Q: How can I avoid wedding stress?

A: You can't avoid all wedding stress--but you can reduce it by getting realistic, rational, and radiant from within.

June can be the cruelest month of graduations and, yes, weddings. Stress is high, tempers flare. Yet, some of the best weddings I've attended were simple affairs where the joy of the bride, groom, and their families created a feeling of shared happiness that overtook any snafus of food, centerpieces or seating arrangements. 

You may not be able to avoid all stress, but here are some tips to help you get a perspective, take control of your feelings, reactions, expectations and disappointments--and enjoy that special day.

1. Be realistic about the wedding celebration. Even if your family does have more money than all the wealthiest people in the world, your wedding is a celebration with loved ones--not a one-upmanship event to make everyone green with envy. Don't worry that the napkins aren't the exact shade of grey that you selected or that the teacup roses are too small. And if your parents have bought into the "keeping up with the Joneses" mindset, remind them--kindly--that the focus should be on establishing a warm, tasteful and welcoming tone.  Just think about all the weddings you've attended where the band is so loud you can't hear the person next to you--or where the centerpiece is so huge you can't even see anyone at the table anyway!

2. Don't confuse love with the "best and most perfect wedding." Most couples and families want to arrange beautiful and enjoyable weddings. But don't confuse The Wedding of the Century with finally getting your family to show that they value you. Having an unforgettable wedding is not proof that you are approved of and loved. The short-lived "oohs and aahs" or your perseverance in getting your family to overspend will not make up for your feeling unappreciated. Don't look for love in all the wrong places. If you suspect that your wedding has become justified compensation for an unhappy childhood, do this mini-exercise. Imagine that your wedding is very small and very understated. Are you still feeling happy about the event? If not, make a list of what's bothering you. Review it to see if the items on your list are reasonable.

3. Don't use your wedding to show people how far you've come.  If you were the ugly duckling or part of the vast unpopular crowd in school, don't think that a big blast, perfect wedding is a powerful enough force to overcome your childhood image. Sometimes, the more over-the-top the wedding, the more intense the negative self-image of the bride. As the saying goes, "Living well is the best revenge."  Your wedding is just one moment in your married life. Your best strategy is to live and love well.  

4. Don't fool yourself into thinking that wedding friction between you and your family is only about the wedding. Wedding planning is a great opportunity for you to relate to your parents. Here is a chance for you to separate, express yourself, and be part of the decision-making.  Even if your family is very loving, there are usually some left-over, unresolved issues that working as a wedding planning team can help soften or bring to light. For example, you might strengthen your relationship with your father by including him more in your choices. Or, as you thank your mother for her input and explain why you want a more casual event, you are also showing her who you are. Be sure to tell your parents that they have reason to be proud and happy for how you turned out. When wedding planning devolves into raised voices, phone hang ups and slammed doors, you can be sure you are arguing about more fundamental and old issues.

5. Don't confuse wedding stress with serious doubts about your soon-to-be-spouse.  Often, couples rush to plan a wedding too soon after the engagement.  Any doubts about the choice of marital partner get lost in the tasks of picking a location, flowers, guest lists and food. The purpose of longer engagements is to give the couple time to get a feel of what it would be like to be a couple. Engagements ramp up the emotional investment, and when the ante is raised, so are anxiety and emotional reactions. Consider changing the wedding date--and then don't focus on the wedding planning. Spend your time individually instead of just as a couple.  If it is too late to change the date--and you are in the throws of wedding planning--take as much "time out" as possible from wedding details to be a couple. And if you still have serious doubts, talk to your partner, your parents or a counselor.  It's usually better to call off the wedding than it is to be a runaway bride or get divorced or remain unhappily married forever.