Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
Dear Stacy: First the good news: we got engaged! Now the bad news: both sets of parents are already starting their own campaigns to control the wedding ceremony.
We’re a mixed faith couple and both sides have certain things they absolutely will and will not allow in the service. My parents are being very passive aggressive about the whole thing. Phone calls include many “suggestions” and not-so-subtle remarks about her parents’ wishes. Her side, on the other hand, is holding us hostage about the venue – it’s their way or nothing at all. It’s only been a few weeks and I’m already fantasizing about ambushing my fiancée after work and just eloping.
It’s a complicated situation because my future wife’s still a grad student, so we are definitely relying on our parents to help fund the event. How do you keep everyone happy when so many different interests are involved?
-Imagining Eloping in Georgetown
Dear Imagining: First the quick answer to how you keep everyone happy: You can’t (come on, you already knew that, right?).
Now the longer answer: I agree, this is complicated. A wedding is “supposed” to be a wonderful, family-focused celebration of two people coming together. It’s “supposed” to be about asking your community to support that union. But most of all, it’s “supposed” to be about you and Future Wife, not about one side shoving its traditions down the aisle. Unfortunately, when it comes to religious faith (and the U.S. Congress), compromise can be a dirty word. That’s when you and Future Wife must get honest about what you really want.
You make no mention of your own hopes for what a mixed faith ceremony (and marriage) might look like for the two of you. Let’s figure that out before trying to get the parents on board. Once you’re clear, sit down with both sets and be honest about what you have already decided. See how I did that? “What you have already decided,” because it’s your wedding. Minimize the lectures on how petty they’re all being, but if you must, let them know that your wedding (and marriage, because that’s where this is heading) is not the place for either faith’s charismatic tent revival.
If they don’t buy it, then don’t let them buy your silence by funding the wedding of their tone-deaf dreams. While elopement is a fine choice, you can always have a small civil ceremony for yourselves and plan a nonreligious reception with both families involved.
Dear Stacy: Should I get therapy?
-Frustrated and Anxious
Dear Frustrated and Anxious: While that’s not a lot to go on, I actually do get this question all the time. And your signature does give us some clues.
I usually describe frustration as a surface emotion, most often covering up deeper feelings of fear, loneliness, helplessness, etc. In small doses, anxiety actually is a motivator that helps identify what is most important to us and helps us focus. When it overtakes our thoughts – keeping us up late at night, resulting in physical symptoms – then anxiety stops being functional and can serve as the body’s alarm system, alerting us that there is something unresolved that needs our attention. If any of this resonates with your situation, then I’d agree that therapy could be a good place to get clear about your emotions and learn some relief strategies.
Now please indulge me with the chance to make up a story about your decision to ask such a succinct-yet-loaded question. I wonder if you might want to hand over the authority on your situation to someone else? Maybe you’re so exhausted by the events that got you “Frustrated and Anxious” in the first place, that you’d like to put someone else in charge for a while? That makes total sense, but before you make an appointment, here are a few ideas about what you should not expect from therapy.
Please don’t go to therapy if: …you expect the therapist to read your mind. …you expect the therapist to tell you what to do. …you expect your treatment to take a certain amount of time and have a specific outcome. …you expect the therapist to make you feel better.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best therapists help us understand the deeper motivations in our own behavior; they don’t impose their own agendas on our lives because, frankly, that never works. Think about it, did it work when you were a teenager? When you came across your first tyrannical coworker? When your spouse tried it? No. And paying someone by the hour to put you back in that situation is a recipe for resentment, anger, and feeling even more misunderstood.
Good therapy is about helping someone put words to the cognitions that may have never been named aloud. It is about describing our thought processes, holding those up against our goals, and then deciding if one matches the other. This is an internal restructuring that takes some heavy lifting on the part of the client. Yes, the therapist is there to walk you through it, but not to pass judgment on where you’ve been and decree what you should do next. If you are curious about how your past informs your present, and want to feel better in the end, then therapy can be one way to get there.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. We really do want your questions! Send them confidentially to firstname.lastname@example.org.