By Lisa Tolin
They are supposed to be blushing, glowing, ecstatic.
But for many brides-to-be, the stress of planning a wedding -- let alone a married life -- is enough to turn a slight blush into a red-faced meltdown.
"They go into it quite innocently thinking this is going to be wonderful, this is going to be fun," said the Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway, who helps run a Bridal Survival Club in New York. "It doesn't really take long for them to get stressed out. They get into this mode of people-pleasing and creating this 'perfect' wedding."
The details alone can be overwhelming: There's the guest list, the save-the-date cards, the invitations, the registry, the flowers, the dress, the cake, the centerpieces, the music, the bridesmaids' gifts, the favors. There's picking the location, finding an officiant, planning the honeymoon.
Weddings aren't cheap, either
Add to that budget worries (the average American wedding costs $26,327, according to the Fairchild Bridal Group). Family arguments. Relationship growing pains. The bride and groom may disagree about how to spend money or deal with the in-laws.
"We sort of think of engagement as boot camp for marriage because so many things come up during the engagement that you'll have to deal with in your marriage," said Millie Martini Bratten, editor-in-chief of Bride's magazine.
So how to keep the happy occasion from turning into a nightmare?
Brides, wedding experts and therapists who specialize in pre-wedding jitters have a few tips to keep anxiety in check.
The most important: Delegate, especially to your fiance. Men are getting more involved in wedding planning -- there is even isolated talk of metrosexual "groomzillas" -- but for most couples, weddings are still women's work. Note there is no Groom's magazine.
"Women are conditioned in this culture to dream and plan and think about our wedding. It's not unusual for us to start thinking about it on the third date," says Brockway, author of "Wedding Goddess: A Divine Guide to Transforming Wedding Stress into Wedding Bliss."
But giving some control to your fiance -- who is going to be your life partner, after all -- can be liberating.
"When you tap into other people's strengths and let them help you with your direction, you'll end up with something even better than you hoped for," said Liza Elkind, a television writer and producer in New York who got married in October.
Getting more help
Another smart way to delegate is to hire a wedding planner or coordinator. But be sure to find a reliable one. When Brenda Moody had a rehearsal for her 250-guest wedding, the coordinator was a no-show, and Moody was besieged with questions she didn't know how to answer.
"I understand why people become bridezilla," said Moody, 40, of Fontana, Calif. She excused herself to take a moment to calm down.
"My godson asked if I was OK because he heard me screaming in the bathroom," she said. "He said he heard some really bad words."
Another way to keep anxiety in check is to keep the wedding small and accept that you will never be Charles and Di. When Brockway heard about runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks, she wasn't a bit surprised.
"The stress related to that kind of wedding is just phenomenal," she said.
"How could you ever please 600 people and 28 members of the bridal party?"
Her advice: Focus on what you want, not what you think your future mother-in-law might think.
Confronting a greater issue
Allison Moir-Smith, who specializes in counseling brides, said anxieties about wedding details often mask something deeper.
"It's a lot easier to stress out about favors and flowers and seating arrangements and to focus on that than to do this really pretty heavy lifting of dealing with a change in your sense of who you are," said Moir-Smith, who is publishing a book next year, "Emotionally Engaged: A Bride's Guide To Surviving the 'Happiest' Time of Her Life."
New brides are losing their identities as single women, their sense of being daddy's little girl, even their dating life with their husbands-to-be. Understanding the reasons for that stress can help deal with it.
"They don't share it with anybody. It can be a very painful and very lonely time of life," Moir-Smith said.
Sometimes obsessing over the details masks fears about whether to get married at all. Rachel Safier, who wrote "There Goes the Bride: Making Up Your Mind, Calling It Off & Moving On," said, "The e-mail I get most frequently says, 'I'm engaged and I don't want to marry him, but I have the hall."'