Background: Helen and Mack dated for 18 months prior to becoming engaged. When Helen came to me with her crisis, their wedding was in 2 months and plans were well underway for a sumptuous wedding with 300 people expected to attend. Helen was accustomed to the finer things in life and her family was considered wealthy by most people’s standards. Helen’s father recently died and her mother was head of the family, but she was not a hands on administrator and had been quickly taken advantage of by her financial managers. The families fortune had been significantly diminished as a result, as Helen had just found this out. The wedding will be the last extravagance Helen will receive from her family.
Mack is from humble circumstances and, though he does care for Helen and sincerely wishes to marry her, he is also expecting financial benefits from Helen’s family to flow his way after the marriage. Mack is a good man and Helen’s family liked him; he made a good living as a respectable professional, but not nearly enough to maintain Helen in the manner to which she had been accustomed all her life. Helen was expecting considerable financial support from her family because she knew they knew Mack could not provide at the level the family’s social circle required, and her father had always assured her of such help when she married. Her father expected to likely have to provide such support for Helen as her dating pool was limited due to their unusually high level economic and social status (and the fact that Helen was not a pretty woman).
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Problem: Helen was not sure Mack would still want to marry her if she would not be receiving significant funds from her family after their wedding. This is because she felt Mack would feel pressured to provide at a level he could not and would be afraid to enter into the marriage. Helen also was concerned that she would have a difficult time adjusting to more modest circumstances and might come to resent Mack’s inability to provide her the luxuries she prefers. She was overwhelmed by the wedding plans, was still grieving the loss of her father, and the reality of the misfortune her family has suffered – in addition to her fears about Mack and her future with – or without – him. She felt, under the circumstances, she could not think straight and asked what she should do to be fair to both herself and to Mack?
Dr. Vaune’s Advice: Helen might not be ‘a looker’ but she is self aware enough to recognize when she needs help and wise enough to ask for help when she needs it. So, at our first session, I explained to Helen that she needed to understand that her grief, for both losses, would take time to mellow and come to terms with; meanwhile she should allow herself time to feel it and process it on a daily basis.
Second, Helen was reminded that planning a wedding is, of course, stressful and demanding, especially as the big day nears. This stress, too, needed to be recognized and managed throughout each day. I gave her some simple techniques for managing both her grief and stress which she can put into practice under almost any circumstance, to allow the energy to flow out and away from her, while giving it all the respect it is due.
Third, I reminded her that she must first get clear within herself about what she truly needs from Mack and whether or not he can reliably supply that to her.
Fourth, I asked her, if she had met Mack and she had had no expectation of family, or even his financial support, would she still want to be his life partner and wife? That was the priority question, so I suggested she give that some serious consideration. She later replied she would still want Mack, even if money were not an issue.
So, the next hurdle involved getting her and Mack to discuss the new reality of circumstance and sort out how much, if at all, they would let it impact their relationship. Mack would need to reflect on his ability to provide and whether or not he could manage his ego and insecurity, if any, about Helen feeling short changed. Helen would need to reflect on her materialism expectations and decide whether or not she could maturely embrace the required changes life was thrusting upon her. To facilitate their discussion I suggested they use the book, The Life Mate Questions, by Cathleen Carr, to make sure they talked about the various topics, with specific questions, that their new circumstances demanded.
No matter what, Helen’s lifestyle was going to change and require her to accept that reality and adjust her expectations. It would be up to her to accept this challenge with grace and gratefulness for all she has had – or not. Mack was being given the opportunity to determine if he really wanted Helen, with or without her family’s deep pockets and social connections that would probably disintegrate over time. Both of these issues would be profoundly important for both these individuals to have sorted within themselves and between one another, prior to saying, “I do.”
They did the self reflection and the questioning of one another even while the wedding plans continued to unfold. Now, they are living together happily as husband and wife.
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