Our Wedding Plans Made My Partner Punch Himself in the Face


by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

boxing gloves on the floor

Q: Last night we had the worst fight we’ve had in our three years together. Our fight exploded over—you guessed it—the wedding, and spiraled from there. As we were going over the to-do list of all the things we need to get done before the reception, he was freaking out that certain things “hadn’t been done already,” and I felt scolded for not being able to pull this off seamlessly for him. He had offered to do three pretty major tasks and they haven’t been completed, so I told him I felt really overwhelmed because he hasn’t been holding his end of the deal with planning. In response to this, he dropped a pretty major bomb: he told me that he felt rushed into this whole thing, and nothing was going the way he wanted it to, and he felt pushed into getting married.

As you can imagine, I lost my shit. I couldn’t help it, I started crying hysterically and he punched himself in the face. On the one hand, I was dealing with the emotions of my partner and wanting to recognize those emotions. On the other hand, I felt like this was a total tantrum on his part and that he was digging with any knife he had. But like most tantrums, I could tell that the emotions underneath it were real. I was also totally alarmed by his level of distress and didn’t know if I could handle it. (He has never behaved like this, and usually our disagreements are pretty tame.) And then what about my distress? The feeling like the past year of engagement was a lie! That he wasn’t really excited, that he didn’t really want to get married! This swirling cyclone of distress was more than my brain or my body could handle, and I threw up.

He said this morning he doesn’t feel pushed into getting married, that he does truly want to marry me, but the pressure of the wedding was making him feel like a crazy person (to which I think we all can relate on some level here). He felt pushed into the party, but because his emotions were so high the party and marriage got all smushed together. I’m at a point right now that if a freaking party causes us this much distress, the party isn’t worth it and I’m ready to cancel all plans.

How do I talk to him about his feelings, but also address his behavior? Because I think this whole fight was half-sincere, half-really manipulative as hell and I don’t know how to address that. Also, not a big fan of self-punching. That was so sincerely distressing and I don’t know how to even think about it, let alone talk about it. Have you had a partner tell you they felt pushed into marriage? How did you overcome that, and how did you guys repair your relationship? Did that excited engaged feeling ever feel the same again?

—Punch, Do You Take This Puke

A: Dear PDYTTP,

Your situation is extreme, but this next step is something every single couple has to do—even if they haven’t puked in the middle of an argument. Set some definitions for a fair fight. There’ll be some universal ones (like not punching yourself in the face, for example or… punching at all, even), but many will be unique to you guys. Can you tolerate yelling? Would you be better off with a little space to process before hashing things out? Set some rules. What he said was fine (assuming it was true and not, like you wonder, just meant to injure and manipulate), but it’s completely unproductive when the method of talking about it gets in the way of actually talking about it.

While you set some standards for fighting fair, figure out what you can do to check when you’re getting into the unhealthy territory. Put another way, how do you stop the conversation before it gets into a punching pukefest? Usually it’s just a break—somebody needs to step up and say, “We have to finish this conversation later,” and go cool down with a walk around the block. But for other folks, a break just exacerbates things. Think about it.

And recognize that not every single fight is going to be a healthy one. Sometimes (hopefully, most of the time) you’ll be able to remember you’re on the same team, you’ll remember not to call names, you’ll check yourself before you’re at the point of going too far. But sometimes you’ll be tired or hangry or coming in from a long day at work, and you’ll slip and say something you really don’t mean. And other times you’re trying to fight fair, but it’s hard to analyze and articulate a feeling, to communicate what you really mean right in the moment.

That’s why fight debriefs are so great. This thing you’re about to do now—talk about feelings and address all of the ways they were handled. It’s a great thing to make a habit. Saying, “Hey, can we talk about the other night?” and sorting out what was said in the clarity of calm, cool daylight is excellent for everyone.

No one really warns you, but some arguments are going to make you feel like, “This changes everything,” or, “I won’t ever be able to get over this feeling.” Even in the best marriages. We’re talking about the one person you’re most vulnerable with, the one who knows everything about you, the one whose opinion is most important to you and who you care about most. That’s a situation rife for some deep, penetrating hurt. When those earth-shattering fights happen, it’s a good opportunity to pause and assess. Many times you will, of course, work to get over whatever happened and eventually feel better again. Maybe occasionally memories of that fight will crop up and the flood of hurt or anger will rush back. But you’ll still be able to move past the overwhelming sting.

Your situation calls for that same pause for assessment. You very likely may get over this feeling and get back to being excited about marrying one another. But this particular argument raises some questions that need answering. He may or may not feel forced into marriage. You’re not excited to get married. You’re questioning the past several months of planning. You’re not sure how to move past this argument just yet. You didn’t ask, but this sounds like a good place to set wedding plans on hold until you’re both sure for sure of what’s going on.

It also sounds like the perfect place to involve a professional. What was that face-punching even about? Is he prone to self-harm and you’ve never known? Is he a half step away from being other types of violent? Do you feel safe?

So, right, this is where I say, “Go talk to him” (and someone else). Ask him what parts he really meant, and which he didn’t. Set some boundaries for how you argue in the future. And depending on how that goes, maybe set aside these wedding plans for a bit. Fingers crossed this conversation doesn’t end in vomit.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

*H/T to Sara Lesser, LCSW, for CONSULTING ON this post

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • A.

    Counseling, counseling, counseling. Please get counseling, and please consider individual counseling for yourself and him on top of any couples’ counseling.

    Personally, I think this one is a little above internet commenting pay grade…

  • Amy March

    Leave. Walk out the door immediately. Even if it’s just for a few nights. You are living with someone whose response to upset feelings is violence. I appreciate that he has said some nice things, but from your description none of the nice things he said in the morning were “I’m horrified by my behavior last night. I need help.” Great, he has told you he does truly want to marry you, but I think you need some time and space, some place safe, to think about whether you truly want to marry him. And that thinking should absolutely involve all of Liz’s suggestions- talk about it, talk about fighting, get counselling. But in response to your reasonable issue with him failing to take care of three things he agreed to do, while you handle everything else, he was mean, he was violent, and he demonstrated zero ability to communicate appropriately. Don’t cancel your party plans as a solution because your partner had a violent outburst, rethink the marriage plans entirely. Hit pause so you can really evaluate this and, if you want, work through it.

    • Rose

      Violent? He hit himself; not her.

      I know of a couple who have a fantastic marriage and I look up to them for it. But their wedding planning got so stressful, that she ran away and took a weekend alone. At least it caused family members to finally back the hell off. They were stressed by all the family demands on both sides.

      She said wedding planning took a toll on their relationship, yet they are one of the happiest married couples I know of. Their New York wedding was a big success too.

      I don’t think it’s a given that this couple has major problems outside of wedding planning. Some people are more stressed out by putting on a major lifetime event than others.

      • Amy March

        Violent. He hit. Whether it is a wall, himself, her, his car, he hit. He reacted to a stressful situation with violence.

        Absolutely, wedding planning can be a particular stressor, and I don’t think one bad fight means you are doomed. But I do think any instance of violence should be taken extremely seriously.

        • Rose

          But as someone said further down in the comments, there is no correlation between people hitting themselves and hitting other people.

          • sally

            Yeah, I mean I have to agree here. It should be noted that there are times when people can use self harm or threats of self harm as a way to manipulate or emotionally abuse a partner, but that is usually part of a larger pattern of other emotionally abusive behaviors – a pattern she doesn’t endorse in the letter (although we are going off limited info, she states this is extremely out of the norm for them).

            But typically in my experience (social worker, mental health, DV background) self harm is usually related the person’s internal distress and ability to cope with that distress and it’s not something I would normally fear would lead to violence against others in any way. Telling her to leave feels extreme from reading a letter – telling her she needs to take this seriously and take steps to feel safe, definitely. We shouldn’t assume we know what that looks like for her.

          • sofar

            Yeah, I agree he needs help and is quite possibly emotionally manipulating her. But people are putting “self harm” in the same category as “physically harming others” and I don’t think that’s fair/accurate.

          • sally

            This is delayed- but I just wanted to say I completely agree.

      • BSM

        “Their New York wedding was a big success too.”

        … what does this have to do with anything?

        • Rose

          Why are you picking on such an innocuous sentence? I’m just saying that even though they went through hell planning the wedding, it turned out great. That wasn’t even the emphasis of my comment, so I don’t know why it bothers you so much.

          • BSM

            I’m not “picking on a sentence;” I’m pushing back on the idea that a beautiful wedding is evidence of a happy, healthy marriage. And pointing out a red herring.

            Internet comments don’t really ever bother me (especially non-specific ones about people I’ll never meet), but thanks.

          • Rose

            I did not say their wedding is the evidence of them having a happy marriage. I said that their marriage is happy in spite of their miserable experience with wedding planning. I only mentioned the success of the wedding as an aside.

          • sally

            I see what alerted you, but I read it as a note due to the fact that wedding planning had been so stressful which is similar to the letter writer’s situation – so the point is that they still had a wedding they enjoyed (the New York just a random detail)

      • sofar

        Absolutely. If you were to take my behavior during wedding-planning and isolate it, many people would think I am crazy and in need of all kinds of help. And that my now-husband and I should have broken up.

        I skipped town as well at one point, and actually burned things (namely the extra Save the Date Cards we had left over). It was cathartic. Also, I threw our box of invitations off the balcony at one point. My fiance and I said some pretty nasty things in anger, too.

        We haven’t fought once since getting married in July. We barely fought before the wedding. Weddings just Do Things.

        • I am sorry you had that experience, but I am comforted that I am not the only one. Our wedding is ~4 months away and we’ve never bickered about petty things as much as we have this summer…typically around wedding logistics conversations and my passive aggressive mother. That said, I have some extra save the dates I need to get rid of…

  • emilyg25

    Before you go and talk to him, sit down with yourself and ask if you truly feel safe. If not, or if you’re not sure, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233 or http://www.thehotline.org/.

  • anon for this

    I can relate to both you, LW, and your fiance in this scenario.

    Where I relate to you, LW, is that I’ve been in a relationship where my partner’s response to my being upset is to diminish my feelings by spouting off about his problems in such a bombastic way that all I can do in the moment is apologize and feel like I’m the shitty one. This isn’t healthy and I’m working on sticking up for myself in life (and I’m about to break up with the guy I’m with who’s doing this to me…)

    Where I relate to your fiance is that I am prone to self-harm (slapping myself in the face, pinching myself) when I am upset with myself and feel that I’ve completely fucked up. It is an extreme reaction. It’s one I’ve gotten therapy for, but I haven’t been able to crack the why or stop. I am NOT a violent person. I’d never hurt or hit anyone besides myself, and I always do it in private because I’m generally ashamed of it. This isn’t to excuse his behavior, but perhaps to explain it… It could be that this is the way he deals with making a mistake and hurting someone else.

    It might not be manipulative, but an unhealthy reaction he doesn’t yet understand or know how to control.

    Therapy therapy therapy.

    Good luck!

    • Amy March

      And good luck to you as well on taking what sounds like a healthy, but hard, step!

      • anon for this

        thank you, Amy!

    • Nicole

      I just read a great book called “The Gaslight Effect” about how we can get into relationships where one person is imposing a reality on the other person, by diminishing feelings, or trying to create a narrative that you don’t agree with and making that narrative your narrative too, like telling you that you expressing your needs is something you need to apologize for. I’m not explaining it well but it helped me with a relationship I was in with a boss and another with a friend, and it was REALLY helpful. It sounds like you may no longer need this, but I wish I had found it sooner so I’m posting in case others might find it helpful as well. It had great ways to recognize if this is happening and diffuse it, as well as help deciding whether or not to leave. I’m getting some counseling around this too but the book was a great primer.

      I thought I knew what gaslighting was, but I only could recognize extreme cases. This book talks about other ways it can show up that are more insidious.

      • anon for this

        Thanks! This is the second relationship I’ve been in where this sort of thing has happened to me… so I’ll definitely check this book out. I seem to have a pattern and I’d like to break it. :)

        • Nicole

          yesss! The book talks about how having it happen once can lead it to happen again, and I know that the thing with my boss (who I haven’t worked for in months) is impacting the thing with a friend now for me. The book describes traits (such as empathy, being a care-taker, and needing to see your partner in a positive light) that can make you more susceptible. I had found the book through this article (http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/things-wish-known-gaslighting/) which had a good point that it’s important not to try and squash those traits. Luckily, I think the book focuses on really concrete ways to recognize that it’s happening and to head it off.

          • anon for this

            omg. I NEED this. Those traits are me (especially the last 2). And if I could have recognized it and headed it off… We’d still be breaking up (because we want different things out of life), but it probably wouldn’t have taken so long.

      • Trinity

        Another really great book alone these lines is The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. (https://www.amazon.com/Verbally-Abusive-Relationship-Expanded-Third/dp/1440504636/) Nine years ago it helped me identify a really unhealthy relationship I was in and to end it for good–just in time, because several months later I met my now husband!

    • anon for this

      Also, I want to say that your instincts (and Amy March’s advice above), to put the wedding plans on pause while you work this out (or work out whether this is the person you want to marry) are smart. Wedding planning is stressful. And that extra stress might not be helpful while working out some more complicated issues about handling conflict.

    • rg223

      Sending good thoughts your way, anon.

      • anon for this

        thank you!

  • Rachel

    Like Liz said, some of the bigger issues here likely warrant some deeper soul searching and likely the assistance of an outside professional (especially the self-punching part).

    But a small comment to add to the part about setting ground rules for fights:

    My partner and I have done a fair amount of reading about non-violent communication (NVC), and you may find that is a good general starting place for fairer fights and disagreements.

    One concept I find especially helpful from NVC is the concept of HALT.

    If you have to have a difficult conversation, or a conversation that started out tame seems to be escalating, step back and check in on HALT. Are you or your partner (or both): Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? (HALT)

    All four of those things can influence your ability to think rationally and communicate fairly. Of course, you might be feeling angry during a conflict and that’s not necessarily completely avoidable, but it’s worth pausing to ensure the anger isn’t spiralling into something irrational. And the other three can often cause you to be more reactive to conflict in a way that isn’t productive – and if that’s the case it may be valuable to pause until you’ve had a snack, or a nap, or a hug.

    • Amy March

      Fascinating. I’ve only heard of HALT in the context of overeating.

    • CharlotteJ

      Love this! Half the time I only pick fights because I’m hungry. Hungry and tired is a monster combination.

      • emilyg25

        I feel like my husband and I would have like 85% fewer fights if I just ate a few crackers first.

      • Alyssa Andrews

        A few years ago while traveling my now-fiancee randomly said “I think when I get cranky it’s because I’m hungry, thirsty or hot.” That comment seriously saved 90% of our arguments on that trip.

    • LucyPirates

      Thank you for this comment – not only is this a really interesting concept, when I actually looked at the words, I accepted Hungry, Angry, Tired as clear triggers and would not have included Lonely.
      However, when I thought further from my Fiancé’s POV – he really does react badly when he’s feeling lonely and I REALLY need to remember this…

    • Scalliwag

      Thanks for highlighting this. I heard of this in the movie Death to Smoochy but never thought about employing in that way.

    • Christina Helen

      My partner and I like to practice NVC too. But I want to say: sometimes you have to talk while angry, because your natural response to the topic you need to talk about is anger. When I was in my teens my mum used to have this way of shutting conversations down by saying “You’re angry/upset. Let’s talk about this when you’re not feeling this way.” In practice, it just meant that we *never* resolved most of the issues that arose between us, because I was not capable of explaining my perspective without feeling feelings. And the more often she shut me down, the angrier and more upset I felt.

  • CharlotteJ

    Just want to say I agree with Liz, fight debriefs are so great! Talking about the way we handle an argument has really helped my boyfriend and I to argue differently in the moment, and then reach an actual solution instead of just getting more and more frustrated with one another. If you can talk about the way that you fight, when you’re not actually fighting, it can actually reduce the amount of fighting that you do!

    • Jess

      Fight debriefs are not something I have ever thought to implement, but I really like the idea of it. Both because it helps to get to a solution, but also to remind each other “Hey, that fight we had yesterday wasn’t great. But I still love you and I’d like to look for ways to make sure we’re in this together.”

    • Alyssa Andrews

      Yes! Fight debriefs are definitely what have saved me and my fiancee many times. And the best thing (in my opinion) is that they’re the part that help you learn from one another, and I’ve found that over time, we become more attuned to what situations DO make the other person mad, so we can be more mindful and avoid re-creating situations that trigger the other person.

    • sage

      I’ve never heard the term “fight debriefs” before, but it’s what my fiance and I do every time we fight. Sometimes we circle back one or two times after the initial disagreement just to check in, address any issues with HOW we communicated, love on each other, and either come to a resolution or rehash the resolution we agreed on in the heat of the moment to make sure it still works for both of us. This is totally our fighting style!

  • old married lady

    Thank you so much for answering questions like this. It’s forever relevant.

    I’d love some ideas for “what you can do to check when you’re getting into the unhealthy territory. Put another way, how do you stop the conversation before it gets into a punching pukefest?” Besides taking a break? I’m always afraid we will never resume our discussion if we take a break, because one of the problems is that husband is so conflict-averse that things don’t get addressed until they boil over. Or suggestions of things to do while taking a break that will improve odds? Similarly, I love the idea of ‘fight debriefs,’ but I’m not sure how to get over his resistance to that discussion started because of that same conflict-aversion. When we’ve had discussions in the past he’s admitted it wasn’t as bad as he thought, but that doesn’t keep him from dreading the next one so much that it keeps us from talking.
    My husband also slaps his face when he feels angry at himself, similarly I think to how ‘anon for this’ describes doing herself. It bothers me and scares me a little, but it doesn’t feel quite as dire and terrifying as other commenters are suggesting. I’d love for him to figure out how to stop doing that, but that would probably take therapy I guess? Any other ideas on that would be awesome too.
    And finally, if anyone has advice for simply getting over it and moving on after earth-shattering fights like this, it would really, really help me so much. How do you feel better and forgive after such hurtful things have been said? Also, how long should it take to get over fights like this? How long should it take to get over something like this?
    Very thankful for this community today.

    • Amy March

      I think therapy is kinda the answer to all of this. When you are stuck in an unhealthy pattern and can’t figure out how to fix it, that’s what therapists are designed to do. And when you self-harm, therapy is the best option, even if it isn’t always a solution.

    • anon for this

      Hi…

      While therapy is THE answer, if you’re looking for a stopgap…

      I tend to slap myself if the person I’m fighting with walks out of the room or otherwise leaves in the middle without a word. If they say – “Hey, I’m mad, but we’ll get through this,” or something else similarly reassuring, the urge diminishes. Obviously, you shouldn’t have to be so rational if you’re furious, and you shouldn’t have to take responsibility for his emotions, but some reassuring words in the middle of the storm is something I would find helpful.

      As far as a suggestion to cut problems off at the pass – one of my good friends and her husband have a weekly “summit.” Every Wednesday night, they cook dinner together and open a bottle of wine, and then each of them bring up any relationship issues they encountered the past week. Topics are as small as – “Hey, could you change this lightbulb like you promised?” – to as big as, “Should we combine our finances?” Her husband is very averse to these sorts of conversations, so knowing it happens every Wednesday is comforting for him and it takes the guesswork out of “Is something wrong?” or “What does s/he want?” And sometimes they have nothing to say, so they just enjoy each other’s company.

      Good luck!

    • rg223

      Seconding Amy with the therapy – until you get that set up, how do you think your husband would respond if you told him you wanted to schedule weekly or bi-monthly “check ins” where you talk about the state of your relationship, good or bad? Would having it on a regular schedule (and not always due to conflict) lower some of his anxiety?

    • Ashlah

      Others have had some great answers to your overall post, but to respond solely to “I’m always afraid we will never resume our discussion if we take a break,” I think the answer is to have structured breaks. That is, in the middle of a fight, it’s okay/better to say, “Let’s take 30 minutes to cool down and come back to this discussion,” or, “I’m going to walk around the block. Let’s talk about this more when I get back,” rather than a nebulous, “I can’t talk about this right now. We’ll figure it out later.”

    • NolaJael

      Both my partner and I are pretty conflict averse, I think that one huge aspect of a good quality relationship is when both parties feel and deeply know that conflict happens but is not a deal breaker. Everyone is worried that there is some fight that is the fight too far – something that will cause your partner to walk away forever – but they don’t know exactly what that is, so some of us avoid all arguments large and small. You can build trust and security in understanding that *most conflicts are not deal-breakers* with practice. For instance, I’d start practicing debriefing on really minor issues – like “drinking out of the milk carton” level – before wading into the harsher “you’re emotionally unavailable” level of arguments. Every time you successfully have a conversation about a minor conflict (without letting it escalate or morph into another topic) there’s a little penny added to your trust bank and there’s an accompanying lightness – a realization that “oh, we can have discuss our conflict about loading the dishwasher without breaking up!” At least that’s how it was for me. :)

      • Aubry

        I can’t second this hard enough. A huge thing in our marriage is that C and I always mention if something bothered us. Usually I wait until a few hours/days later to make sure I’m rational, but otherwise it is pretty quick after the incident. That way, we can address “hey, I felt like that one joke you made was a little out of line for those particular friends and I sensed some weirdness” before it gets to “OMG why do you always make gross jokes to my friends why?!?!?” (for context C isn’t great at reading social cues and sometimes oversteps, he wants to know stuff like this). Avoiding the always/never statements is hugely helped by addressing one individual instance rather than letting it build from an annoyed simmer to a rage boil.

      • Stephanie

        Thank you APW and thank you NolaJael. From the bottom of my heart.

  • NotMotherTheresa

    Am I just so hopelessly used to dysfunction that nothing about this fight sounded all that outrageous to me?

    I don’t know. I never really saw any examples of healthy conflict growing up (but I did see every variety of unhealthy conflict under the sun). My husband and I have spent ten years together, and in that time, we’ve learned how to make our fights less Very Special Episode-ish, but this fight still sounds pretty typical. You were the one who was there, so by all means, if there’s a voice in the back of your head that’s saying “This is dangerous”, then GET OUT. But otherwise, learning to fight appropriately is just one of those things you’ll slowly hash out over time.

    As for the issue of whether he feels ready, honestly, I think it’s normal to feel a little rushed into getting married. My husband and I were literally the furthest thing in the world from ACTUALLY being rushed, and we totally knew we were ready when we started planning the wedding, but then, somewhere along the way, it still felt like we were rushing into things. No matter how deeply you want to be married, and how confident you feel in your relationship, there’s still something really scary about realizing that the wedding train is chugging along at full speed, and that in a few months, you will be Husband and Wife™. Part of it is about the stress of planning a giant party, but also part of it is that almost all of us have some fears and expectations around marriage that can’t easily be verbalized. I think that’s pretty normal, and as long as everything else is going well, I wouldn’t read too much into it.

    • Amy March

      Yes. Punching yourself in the face and vomiting are outrageous, out of the norm, and should be a huge red flag. That’s a physical harm happening to both people in a fight.

      • Ashlah

        Seconding this. My husband and I have been together almost 8 years, and we also had our worst fight during wedding planning. It manifested in insensitive digs that went a few steps too far. We didn’t recognize when to back off, but it never became physical, nor did it ever feel emotionally manipulative. I was wide-eyed reading this letter because it felt so alien and, frankly, terrifying to me. I know couples have different standards for what is acceptable in a fight, but I’m comfortable stating that physical harm (even to yourself or your possessions/surroundings) crosses a line that should be universal.

      • NotMotherTheresa

        To be fair, my husband has never punched himself in the face, but he’s definitely punched walls a couple of times. Growing up, my parents had to patch the sheetrock multiple times after one of them punched through the wall. It’s not unheard of for me to throw up when we argue, because I have a nervous stomach, and that’s just what happens when I feel overwhelmed by emotion.
        I’m not saying that punching things and vomiting is healthy, or that everyone should try doing that when they argue, but it also doesn’t seem *that* outrageous. Like, I feel like if we looked at fighting on the bell curve, it would definitely be on the “bad” side, but it wouldn’t really be off in the tail or anything…

        • Amy March

          Wow. I think punching walls is absolutely outrageous, especially multiple times! Like, in bell curve terms, really really really over to the edge of the curve.

        • Jess

          Everybody’s definition of normal is different, based on what they’ve seen or experienced. As is everyone’s limit for what they’re able to tolerate or work through.

          Punching walls is not unheard of for us. I would not classify it as a deal-breaker for me. It freaks me out & R is working on it, just like I’m working on my own issues.

          It’s not what I would consider “off the tail” either, but my data set may be shifted.

        • Anon

          I mean/type/say this gently, but when my husband punched a wall during a fight of ours when we were dating, he went to therapy and was recommended for anger management. His therapist recommended that he should not consider marriage or fatherhood until he can react healthfully to frustration. Even punching a wall one time was seen as a major indicator for these underlying issues.

          The good news is that he got there in spades, but it’s always an ongoing process for him to manage his reactive anger and also something we’ve worked on together as a team over the past 10 years.

      • Rose

        Though I have not personally vomited because of a fight, I still get the reaction. I have cried hard enough before to come close to vomiting.

        She thought in the heat of the argument that he was saying he didn’t want to get married. The thought that the whole engagement wasn’t based on real desire would throw anyone for an emotional loop.

        I can see crying so hard that you vomit.

        • Amy March

          I can see it too! I just think it’s horrible and a sign that something is broken and needs to be fixed urgently.

          • mssolo

            Some people just… vomit more than others, though? I knew someone who was sick before almost every exam, but no one suggested she drop out of school. Stress went straight to her stomach, and though she worked on ways of being less stressed, at the end of the day some things are just stressful to go through. She knew herself well enough to practice self care that adjusted for her delicate stomach, and got on with life.

          • BSM

            True, but LW offered her vomiting after this fight as an example of how distressing it was. She did not say, “… and, as per usual with fights we have, I threw up afterwards.”

    • rg223

      You know, if you had said “We’ve had one or two fights like this in the past, but we’ve learned better” I could see where you are coming from. But the fact that you described it as “typical”, honestly, disturbs me quite a bit.

      • NotMotherTheresa

        Perhaps I mis-characterized it…it’s not “typical” for the fights my husband and I have had, but it’s also not “We had one fight a little like this years ago, and it totally shook us so much that we vowed never ever to do anything like it ever again”.
        We’ve probably had five or six fights on roughly this level? Maybe one or two more, maybe one or two less. They’re rare, and they’ve become rarer as we’ve matured in our relationship, but they also aren’t unheard of.

        • rg223

          Okay, that is definitely clearer. I think my concern over the word “typical” was also combined with your talking about slowly learning to fight appropriately over time, whereas I feel like this kind of fighting should probably be dealt with in therapy. I don’t know if therapy was part of your relationship’s journey, but I was disturbed by the idea that this kind of fighting was typical AND the couple might just grow out of it. It may be possible to grow out of it without therapy, but I would never suggest that course of action to anyone going through it.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            We…never really addressed our fighting in therapy? Then again, I haven’t spent nearly as much time on the therapists’s couch as the husband has, so I have no idea what all he’s worked through in therapy over the years.

            We never did any couple’s counseling, but we’ve both been in and out of therapy since we were kids. I’m sure that’s helped, but mostly, I think we just grew out of it. We were pretty young when we met (20 and 24), and we weren’t exactly mature or well-adjusted for our ages. So much of our journey as a couple has just been about growing into ourselves, and learning how to act like reasonable adults, and that’s really helped with everything.

    • sofar

      *raises hand sheepishly*

      I had the same reaction: “OK, yeah, that’s bad but … I’ve seen it before.”

      I don’t want to play armchair doctor, but is it possible her fiance is On The Spectrum? This runs in my family — male members, mostly, for some reason. Self-punching (often in the upper thigh, but sometimes in the face) is … kinda a symptom. If he’s undiagnosed, maybe find a therapist? My ex had aspergers. He used to hit himself if he felt trapped/pushed emotionally. I hope he’s still seeing his therapist. His inability to talk through emotionally difficult situations was a big reason we broke up.

      Also, I did throw up during a wedding argument and have thrown up due to intense emotion/pressure in the past. It’s very rare, but it happens. I’m not much of a crier, but, when things truly feel like more than I can handle I do throw up.

      I agree with a lot of people here that therapy probably needs to happen and this couple has a lot of work to do, but a lot of people are reacting like, “OMG freaks” and “RUUNNNN,” and I don’t see it that way.

      • Amy March

        I don’t think the reaction has been at all “OMG freaks” but I think get out and get help is valid. I honestly don’t care at all if he is on the spectrum or has issues or whatever else going on. He was violent, safety is important, and doing all that work is a) best done in a safe place, physically, and b) not necessary. There’s no moral obligation to stay in a relationship with someone who cannot handle fights appropriately, even if there is a reason for it, if you just prefer a life where there are never big fights like this. It is entirely possible to go through life without ever even once vomiting because a fight was so bad, and I think it’s really worth considering whether this is a life you want.

        • sofar

          I just think it’s strange when people are like, “OMG this is so alien to me!” I’m like, “Wait, you don’t know *anyone* who acts like this? You’re surprised that people do this??”

          It’s all relative. I knew someone who dumped a guy because he raised his voice in frustration over a flat tire because to her, that was SHOCKING. I know a guy who dumped a woman because she cried when she saw roadkill because, to him that was WAY to fragile. I’ve known someone who dumped someone because they cussed. Because they slammed a door when angry. A lot of us here might think it ridiculous to dump someone because they cussed. But, to a person who has been socialized to think that cussing is abusive and foul and indicative of bad character, it’s totally legit.

          Everyone has their limit, which is determined by upbringing. The LW didn’t feel unsafe, and I don’t think it’s unfair to undermine her instincts. My reaction to this column was, “Well self harm and vomiting when upset are things that happen for a lot of people, and I wouldn’t necessarily end things if they were willing to talk about it/work on it.” And I was amused to scroll down and see people reacting like, “OMG how do people LIVE this way?”

          • Amy March

            For me, I think abuse always starts somewhere. I’d rather be excessively cautious and encourage everyone to take any physical violence extremely seriously because it is not normal and you do not need to put up with it than encourage someone to move past it. And someone who is totally alarmed, vomiting, and distressed just doesn’t to me indicate someone who is a willing participant in a bare knuckles fight.

          • BSM

            I personally am not shocked that this type of fight occurs (grew up with an extremely verbally abusive parent who was sometimes physically abusive), but I *am* surprised that a few commenters are acting like it’s no big deal. Maybe I’m particularly sensitive to this because of my upbringing, but I find the scenario that LW describes to be very upsetting. Like you said, everyone has different limits, and it’s not as though my husband and I haven’t had a few really awful fights, but I agree with Amy March and others that the physical violence piece should be taken seriously.

          • sofar

            Not saying it’s no big deal. At all. They NEED to work on this, preferably with a therapist. Me and OP on this thread were just reacting to the fact that there are commenters who are shocked (just shocked!) that people have these emotional reactions.

            If a friend came to me with this questions, I’d probably say, “You should totally be concerned and perhaps make your marriage contingent on him getting help. Also, did you feel safe, like he might harm you? Or are you just weirded out by the behavior. Either reaction is valid, I just want to know and help.” I would NOT say, “OMG who DOES that? That’s abnormal, super scary, and you need to call a domestic violence hotline!!”

          • BSM

            It sounds like everyone is on the same page then. I don’t see any commenters responding with “OMG who DOES that? That’s abnormal, super scary, and you need to call a domestic violence hotline!!”

          • sofar

            Someone posted the number to a domestic violence hotline. Someone posted “Leave now.” Someone posted that his behavior was “outrageous.” There is a post telling her to re-think her marriage.

            I learned my lesson on snap-judgments here a while back when one of the LW’s came on and provided more context and said everyone’s snap judgments, including mine, were hurtful. So I’m way more careful now.

          • BSM

            What is advice on the internet if not a snap judgment? Seriously. I also think you’re really mischaracterizing those comments by comparing them to your example. Most people are here doing the exact same thing you are: offering suggestions from a place of caring.

            None of us know the LW nor her entire situation. Because of that, she should take all this anonymous advice with a grain of salt. But I think it’s ridiculous and kind of insulting others’ lived experiences to argue that it’s a bad thing that people here are concerned for her physical safety. You seem like a decent, thoughtful person – do you realize you’re saying that posting the number to a DV hotline is harmful?

            Last thing: didn’t that LW just come back yesterday at HH and say she was ending things with her boyfriend? So it seems like everyone’s hurtful, snap-judgments actually were somewhat warranted and did some good for her.

          • sofar

            OK glad she is moving on. I don’t think it’s bad that someone posted the DV hotline — I just mentioned that I thought it was interesting that people had such a wide range of reactions and that the DV hotline was someone’s first thought. And then there are the rest of us in the corner going, “Sounds like another Wednesday to me!”

            I did find it concerning that people were equating self-harm with harming others. That might be a personal thing for me because I know many people who self harm (ended up in the hospital for it) who would never abuse their spouses. And seeing people going, “He hit himself. He WILL hit you,” hit a nerve.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            Yes! I’m totally intrigued by the “OMG how do people LIVE this way?” camp!
            I guess most of us are inclined to consider what we’ve grown up around to be normal, but really, I think I grew up in a *fairly* normal family. Like, my parents neither one modeled the healthiest behaviors in the world, but looking around my white bread, suburban community, they seemed to be solidly middle of the pack regarding their dysfunctions. I feel the same way about my husband and I…again, we aren’t exactly the couple that others look to for guidance and inspiration, but we aren’t appearing on Jerry Springer or anything. We don’t always engage in the healthiest ways of arguing, but still, we have a safe, happy marriage.
            Obviously, none of the behaviors the LW mentioned were things every couple should go out and emulate, but it was certainly all stuff I’ve seen/done/heard of before.

          • Amy March

            They repeatedly had to get the walls in their house repaired because of their arguments. I don’t understand how you could possibly consider that normal. So I guess I’m with you on this- completely intrigued by an absolutely foreign view of the world.

          • Danielle

            Please, stop with the judgments, for now and on this topic.

            Those of us who grew up in households with violence often saw things like that. It was “normal” to us. Not good, not something we wanted or liked, but it was normal the way your upbringing was normal to you.

            I feel that this line of commenting is adding shame to an already fraught situation.

          • Amy March

            Oh gosh I’m so sorry- I didn’t mean to shame anyone.

          • Danielle

            Ok.

            And note to APW staff: please consider stronger moderation on posts like this, or a reminder of the comment policy. DV is a really triggering topic for some people, and some comments are more helpful/informed than others.

          • Ashlah

            For what it’s worth, my dad has a horrible temper and he and my step-mom had terrible, awful, sometimes physical fights. He’s broken things. As a kid, though, it was just how they fought. He got angry, he yelled, he left. More recently, he’s spent time in jail for domestic violence. I am more than aware that people live this way. It’s what I grew up around, but I still don’t think it’s okay. It’s still alien and alarming to me because it’s not something I would ever put up with in my relationship, and it’s not something I could ever imagine my partner doing. It’s something my parents did, but it’s something they did that was wrong and unhealthy, and even though I lived with it, it still surprises me anytime I see people talking about it like it’s normal and okay.

          • BSM

            Yep. This is very, very similar to how I grew up and how I live/feel now.

        • Emma

          I totally agree with this. I used to be in an emotionally abusive relationship (not saying the LWs is necessarily abusive, although it sounds like something worth considering) where big, dramatic fights were common. Never again. I just won’t do it. I won’t be with someone who can’t fight in a constructive way. Because I don’t want that kind of life, and because it’s a perfectly reasonable expectation.

      • Ashlah

        I want to clarify that when I said below that it “crosses a line that should be universal,” I meant that it’s not behavior that should be accepted as normal or okay–that doesn’t mean that someone who reacts this way is necessarily a bad person(/freak) or that their partner is required to break up with them immediately, but that it is something that needs to be addressed in order to have a healthy relationship (or something that a partner can reasonably decide is, in fact, a dealbreaker).

        • sofar

          Agreed! I was just becoming concerned that a lot of responses were basically “DTMFA.” And lots of people undermining the instincts of the LW who wants to work on the relationship and didn’t feel unsafe by his self-harm.

          I don’t put self harm and harming others in the same category, and there’s really no established link between those behaviors. So, yes, he needs help managing his emotions in an adult healthy way. But unfair to say, “OMG he’s dangerous, run girl run!”

      • Danielle

        Thanks for saying this, sofar. I appreciate your comment and also the even-handed way Liz approached this letter.

        We all have our different boundaries based on background, personality, and many other factors. Both me and my husband were raised in somewhat abusive households, and we learned a lot of bad behavior that un/fortunately, has had to get unlearned during our relationship.

        We had at least 1-2 bad fights not so different from this early on, and while it shocked me at the time (“I thought I was over this!”) we were both committed to getting help through therapy and non-violent communication training, as another commenter mentioned above.

        In part this unlearning is important because violent behavior is NOT something we want to pass on to our kids, when we have them.

      • Also Anoymous for this

        I also had the “I’ve seen this before” reaction but, for me, that familiarity is what’s setting off alarm bells.

        LW is concerned about her fiance’s emotional lability, distress levels, self harm, and possibly manipulative behavior. I’m also going to add in other commenters’ concerns about the fiancé not taking complete responsibility the next morning. When taken all together, these are classic signs and behaviors of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.

        Obviously “diagnosing” anyone over the internet is irresponsible, and we cannot possibly know the inner workings of either LW, her fiance, or their relationship. But I would encourage LW – as she pursues a combination of individual and couples’ counseling – to read up a little on BPD, just in case she finds herself exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, this explains more even than I’d initially questioned!”

        I only bring it up because people with BPD can be highly functioning socially and professionally – and even in close relationships for some initial time period. Over time, however, the effects of the disorder can be devasting to those closest to them.

        I hope I’m not overstepping here. I just would hate to know I’d missed the chance to help someone catch and understand this disorder and its effects sooner rather than later.

        No matter what, I agree with Ashlah’s comment – none of this means that their partner “is necessarily a bad person(/freak) or that [LW] is required to break up with them immediately, but it is something that needs to be addressed in order to have a healthy relationship (or something LW can reasonably decide is, in fact, a dealbreaker).”

    • Jess

      It doesn’t sound exactly… typical to me. But it also didn’t shock me as much as it seems to be shocking a lot of other people.

      My mother fought very aggressively (yelling “I feel pushed into this marriage” is far from the worst thing I’ve ever heard in a fight… or been told about myself), so my model for How-To-Fight is probably also extremely warped.

      I have a really hard time handling my emotions, especially when combined with the emotions of others, so when something is upsetting me, I sometimes don’t know it until I’m sobbing uncontrollably. I can totally see how the partner could get to a point of “Nothing is going the way I want it to” without saying something before. I actually *did* do that while planning my wedding (and am extremely grateful that my partner sat calmly and said “what do you want to do about that?” rather than respond with what must have been a lot of hurt).

      Also, like anon for this below, I have sometimes hurt myself when overwhelmed with extreme guilt for how I’m acting.

      For both of these things, I’m in therapy and working on learning how to listen to myself. I’m getting better.

      I’m not going to say this is a healthy way to fight. I do think both people in this letter should probably go seek some professional assistance in dealing with high stress (neither self-harm nor puking are healthy self-soothing techniques).

  • anon-for-this-one

    I guess I just want to provide a perspective for the last questions in the piece – my partner and I have had one extremely distressing night. At the time, he was in a very deep depression, extremely stressful job situation, and following a disagreement he attempted to self harm in front of me – banging his head on the wall, hard. It was, to put it mildly, extremely distressing. At the time, we discussed whether he needed to go to the ER for evaluation, called his mother and alerted her to his distress (with his permission but also by my insistence as I was not okay being alone in this situation). He was able to calm himself, keep himself safe and take immediate steps starting the next day to plan for how to respond (therapy, medication, etc etc).

    I am sharing this because we are now happily married, he has not had a depressive episode in years and has learned better how to cope with his mental health needs. I hope the letter writer doesn’t feel alone. Only you can know whether this is a deal breaker – and maybe the action isn’t, but the response and how he handles it is. As everyone has said, it is important that this is addressed immediately. And her safety is paramount. But, I also don’t want the letter writer to feel that her fiance is “crazy” or that this never happens to others. The reality is that when some people are in extreme emotional distress, they do extreme things. Self harm is one of them. When my husband feels that emotional distress – he describes it as feeling like he is going to burst out of his skin and he needs a release. The banging of the head is the release. He doesn’t have a diagnosis of autism/aspergers and doesn’t meet much other criteria – but he would probably be farther on a spectrum than say, I would – if you were to plot us.

    So, how is your fiance responding? Is he taking steps to make sure this never happens again? Is he understanding the emotional distress it caused his partner? You ask, how do I talk to him about this? You MUST tell him exactly what you said to us. That the behavior is not okay and you will NOT be a part of it. I was very clear with my husband that his behavior was not something I could or would live with long term and that he MUST take my feelings into consideration regarding what it was like to be his partner in that situation. How he responded and the actions he took are why we are married today – I hope you have a similar result.

  • ?

    Did I write this question? No advice or wise words, but just want to say I feel you.

  • Anon

    I want to answer the OP’s last questions, because although I haven’t read all of the comments, most of the ones I can see address argument behaviour, violence, safety etc. But while I haven’t experienced anything like the own-face-punching incident, I have had my FH tell me he felt pushed into marriage, and we did overcome that, and we are more excited than ever to get married.

    It was a pretty similar scenario – we started the wedding planning pretty strongly, worked out our mission statement (a fun dance party with booze and cake) and our budget, and decided who we wanted to invite and where to have it with basically no drama or disagreement. And then.. I don’t know it happened, but I think the WIC got into my head. Even though I’ve been reading APW for years. And suddenly in the middle of a discussion about whether a caterer would be better than getting takeaway because of food safety concerns (keeping things hot, etc), we were having an argument about why this mattered and what happened to the mission statement and it was too much stress and this is exactly why he didn’t want to get married and this is everything he hates about weddings and he wouldn’t have done this now if it were left up to him.

    Well. I was pretty devastated. We’d been talking about getting engaged for a while, and I was expecting him to wait until I’d finished grad school to propose so I didn’t think I’d been super pressuring, although I probably was more than I realised (he’d known I wanted to marry him for several years at that point). We have a pretty good argument style – we get upset at each other and take a bit of time out to calm down, and then one of us apologises and then the other one does, and we talk about why we were upset, and then how to fix the problem.

    So we took probably half an hour (it’s been months since this happened so I’m guessing, but this is usually how it works). And then I said that he’d really hurt me and made me feel like he regretted asking me to marry him and like he didn’t want to get married and that it had taken all the gloss off the engagement. And he said that he did want to marry me, and that he just felt like the planning was taking too much time and energy, but that he was sorry he’d said that. And I made myself remember all the times before then that he’d said that he was super excited to marry me, and that he’s a grown, highly independent and strong-willed human who wouldn’t have asked if he wasn’t ready (it’d been 6.5 years together at that point so he wasn’t afraid to push things back). And we decided that all future wedding prep discussions were to be scheduled in advance so that it didn’t take over our lives.

    And you know what? I still felt like crap for a few days but we’re in a much better place now. The proposal is written on the wall of our bedroom (pretty permanently, when we leave this rental it might present a challenge) and for about a week or two I felt sad when I looked at it, instead of happy, but the gloss is pretty much back in place. Limiting the logistical discussions to specific times means that the rest of the time we get to keep supporting each other and being excited to get married, and we don’t get overwhelmed by it all (I’m sure it helps that we’re having a relatively low-key destination wedding – no flowers, favours, or wedding party; pizza for dinner, own hair and makeup etc). Having gotten through this, we are more excited to marry each other than we were when we got engaged.

    So I guess I’m saying – make sure you separate out the wedding and the marriage again, take time to just be your normal couple selves (rather than your wedding planning selves) and if you were a strong couple to begin with, I’m sure you can regain the happiness and excitement of getting married. I realise the physical aspect to your argument complicates things, but other people have addressed that below, and hopefully you guys will work out how to manage that aspect of things. Good luck!

  • anonymous

    I feel for your partner and for you. I have been the self-puncher. I want to tell you that it takes time, effort, and lots of therapy to make it work. I have a history of self-harm, anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. Visiting with one of my three therapists was kinda my after-school sport in middle school. My partner also grapples with some equally intense mental health issues. I grew up in a household where my feelings were completely invisible at best or often invalidated in a really cruel way. If I really needed something emotionally I had to go big with the drama. This drama caused me suffering that I took out on me (see: self-harm), but I had no idea what else to do and in many ways self-harm allowed me to snap back to reality, distract myself from how invisible I felt. I would never, ever think of hurting anyone else and have so much shame around the way others have experienced my self-harm. (And you know, shame spirals really make things move forward.) I’ve come to recognize many elements of my family of origin as emotionally abusive and what that implies about my own relationships. It sucks and there’s so many layers of sadness there that I’ve had to peel away to learn how to exercise agency and create the relationships I want as an adult. It is absolutely not hopeless and only you know what’s right for you, but that may not be apparent immediately.

    Very long story short…Things were bad for my partner and me. He made a lot of decisions that really, really hurt me and I was so stressed out by our conflict and felt so invisible emotionally that I found myself returning to a self-harming behavior I though had stopped in my teens. I was suffering. I committed to dialectical behavioral therapy and this allowed me to be coached into learning how to tolerate discomfort and express my needs in more effective ways. That was two years ago. In the course of that time, I realized that my partner needed and I needed to slow waaaaaaaaay down with the relationship (after being together for 5 years and living together for 3). My partner had a lot things he also needed to work out about loss and grief, compulsion, masculinity, and substance use. I moved out a year ago and we have lived apart, but decided after so, so, so much soul-searching and individual/group/couples therapy and conversations with family and friends to stay together. We questioned it a lot and in the end decided that we really are each other’s person. But alas, I know that I learned that love is not enough and we had a lot of work to do. I get what people say about red flags and walking away. I also learned that it’s ok to tolerate some uncertainty and allow time to pass for things to become more clear. What became clear to us is that we are both going into this with lives that really broke our hearts, but not our spirits. And after deciding that we are indeed in it together as life partners, it didn’t matter that it would take 100s of hours of therapy, reading, meditation, running, whatever, to learn to be who we wanted to be and to show up in the relationship with our broken hearts a bit mended. The best part of it all…even when things get difficult emotionally now, they feel so much easier because we both have tools that we didn’t have previously. Face punching? Crying until I feel like Im about to vomit? Nah. no more. I can finally breathe and I am not suffering anymore.
    That’s just us. Best wishes to you.

  • Megan

    “No one really warns you, but some arguments are going to make you feel like, “This changes everything,” or, “I won’t ever be able to get over this feeling.” Even in the best marriages. We’re talking about the one person you’re most vulnerable with, the one who knows everything about you, the one whose opinion is most important to you and who you care about most. That’s a situation rife for some deep, penetrating hurt. When those earth-shattering fights happen, it’s a good opportunity to pause and assess. Many times you will, of course, work to get over whatever happened and eventually feel better again. Maybe occasionally memories of that fight will crop up and the flood of hurt or anger will rush back. But you’ll still be able to move past the overwhelming sting.”

    OMG THIS. I wish I had read this article like 4 months ago. Not married, but in a serious relationship and we had our first real “whoa this changes everything” fight in June after 3 1/2 years together. We spent a weekend apart (me at the beach with the girls – cures everything) and him at home with the guys, had a fight debrief on Sunday, spent some more time apart through the week as we focused on what life needed from us, and then let ourselves slowly start to build new routines to fix the problems that had led to the fight. July? Probably the best and most harmonious month of our relationship. But the sting still is there when I think about that fight.

    Some warning that that kind of hurt was possible and even okay (in a happy, healthy relationship) was a game changer. I honestly thought that if he loves me and we’re right together, we’ll never have that kind of a fight. Couples who have crazy fights like that should just break up, right? I no longer feel that way and am so much prouder of my relationship for getting through it. So just… whoa. Thank you for writing this.

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