My fiancé was engaged once before. The girl he was marrying called it off within days of the wedding. I don’t know all of the details (and I don’t think I want to), but I do know that I’m the lucky one that she sucked so much and didn’t realize what a good thing she had.
Anyhow, fiancé and I are still pretty early in planning our own wedding, but sometimes I feel the ghost of that wedding in planning this one. For example, they apparently had an engagement BBQ party at his parents’ house, so it would be weird if we did the same thing. There are moments when I know he’s holding back a little bit in our planning to protect my feelings. I know he tries so hard to make this wedding and this relationship separate and special from that failed engagement, but I can’t help compare myself to it, too. He and I can talk about anything, but I don’t know how to talk about this because it is painful for him.
How do I start that conversation? How do I ask the right questions without getting more information than I want or need? What if we get comments like “I hope this one works out for you”? What is the etiquette in doing the same things that they had planned to do?
APW, how do I navigate planning a wedding with someone who has already planned a wedding that almost, but didn’t happen?
-Engaged and At a Loss
Your email made me want to give you a big old hug. Planning your wedding is a time when you should be excited about a happy future, not dwelling on a sad past.
The fact is, no matter how far they went or how long they lasted, past relationships really have no reflection on our current ones. In relationships, we learn some things about ourselves, about what makes a relationship work, about how to care for someone. But beyond those things that we glean through dating, who your partner has or hasn’t been with means nothing about how he feels for you. You say that he “tries to make this relationship separate and special,” but you know what? It is separate and special. No “trying” necessary.
The truth is, there may be some reminding, but that doesn’t mean there’s comparison. Things that are painful impact us deeply. Though your fiancé might still feel the sting of that last rejection, it doesn’t mean that he’s comparing your wedding to the last, or worse, you to her. It’s a demonstration that what happened was significant, but not that she is still significant. The pain of what a person did can linger long after their importance is lost.
And pain? You can deal with pain. In fact, that’s part of your new job. Helping your fiancé work through his own hurt resulting from that engagement is simply preparation for one of the best parts of marriage—sharing and owning one another’s issues.
“Talk about things,” is always the best solution. Healing, support, and understanding are all things that can’t happen as thoroughly without some sort of discussion. And, if you’re anything like me, if you don’t know what he’s thinking, you’ll always assume the worst. But, you mention not knowing how to broach such a painful topic for him while also guarding your own feelings. When something needs some discussion, but it’s hard to get that discussion started, relationship counseling is the way to go. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong, necessarily, just that you want to set some boundaries to make sure things go right. Having an objective person to help you navigate what to discuss and how will enable you both to guard yourselves and each other around sensitive topics.
You’re super wise for recognizing that while you’d like to help him, you need to protect your own feelings. There’s a fine line between helping someone with their own pain and being hurt by it yourself. This is why I’d really encourage you to find some good relationship counseling. Not because there’s something wrong between the two of you, but to make sure that things keep on being “right.”
If you let him open up to you (with parameters in place), you’ll be able to hear the good things, too, and be a part of his moving on. This year, it might be, “BBQ’s make me think of her,” but maybe in five years, he’ll be able to turn to you mid-picnic and say, “You know? BBQ’s don’t make me think of her any more.” You’ll never be able to experience the positive, the healing, the good pieces if you don’t get down and sit with him in the bad. Remember—you can’t heal him, but you can certainly support him as he heals. That’s not going to just be great for him, but also for you both as you grow closer and understand each other a bit better.
And if anyone says, “I hope this one works out”? You have my permission to punch them in the nose.
Team Practical, how do you overcome the past and focus on the future? How do you help your loved ones overcome the baggage from past relationships? And most of all, can any of you offer guidance and support on relationship counseling (even if you’re not in a major crisis)?
Photo by APW sponsor Lauren McGlynn Photography.
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com or use the submission form here. If you would prefer not to be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Although, we always love a good sign off!