When an Ontario bride mocked two of her guests for their choice of wedding gift recently, the incident got worldwide attention and sparked a national discussion about wedding etiquette.
But a relationship expert says the spat reflects deeper, more troubling trends emerging in modern-day weddings and marriage.
“I don’t see it as an etiquette issue,” says author and relationship expert Debra Macleod. Rather, the public feud between the bride and her guests reflects a narcissistic attitude that pervades modern weddings and damages marriages, she says.
The now-infamous incident made headlines a few weeks ago after a Hamilton, Ont., bride chastised two wedding guests for bringing a basket of snack foods and treats as a gift, then asked them for a receipt, saying she and her partner “lost out on $200” to pay for the guests’ reception dinner. She suggested they should have given cash instead.
The shocked guests took the insult to the media, which escalated into a Facebook war and heated national debate.
Macleod, who runs Calgary-based counselling firm Marriage SOS, says she sees these types of conflicts emerge when one or both partners are so focused on themselves, especially during wedding preparations, that they become incapable of empathy or humility—a trait that spells trouble for the marriage down the road.
“What I see missing with a lot of weddings, with a lot of marriages, is humility. People tend to put themselves on a pedestal—this idea that ‘it’s all about me,’” she says.
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”When something happens they interpret how it impacts themselves but have completely lost the ability to empathize with somebody else, or to see it from their point of view.”
In the example of the Hamilton bride, adds Macleod, if she would have first considered the possibility that her guests gave what they could afford, went to the effort and expense to attend the wedding, and appreciated the thoughtfulness of the personalized gift, she would have been able to see the issue in a completely different light.
The ability to consider others first helps avoid misunderstandings, encourages pro-social behaviour, and acts as a buffer to ensure conflicts are dealt with constructively instead of emotionally, she says.
A narcissistic attitude works the opposite way, however, and quickly becomes poisonous for a marriage.
“If you’re both competing to give the other person what they want, instead of competing to get what you want, there’s going to be very few bumps on the road.”
Keeping up with the Joneses
Another worrying wedding trend, notes Macleod, is a strong focus on the wedding itself rather than on building a healthy marriage, with couples risking crippling financial debt to put on the best wedding bash ever.
An extreme need to have an extravagant wedding that’s beyond the budget is almost always a sign of trouble for the marriage, she says.
“So much of it has to do with immaturity and with narcissism, just wanting that kind of appearance—trying to keep up with the Joneses. … People get in over their heads very, very quickly trying to do this.”
However, couples can’t entirely be blamed for over-extending their wedding budget, says Macleod. A billion-dollar wedding industry and a plethora of TV shows focusing exclusively on expensive gowns, designer cakes, and fairytale venues pile on the pressure to throw a party to remember—with little emphasis on how to actually make the marriage work.
“When I talk to people they’re so focused on that wedding, they’re not focused on their marriage,” she says.
“So it is materialism, but it’s definitely a way to make themselves feel better and to kind of be self-indulgent, in a way that they’ve always been told their whole lives, ‘Yeah, you’re special.’”
According to research by Brigham Young University, the more materialistic people are, the less satisfaction they experience in their marriage. The Utah-based study found that couples who placed a high importance on getting or spending money were worse off in terms of marriage stability, marriage satisfaction, communication skills, and other facets of a healthy relationship.
The study also found that marriages where both partners were materialistic had the highest conflict levels.
“We’re looking at a 60 percent divorce rate,” Macleod notes, adding that she sees the wedding industry as “very very phony.”
“I would like to completely erase the wedding industry. All it does is make the people who are in the wedding business rich and divorce lawyers rich—that’s what big weddings do.”