We enter marriage offering the best of who we are: our deepest feelings, our best intentions, our greatest hopes, full of generosity and affection for our partner.
But we fall in love and decide to live the rest of our loves together without realizing that loving each other and living our life together are different.
When Philip and Cora first met with me they were five months away from their wedding. In their late twenties, they’d been together since college.
Philip was quiet and had no opinions about the ceremony.
At one point, Cora suddenly turned on him and in a hurt tone asked, “Why don’t you care? Why don’t you ever have an opinion on anything about our wedding?”
The poor guy looked equally hurt, “This is your big day; whatever makes you happy is fine with me,” he pleaded.
I gently pointed out that this was their big day.
And then Philip said something that took both Cora and me by surprise. He explained, “When we got engaged my mother told me that this is your day and that I should go along with whatever you want and that I should stay out of the planning and not get in the way.”
Well, a whole new conversation opened up and by the end of it all they were a couple determined to go on and plan their big day together.
Now, several things were going on here. Philip was too dutiful a son and paid too much attention to his mother! They also were a couple that hadn’t learned how to openly talk about what they each needed and wanted, what they were thinking and feeling.
There’s more, though.
Cora thought Philip wasn’t interested in their wedding because he had no opinion in the planning. She convinced herself he didn’t care and when she was convinced he didn’t care, she became upset.
And when she didn’t express her feelings to him, she bottled them up inside.
And when she bottled them up inside, they eventually spewed forth in an angry, accusatory outburst.
While planning your wedding you can become so focused on some details that it’s easy to lose sight of so much else.
It’s also possible that during the stress of it all, you’ll not understand what your partner is doing and saying, let alone why. The opportunity for misunderstanding abounds.
When you’re confused, annoyed, or surprised by something your partner is doing – or not doing – don’t jump to conclusions, especially if those conclusions are negative in any way.
Instead, I encourage you to do some Perception Checking.
Here’s how it works – in three steps:
- Identify what aspects of your partner’s behavior is confusing or troubling you. Don’t accuse – just objectively describe what it is.
- Think of two possible explanations for the behavior.
- Ask your partner to clarify what really is going on.
Your partner has flaked on the past two appointments you’ve had with vendors. You’ve lost patience and are annoyed. Rather than lashing out, here’s a script you might try: We’ve missed our last two meetings with the photographer. I know you say it’s because of work, but I’m wondering if something else is going on. I don’t want to do all the planning by myself. I’m starting to feel resentful and I don’t want to. How can we make sure that neither of us drops the ball with all these meetings?
I know all this seems stilted and awkward. That’s because it is!
The above script, though, has four solid advantages (provided you’re not yelling or speaking in a talk-down tone of voice).
Advantages of Perception Checking
First, you’re not accusing your partner of anything. You’re sticking with the facts, i.e. three missed meetings.
Second, you’re letting your partner know how you feel about them missing those meetings. You’re not keeping things bottled-up so you won’t explode. Also, this saves your partner from learning how to become a mind reader.
Third, you’re letting your partner know what you need and since you’re talking to the person you’re going to marry, I think they’d want to know what you need.
Fourth, when you say, “how can we?”, you make it a challenge that you both, together, need to find a solution for.
All four of these advantages help increase the chances your partner will be willing to consider the issue from your point-of-view and so be willing to find a solution with you.
Your instinct might be to accuse your partner with something like this: I’m tired of you not going to the meetings we have. You’re always using work as an excuse. Do you even care how this wedding is going to turn out?
What’s going to happen from this “natural” response? Things will just spiral out of hand, your resentment and theirs will mount. Neither of you win.
Whenever you accuse someone with the words you never, you always you, you, you, it throws the person up against a wall and the only thing they can do is defend themselves, as opposed to explain themselves.
Perception Checking Helps In 3 Ways
It helps you to separate intent from impact.
It helps your partner realize that their actions are having an unintended impact.
It helps you understand if your impressions, your perceptions, are accurate.
Just because you feel slighted, ignored, or even hurt, it doesn’t mean that was your partner’s intent. In fact, it most likely wasn’t that at all.
How often have you said or done something with no harm intended and your partner felt hurt and confused?
We all do it, so remind yourself that before you assume the worst of your partner.
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!
Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.
Click HERE for details!