An Unusual Wedding Present: Education!

“I consider myself to be one of the most unique and valuable wedding presents a couple can get—or give themselves!” says Anne Ziff, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Westport CT and New York City.  “And where did I get this idea from?” she continues.

“It began several years ago when a couple was referred to my practice by a physician, about two months before their wedding, when the stresses just felt like they were too much to handle, and ‘they came to talk with me instead of eloping’.”  We learned quickly that these two young, professional people, very much in love, had entirely different styles for solving problems.  They also, as we almost all do, came from two entirely different family cultures.  And, in addition, one was male and one female, and so there were additional gender-related expectations, many of which were not being identified, expressed, or met.

The first thing I attempted to teach them, after identifying the problems and issues that had brought them to my office, was that we were not looking for “who’s right and who’s wrong”.  Rather, our goal was “How do we move forward?” This bride and groom clearly wanted to marry, and their doubts weren’t about that, but about everyone’s perspective on what was the “right” thing to do.  This ranged from how dressed up to be for the rehearsal dinner, to was it necessary for ‘her side’ to make toasts if they didn’t want to but ‘his side’ indeed wanted to??  And did guests have to stay around for a brunch reception the day after the wedding?  (Her mother thought it was absolutely necessary;  his family thought they should just take off and not even stop by to say goodbyes.)  And there were also practical issues which they’d left til the last minute inadvertently, including where to buy the wedding rings they’d finally agreed on…..

This bride and groom were perplexed about the new family unit they were preparing to form, even before it existed in the eyes of the law with the blessings of clergy.  They so much wanted everyone in their families to be happy;  their own pleasures were getting lost in the busy-ness of the preparations.  They were in danger of losing sight of what they were really embarking upon, and why and how it is a sacred journey.

We worked together on a “crisis” basis, meeting twice a week until the wedding.  In the safety and privacy of my office, they explored what mattered most to them:  starting a new life together called Marriage.

and Baby Makes Three©

Four months after our last session and their wedding, I was surprised to get a phone call from this couple, asking to see me again.  They had begun to talk about having a baby, and wondered what the “best” timing would be to expand their new family.

We met for several months this time, once a week, during which they explored their fantasies, fears, and hopes about having children.  Simultaneously, they were enjoying the freedoms of being a young married couple without a great many responsibilities.

During their second year of marriage, the pregnancy began.  And we met periodically throughout it, exploring their changing perspectives on their relationship, careers, and roles.   About a month after their son’s birth, they brought him to my office, and we worked for just a few more sessions, observing  changes in the needs and dynamics of their new, expanded family.  (For instance, “a good night’s sleep” had taken on new meaning— four uninterrupted hours of sleep in a row, any time of day or night!)

We explored the importance of the mother/infant bond and its effect on the bond between the parents.  Each parent talked about their disappointments, surprises, thrills and delights, and deprivations, loneliness, and joy.   We worked together as they moved through various post-partum anxieties and experiences, including a depression that the new Mom experienced and was truly unnerved by.

They learned together how to parent effectively and with love.  Together, they were consciously establishing habits within their new family, expressing themselves with an expectation of being listened to and responded to with loving-kindness although not always with agreement.  They learned to maintain feelings and acts of love in their couple as well as towards their baby.

As their education brought real stability to their marriage, our work together came to its conclusion.  And as they were leaving my office, they laughed and said, “We’ve been debating telling you this, so please don’t take offense.  We think of you as our favorite wedding present, even though you’ve also been the most expensive one!”