Here Comes The Wedding Therapist
For $175 a pop, you won't have to shoulder your future mother-in-law's meddling alone.
In the depths of the early pandemic days, somewhere between my second and third postponed wedding date, I could feel myself slowly start to unravel. Amid the stress of securing more than a hundred people’s availability for several hypothetical raincheck days, re-negotiating vendor contracts whose schedules had been thrown into free fall, and living under the fear that new public health developments would derail my efforts to finally marry my partner of seven years altogether, it’s fair to say I cracked. I was snippy with my friends and family who tried to help, discouraged this would all be for nothing, and felt the joy of the experience had been sapped from the wedding planning process. The stakes may seem low to some, but the grief was real to me.
For moments like these, there’s wedding planning therapy — counseling specifically for the unique stressors that weddings bring.
Farzana Rahman, a licensed mental health counselor in New York state who works for the wedding therapy practice AisleTalk, is quick to point out that this goes beyond calming anxious brides. “There’s perhaps a misconception about wedding therapy that it’s not serious or needed work, but I want people to open their minds a little bit and think about it not only as therapy while you plan your wedding but also therapy to help you prepare for your marriage and other realms of life,” she tells Bustle.
Rahman’s background is in attachment-based work and family trauma. In her sessions, which cost $175 for 45 minutes, she navigates issues like the fusion of cultures, depression and anxiety, and family conflict to help clients have a smoother wedding planning experience. But “smoother” doesn’t always mean “drama-free.”
Here, in her own words, Rahman explains the stages of wedding planning therapy most clients will go through and how she supports her brides, and grooms, and on rare occasions family and members of the bridal party, at each turning point.
That First Connection
Clients might first reach out just days or months after they get engaged, or later, in the weeks leading up to the wedding. Based on that, we can determine what the focus of the sessions might be. So for example, if someone is reaching out a year before their wedding, we have a lot of time to take a deeper look into every concern, like family dynamics, childhood experiences, and stress between the couple. Someone who’s reaching out a few weeks before their wedding may have their sessions look different. It may not be a deeper dive into stressors, but it might mean a lot of organizing, decision-making, and planning logistics.
We start with a phone consultation that lasts about 15 minutes where we talk about what’s stressing them out, what they need support with, fees, and our availability. In the first session, we go through an intake form and identify wedding-related areas of concern, like body image, finances and budgeting, time management, and more, to help identify which things resonate and shape our longer-term goals. Even the initial consultation can be emotional and cathartic; I’ve often had clients burst into tears on the phone. I think a lot of that comes from not having the space to share these things with anyone in their life and not realizing how much has built up over the last few months.
After a few sessions, we can start doing some of that deeper work. That might include premarital counseling for couples, which takes about three months to complete and includes conflict resolution, communication exercises, marriage expectations, and more. For someone seeking therapy by themself, we’ll dig deeper on the goals we outlined in the first session. So if someone’s goal is exploring body image concerns to get to a place of acceptance, I’d ask, “What are you worried about leading up to your wedding day? What messages are you getting about your body? How and when did this start?”
Sometimes, a seemingly innocuous topic can lead to a more profound discussion, too. I’m currently working with a groom who identifies as Indian American and his fiancée identifies as white American. He’s navigating how to include multiple parts of his identity into his wedding, and it’s complicated by the fact that his parents are more religious than he is. What started as a conversation about whether guests should sit in chairs or on the floor at the ceremony, however, turned into a discussion that revealed he was uncomfortable because he had past experiences of being bullied and discriminated against for being a Sikh kid. He shared that he was worried about inviting his white American friends to the ceremony and would just rather have them come to the reception. The session really helped him process the emotional pain he felt growing up and what his underlying worries were. He was so ready to exclude his friends, and it was an important reminder that they are not the people who hurt him when he was growing up. While he still isn’t sure how he’ll handle the ceremony, he’s uncovered something crucial about himself that he can now be more aware of.
Another client I once worked with got a proposal to be a bridesmaid for a friend and didn’t think she deserved to be a bridesmaid because they hadn’t spoken in a year. She wanted to resolve some of those feelings before attending the actual wedding. We worked on discovering where this self-perception was coming from and to reframe the imposter syndrome with questions like “Is it possible that you are actually really valuable and significant to this friend, and that’s why she thought to include you, even if you haven’t talked to her in the past year?” The worries ended up dissipating and she did attend and enjoy the wedding.
Sometimes, clients have concerns about events leading up to the wedding. I had a client who had a lot of anxiety about her bachelorette party coming up. She was worried about a particular friend of hers who (in my client’s words) had a meltdown when my bride asked her to be a bridesmaid. The friend fully thought that she was going to be maid of honor. This was a friend that the bride knew for maybe two years, and her maid of honor was someone she knew for 20 years. For her, it wasn’t a hard decision. My client was wondering “How is my friend going to behave around some of my other friends during the bachelorette weekend? Is she going to have another meltdown? Is she going to confront me about something or get mad at me?” In sessions, we worked to determine: one, what her expectations of the weekend were, and two, how she could utilize her other support networks if something were to happen. Ultimately, the weekend went off without any major confrontations.
Typically, I offer one to two sessions after the wedding. It gives clients a space to process afterward, be it joy or disappointment. I have a client who stayed with me past wedding planning because there was a conflict that occurred during her ceremony between her mother and mother-in-law. The pair got into a heated, distracting argument over who put in more work regarding the wedding, with each questioning why the other didn’t show up more. The bride wanted her family to be happy so badly, and she felt they ruined the day. She said, “Now all I can think about is my mom’s face during that argument. I can’t even bear to look at the photos from that day.” Following the argument, she made the decision to delay her reception, which was initially meant to take place a few weeks following the ceremony.
A lot of the work we did with my bride after was grieving that this is not the kind of ceremony she expected. Once she felt a bit better, she was able to speak with her mom, partner, and mother-in-law to better understand their side of things. Now that planning has picked up again several months later, she’s working on how to prepare for family members’ heightened emotions, to set expectations from the beginning, and to hold boundaries. Hopefully, this could be a corrective experience for her.
No matter what a client’s goal is, my hope is always to make that experience meaningful and empowering, so they’re going into their wedding day and marriage feeling happier and healthier.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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