your parents? Revert to childhood? Become passive-aggressive? Argue heatedly?

  2. How do you express to them what you desire for the wedding?

  3. Are you able to explain why you want what you want?

  4. Is your wedding family-focused or-friend-focused? What are the implications for this?

  5. Have you asked family for specific help in any areas?

  6. What do you think are your parents’ obligations to you regarding the paying and planning of the wedding?

  7. How do you show your family thanks throughout the planning process?

  8. What are you willing/prepared to do if your parents do not go along with your ideas/wishes?


Your wedding celebrates YOUR life together – and sometimes a parent’s love actually can lose sight of that great reality.

You keep each other safe and sane by learning how to establish healthy boundaries!



If you want more tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond –

check out my book,

How To Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!








Sometimes It All Comes Down to Asparagus!


Make yourself necessary to someone.



After a menu tasting, Donna called me as she was feeling utterly dumbfounded. She needed a reality check.


Donna and her fiancé, Tony, selected asparagus as their main course vegetable. Donna’s mother, who went to the tasting, suddenly snapped, “No one likes asparagus; what are you thinking?” 


Tony pointed out that many people like asparagus. Donna’s mother would not hear of it.


To appease her mother, Donna and Tony decided on eggplant. The mother was happy.




Yes, BUT, sometimes it all comes down to asparagus!


Donna decided to have a heart-to-heart with her mother and soon learned her mother was feeling left out of the planning.


She herself never had a wedding reception. She wasn’t necessarily a “Mom-zilla.” She just wanted to feel needed and her Donna had never asked for her help in any aspect of the planning.


The only way this mother knew how to get attention was to pick a fight over asparagus!


Why hadn’t Donna asked her mother for advice and help?


While she loved her mother she always struggled with her mother’s overly enthusiastic ways that slipped into being overbearing.


She was afraid that if she asked for help, her mother would overwhelm her.


After the asparagus incident Donna made it a point to get her mother’s input on more of the non-essential decisions.


Her mother was happy – and so was Donna.


As this story shows, it’s good and important to keep others’ feelings and wishes in mind.


However, it’s not in your best interest as a couple to be guided by the mantra, we don’t want to hurt anyone. 


Especially in those decisions that are most essential to you!



If you want more tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond –

check out my book,

How To Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!



Fairy Tales – and Your Vows!

photo: clanegessel.com


The love we were promised in fairy tales was never something for us to find.

It has always been something for us to create.

Tyler Kent White



My brother Peter and his wife, Beth, have been married for twenty-five+ years – and they are twenty-five+ years that they’re grateful for!


Last week I was talking with Peter and out-of-the-blue he remarked, “I can’t believe how many people I know are getting divorced.” Sadly, I was surprised that he’s surprised.


His shock, though got me thinking about weddings (something I do a lot of). Almost every weekend I officiate a wedding and every weekend I encounter people who are dressed to impress and ready to party – selfie-taking people who are palpably excited for “their” couple.


In light of Peter’s comment, I’ve been wondering – what is it that people are celebrating?


Are they celebrating the “forever” or is it the generosity, the courage and the hope of the couple?


Each week I stand before a couple and bear witness to their vows and as they pledge some version of “for better or for worse” I wonder if they understand what they’re actually saying.


I think most couples don’t understand. How could they?


We can only understand the future by living it.

Couples often ask me for advice on how to write their vows.


In order to write your vows, I think you need to reflect on these four questions.


You don’t need to say aloud in your vows the answers to these questions BUT your answers will inform what you write:

  • What would be the hardest thing that would pull the two of you apart?

  • What would be the ultimate joy you could experience as a couple?

  • What is your greatest fear for the two of you?

  • What is your greatest hope for the two of you?


The playwright Thornton Wilder, in his play The Skin Of Our Teeth, has one of the characters make this observation:


I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them–it was that promise.


And so I come back to that earlier question – what is it that we’re celebrating at a wedding?


I think it’s that “promise” – the rough and tumble rawness of that promise a couple makes to each other.


But maybe what is just as important is for each person to also take a promise to her or his own self because if you don’t make a promise to yourself, how can you make a promise to another? 


Here’s what I hope you promise your self. . .that you will ~

  • Let no one treat you as ordinary

  • Let your home be the gateway to the world and not a hiding place

  • Feel – and not let your feelings make you a victim

  • Learn to make bold mistakes AND

  • Tame your regrets over those mistakes so that they do not overshadow the gifts of the choices you made


The poet Emily Dickinson maintained,

“That Love is all there is, is all we know of Love.”

Trusting in that truth, may the world be a better place because you loved each other!


Are You Comfortable Receiving LOVE?


I’m constantly copying snippets from newspaper articles, blogs and books that speak to weddings, commitment, marriage and love.

Here’s a snippet from an article by Pulitzer Prize winning Sarah Kaufman ­– the article is about ballet and has really nothing to do with weddings – BUT I love the last sentence and invite you to savor it. . .

One night, former ABT principal Susan Jaffe and her dance partner Jose Manuel Carreno left the theater to find a table in the walkway set with chocolate cake and punch, while a crowd of fans in paper hats sang “Happy Birthday.” (The dancers’ birthdays fall in the same month.) Admirers also have given Jaffe paintings, letters and, once, a mink coat.

The gifts were astonishing, Jaffe said, and simply being greeted with appreciation after performances always moved her. But at the final performance of her 22-year career, she made a concerted effort “to open up to the audience,” and this, she said, is when she arrived at a different understanding of those who sought only to give.

Taking bows that night, being showered with applause (and flowers), “was almost a spiritual moment,” she said. “In my whole career, I was so busy worrying about my balances and my performance that I forgot about receiving. I didn’t spend enough time appreciating being the receiver of love.”


Washington Post

By Sarah L. Kaufman

January 24, 2019

Two questions for YOU as you plan for your wedding ~

  • Do you allow yourself to appreciate being the receiver of your partner’s love?
  • Do you and your partner allow yourselves to be the receivers of the love offered you by family and friends?


If you want tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond –

check out my book,

How To Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!






Being Silly – While Being in LOVE!


It is a curious thought,

but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous

that you realize just how much you love them.

 Agatha Christie



A few weeks ago I officiated a wedding at the Terrranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.  It’s an expansive venue about forty minutes from LAX. Since I’d arrived early for the wedding, I found a table on the patio outside the lobby where I could check-up on email and messages.


A few chairs away from me sat a couple (early thirties) playing cards. Coronas were on the table and I spotted wedding rings on each of them. They were laughing and being silly, looking like a couple of kids having fun on a Fall afternoon.


At one point, the guy’s phone rang. He glanced at it but then ignored it, took a swig of beer and went back to the cards. The woman said something, swatted him on the arm and he cracked up.


What most struck me was just how relaxed they looked – how affectionately “at one” they were in their relaxation.


They were lost in their own world and seemed beyond delighted to be there!


Rose Franken, a popular writer from the mid-last century, once observed that,

“Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly.” 


What about you and your partner – are you silly with each other?!


Especially now as you plan your wedding?!

Every Day Can Be an April Fool’s Day!

photo: callawaygable.com


Okay, so this post is not exactly related to weddings BUT it’s April Fool’s Day and this is the best I can come up with. . .Enjoy!


I recently met with Brad and Nikki (names changed) who are getting married later this year. Their story begins in the most ordinary of ways – they met in high school and quickly became sweethearts. After graduation they each went to a different college and though they tried to keep the relationship intact, distance and time broke them up.


The years passed and they lost touch with each other. They each went on to marry and eventually divorce. And here is where life gets incredible. One day two years ago, Brad was driving in Santa Monica. He slammed on the brakes for a red light. He happened to look to his right and glanced on the back of a woman entering a Staples.  He thought couldn’t shake the feeling she was Nikki. He parked the car and went racing through Staples. And, yes, it was Nikki! They hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in over ten years. Soon, though, they were back where they had left off and today are planning their wedding.


I was moved by their story – what if the light had not turned red? What if Brad had not looked to the right? What if Nikki had gone to Office Depot and not Staples?! All the what ifs. . .


Two weeks ago I finished teaching a course at UCLA.  Every Tuesday night for eleven weeks I’d stand in the hallway outside my classroom before class started. Anyone who wanted could confer with me. And every Tuesday night a young man would walk by me on his way to another class. I noticed him because he always wore a suit and carried a large backpack that appeared to be heavily crammed with who knows what. I always wondered what could be in that large backpack.


Last week I was in the B of A building downtown on my way to meet with a client.  Ahead of me on the elevator was a guy with a large backpack that made me think of the UCLA guy. When he turned around, I was stunned to see that it was the same guy!


I kept walking by because hey, what was I going to say? But again. . .how odd. . .what are the chances of that happening? And, yes, I later bought a lottery ticket since I was feeling “lucky.” And, no, I didn’t even win a buck!


In the Huffington Post, an item ran about New Jersey couple Jourdan and Ryan Spencer who met on a blind date in 2004 – BUT they actually crossed paths more than a decade before.


Jourdan’s parents have video of her when she was ten at the Sesame Place amusement park in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. At one point in the video, Ryan, then thirteen years old and an utter stranger, walks into the frame. He was there with his family!


So, what does all of this have to do with weddings? 


photo: jophotoonline.com


Hmm. . .I’m actually not sure. . .


what better time than April Fool’s Day to reflect on just how weird life can get?!


And in a way, isn’t that part of what your vows are all about – that together you’ll revel in all of life’s weirdness together?!


Shakespeare said,

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”




But it’s poet Mary Oliver who wrote,

“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”


Somehow, that’s worthy advice for an April Fool’s Day!

Thank You! California Wedding Day Magazine!


I’m honored and grateful

To be nominated in the category of




Los Angeles




Orange County




Santa Barbara County

A Wedding Dream Nightmare


When I had my website revamped I lost my old blog site. This is a post from a couple of years ago. . .I’m reposting it as I think it’s a story that still needs hearing. . .



Last month at a networking event I met Courtney, an events manager at a major downtown LA venue.  During our conversation, Courtney shared with me the extraordinary and near tragic story of her wedding.


Hers is a cautionary tale and I suspect that it’s a story too many brides can relate to.


I’m grateful to Courtney for letting me post her story and I admire both her courage and the courage of her husband. . .


A Wedding Dream Nightmare

Courtney Kanner Fishman


I got married on August 18, 2013. A couple of months leading up to our big day, I became obsessed with being a “skinny” bride. I tried the best I could by working out six times a week and keeping to a healthy diet but I couldn’t lose any weight. Although I’ve been thin most of my life, I wasn’t going to settle for being 143 pounds and unable to fit into my Size 2 wedding dress.  Then I hit on the seemingly perfect solution. Since I suffer from migraines, I pleaded with my doctor to prescribe a migraine medicine that also has a side effect – weight loss.


As I swallowed the first 25 mg pill, I remember feeling excited that my world was about to change.  It did, but not for the better.


The first signs of trouble started when I began to feel numbness in my feet and hands. I could no longer taste the carbonation in sodas and experienced hallucinations at a dinner with some friends. Since all I cared about was the weight loss, I ignored these side effects because I had lost ten pounds in just one month.


In the second month, the side effects mounted. I had difficulty speaking and was constantly repeating myself and unable to finish sentences.

As horrible as these side effects were, I deluded myself into feeling that this was an acceptable price to pay. In fact, I had my doctor up my dosage to 200 mg because I still had another eight pounds to lose.  I was determined to make my fantasy a reality.


By my wedding day I had reached 128 pounds!


Although I had hit my goal weight and looked beautiful, on the inside I was a mess. I was irritable and forced to hide my inner turmoil with a smile.  During the ceremony, I stared into the eyes of my husband and felt like a hollow shell. My body was foreign to me. I had to maintain this charade for hours and barely kept it together. Only those who’ve known me for years could see the distance in my eyes and sense that something wasn’t right.


Later, what should have been a night filled with passionate romance turned into a marathon of hysterical crying. My husband and I didn’t know what to do. We thought it was the result of the “routine” stress that some brides go through. What we didn’t know was that this breakdown was just the beginning.


A few days later we embarked on an eleven-day honeymoon that began in Lake Como, Italy and was supposed to finish in the Greek Islands.


We never made it to Greece.


I became so depressed and disassociated from myself that I couldn’t even recognize my husband. I was hallucinating, barraged with scary thoughts of self destruction. I told my husband that I wanted to jump off a cliff and was consumed with suicidal ideations. We flew home immediately but my nightmare only escalated.


At one point I was rushed to the hospital because I didn’t even know who I was. I was convinced that either I had had a stroke or was suffering from dementia. I said such hurtful things to my husband that we were on the verge of separating.


It wasn’t until a friend asked, “Do you think the medicine you were taking for your migraines/weight loss is causing all of this?” that I realized there could be another explanation for why this was happening to me.


I was shocked to discover all the horrible side effects that the drug I had taken could cause. I was angry with myself and I resented my doctor who could have prevented this from happening. But my anger was also mixed with relief – maybe there was hope.


I insisted that my doctor take me off this “poison.” However, I couldn’t go “cold turkey” because of the risk of an epileptic seizure; I had to slowly taper off the drug. I will never forget the day after I swallowed the last pill. It really was like flicking on a light switch in my mind – I was back!  Finally, once again, I was calm, happy and remembered all of the feelings I had for my husband, family and friends. Now my tears were tears of joy.


The medication ruined a good part of my wedding day, destroyed my honeymoon and almost led me to divorce in the first month of my marriage. Even scarier, it almost took my life.


I’m sharing my story because I want to urge you not to fall for society’s obsession with weight loss. Be kind to yourself. Never take a medication without knowing its potential side effects. I wish I first had done my research as I later discovered that hundreds of thousands of people who have taken this medication have experienced similar, if not worse, side effects.


I wish I had been content being a little over the weight I had deemed acceptable for my wedding day. I’m ashamed for what I put my mind and my body, my husband, friends and family through.  And for what? Some nice pictures where I look thin?


Photographs will fade but don’t let your love for “you” fade. I wish I had valued myself enough to accept me for who I am.


Please don’t make the same mistake I did. In the end, the risks just aren’t worth it.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Courtney Kanner Fishman has been in the wedding industry for the last ten+ years.

She began her career as a wedding planner and now is an events manager.