Jocelyn W. Charnas, PH.D., Clinical Psychologist
You help engaged couples manage the stress of, well, being engaged. How’d you get into that?
I’m a clinical psychologist in general practice. I’m also in my early thirties, so I’ve been through dozens of friends’ engagements, as well as my own. I recognize how stressful and anxiety-provoking it can be.
What’s a session like?
I meet with couples weekly to discuss concrete ways to manage whatever stress has come up—whether it’s related to money, family, or issues between the couple—so that they can enjoy what should be a pleasurable time in their lives.
Are weddings more stressful for brides than grooms—hence the spawn of the “bridezilla”?
Women tend to act out fear by stressing over the details, but both sexes undergo stress; they just express it in different ways. I try to help grooms find their voice during wedding planning, much to the relief of the bride.
And yet stress is almost inevitable in a city of type-A personalities, right?
Most of the people I’m seeing are men and women ages 25 to 45 who are CEOs and attorneys and executives. They know what they want and how to get it. And that’s a double-edged sword: Yeah, you’re ambitious and skilled enough to plan a great wedding, but that also comes with tremendous pressure. I’m here to remind you that the pressure is largely self-imposed.
How about family tension? What is it about a wedding that can dredge up all those parent-child issues you thought were resolved?
Once a couple gets engaged, every hairline fracture in the family dynamic is opened up. Personalities get intensified. It’s like going home for the holidays, except it lasts a year—or more. And even though parents are gaining a child-in-law, and it’s all wonderful and joyous, they also experience marriage as a loss, and people act out in the face of loss. They hold on tight or become rigid. Passive-aggressiveness is a big problem.
How much of the fighting revolves around money?
Money is often a symbol of power and control, like a bride saying to her groom, “My parents are paying, so I get to pick the food.” Or it can be a symbol of values. One person might think it’s ridiculous to spend $50,000 on flowers, whereas the other might think it’s ridiculous not to.
Are New York couples more stressed than those in other places?
New York is a place of a billion options, so there is pressure here for things to be perfect. But no wedding is perfect, because no couple is perfect. The key is remembering that your sea bass may be a little rubbery, or your orchids may be one shade too violet, but people will still enjoy it. Once you recognize that this should be a wonderful day but maybe not the best day, the pressure is off. That’s when the real fun begins.
Take a Breather
“Couples should spend at least one day a week not focusing on the wedding. Grab a drink, go out to dinner, watch a movie.”