We’ve all seen it in made-for-TV movies or on the big screen – brides crying, mothers crying, fathers fighting, grandmothers wailing, grandfathers drinking, and the groom in big trouble with everyone for having strippers at his bachelor’s party (his friends always arrange it without his knowing about it), or for being late to the ceremony or for appearing to get last minute cold feet. Let’s face it, folks. Weddings push our buttons like no other occasion. Can anything be done to avoid mayhem and actually enjoy the blessings that such ceremonies are supposed to bring to us all?
We believe the answer is yes, however, we also believe that it will take a bit of work and understanding in order to get everyone to that happy place where friends, families and assorted wedding crashers, can witness a new beginning at one of life’s greatest moments. Let’s look at the various stages of this potentially wonderful occasion.
Pre-Wedding: The happy couple has been dating for a period of time (some take years and some take months; of course in Vegas this timeframe may be radically reduced to hours and even minutes!). Some couples complete religious instruction or similar retreats where they discuss and share their views about such critical “couple” things as: starting a family, budgeting, home financing, credit cards, work and careers, vacations, and the ever-present and overarching, communication! Some just live together until they wake up one morning and say, “Let’s do it!”
The arguments start when the decision to wed has been made. Will we elope and avoid all the family headaches and save a ton of money or should we go ahead with a more formal wedding with a dress, cake, best man, maid of honor, catering, and guest list? Either choice will be the starting point of major conflict. If you elope, you will be disappointing your family and friends and all those dreams they had to see you walking down the aisle, not to mention your not wearing the family heirlooms (i.e., dress, handkerchiefs, pins, rings, scarves, veils, hats, etc). The familiar movie line for this decision comes from your mother, “How can you do this to me?” If you decide on a formal wedding, then the arguments begin with whether a church or civil ceremony will be held, where will it take place and when, the guest list, and, of course, how will we pay for all of this?
Wedding Day: The happy couple has finally decided on a ceremony, venue, date, catering service, music, guest list, and budget. The big day is finally here and all is ready. So where is the argument now? The bride looks radiant as she walks slowly down the aisle in the arms of her father, who looks relieved that this is finally happening although his share of the expenses is a bit more than he expected. The groom smiles proudly and nods to his best man who is eyeing the maid of honor who returns his knowing smile. Wait a minute, the groom thinks. No way are those two flirting at my wedding. I thought we agreed that there would be no partying last night. No bachelorette parties or strippers or anything else. I didn’t even go out and…
The bride beams as she kisses her father and joins hands with her groom. Wait a minute, she thinks. Why does his eyes look so bloodshot? I thought we agreed there would be no bachelor’s party. Did he get a stripper? I’ll bet it was his best man who set that up. And I didn’t even go out last night!
Post-Wedding: In the aftermath of a joyous and meaningful service, the realities of life descend upon the happy couple. By now most of the critical household arrangements have been finalized (e.g., house or apartment, job, salary, and transportation). They now wade through the many gifts and cards that have been received and try to develop a system for remembering who gave what so the appropriate thank you cards can be sent out in a timely manner. Smiles abound as they open yet another wine glass set.
So what’s the argument now? Haven’t we have reached an understanding about the other night? Of course, we now know that no one threw a party and the best man and maid of honor were on their own. Yes, the best man wanted to hire a stripper but he didn’t. And, of course, the best man won’t be coming over to the house, right? Well, he is my best friend. But I’m your best friend, right? Yes, dear. But what about your maid of honor, she shouldn’t come over either and… But she didn’t try to wreck our wedding by hiring a stripper, did she? No, dear but she… And she is my best friend and I’ve known her all my life, right? Yes, dear but… I think that’s only fair, don’t you? Yes, dear.
One of the lesser-known strategies for reducing conflict and enhancing personal relationships (whether it be with our spouse, family, friends, co-workers, or children) is temperament. Temperament is primarily that aspect of our personality that is concerned with emotions and the speed and intensity of our reactions to them. As Hippocrates found some 2,500 years ago, we are each born with four basic temperaments and develop our “dominant” temperament, that is, those behaviors, attitudes and emotions that feel MOST comfortable and natural to us. We have described these “Basic Elements” of temperament in terms that honor the fact that we cannot survive if even one is missing:
Earth— reliable, traditional, organized, sensible, and trustworthy.
Air— intelligent, analytical, curious, visionary, and logical.
Fire— spontaneous, playful, innovative, uninhibited, and fearless.
Water— compassionate, friendly, personal, and benevolent.
How do these four temperaments relate to our wedding and reducing the conflict that is likely to occur during the pre-wedding, wedding day and post-wedding stages? We posit that the dominant temperament of the bride and groom is a strong influence on their willingness – or unwillingness — to tolerate and deal with conflict (e.g., between themselves, during family arguments, dealing with unhappy vendors and recalcitrant friends, etc.).
When we began to write about temperament in our book, “What Makes You Tick and What Ticks You Off” and lead temperament seminars for public, private and non-profit sector clients, including couples, we looked at temperament as a strong indicator of personality that had sometimes overwhelming influences over us – usually without our understanding or even awareness! How might this look in the behaviors of our bride and groom?
Brides/Grooms with dominant Earth temperaments have an inborn pre-disposition to protect the safety and security of their relationship, marriage, family, home, neighborhood, and community. They are highly dependable and extremely organized. They use checklists to insure all the wedding tasks are completed. They are detail-oriented and stay precisely on schedule unless additional tasks are required. Marriage contracts are taken very seriously. They are always well prepared and rarely surprised unless they are disappointed by the failure of others. They are formal rather than informal. They have strong moral values, prize tradition, and expect everyone else to live up to their commitments — just as they do.
Brides/Grooms with an Air temperament have an inborn pre-disposition to be competent in relationship with their spouse. They are unemotional and may appear to be oblivious to the emotions of others. They expect perfection in themselves and in their spouse and family. They are highly critical of their own capabilities—and the capabilities of others’. The mere details of the wedding are not that important to them however, once agreed upon, they expect that everyone will complete them as promised. They need to have all available data and information before making a decision. They are logical and rational and will not accept failure in wedding vendors, contractors, or caterers. They enjoy discussing the future with their spouse and can articulate an ideal world where all of your dreams come true.
Brides/Grooms with a Fire temperament have an inborn pre-disposition to take action and have fun doing so. They are technically savvy and enjoy using computers to find the latest information on weddings – from flowers to ice sculpture. They are uninhibited and could easily jump on a plane, boat or train to elope on the spur-of-the-moment. They are easily bored so long-winded family arguments over who should be invited will be looked on with disdain. They are informal rather than formal. They hate to wait. They are innovative and will bombard their parents and friends with seemingly off-the-wall ideas for their wedding (e.g., how about in a hot air balloon?). They are the folks who get married at home plate in a ballpark. They do not enjoy being told what to do and they will appear obstinate just because they can. They are self-confident and believe they can always drop all these wedding plans at the drop of a hat and handle it themselves.
Brides/Grooms with a Water temperament have an inborn pre-disposition to care for other people, especially each other and their immediate families. They are positive and optimistic and believe that virtually any wedding plan will turn out perfectly for them. They see the selection of wedding party members as “good practice” for their own future weddings. They strive for cooperation and harmony and will settle for the lowest common denominator in a wedding, if it keeps family and friends from arguing. Their self-sacrifice is a way of life that they believe is a small price to pay for a successful gathering of friends and family. They seek the opinions of others’ and have difficulty in saying no to their suggestions and requests. The pre-wedding stage can be very long and drawn out as they seek the input from friends and relatives then cull through all their very valuable and helpful ideas for the wedding day. They hate lying. They value integrity in themselves, in their friends and in their relatives. Inappropriate behavior before, during or after the wedding by anyone will earn their rancor and long-lasting enmity.
The Dominant Temperament—So What?
The dominant temperaments of each Bride or Groom can influence their behavior in many ways. Temperament could influence an Earth Bride to “go with the plan” when dealing with upset parents while appearing cold, unfeeling, and unapproachable to them. Temperament could influence an Air Groom to fire a caterer at the last minute because they didn’t meet an agreed upon deadline. Temperament could influence a Fire Bride to get a tattoo on the night before the wedding because she thought it would be fun. Temperament could influence a Water Groom to invite more people at the last minute than they can afford because he thought it would be insulting not to invite them.
The power of the dominant temperament on behavior and conflict should be acknowledged as a major source of influence. Its study should be considered an integral part of any formal, pre-wedding couples courses or informal study.
Research also revealed that we all possess a shadow temperament, that is, those behaviors, attitudes and emotions that feel LEAST comfortable, even unnatural, to us. So, if we take our four Basic Elements and prioritize them, the temperament that is our dominant preference would come first. Our second and third preferences (i.e., secondary and tertiary) would come next and our fourth preference would be called our shadow temperament – those behaviors, attitudes and emotions that we relate to the least and typically cause us to become angry and upset with others (e.g., spouses, our family, our friends, our children, etc.).
We posit that Brides/Grooms who can identify and understand their shadow temperaments are more likely to resist becoming emotionally upset and angry when faced with behaviors from that shadow temperament than can those Brides/Grooms who cannot.
While most Brides/Grooms and their families will be able to acknowledge the existence of their dominant temperament fairly easily, many will be surprised that the cause of sudden emotional discomfort (even rage) is linked directly to their shadow temperament. So how might the shadow temperament get us into trouble around our wedding?
Brides/Grooms with a Shadow Temperament of Earth
Brides/Grooms with an Earth shadow may view the behaviors of dominant Earth parents/friends/other relatives as rigid and controlling. They may see a dominant Earth parent as inflexible and constantly judging their performance against a set of rules or traditions that they believe are not as relevant today as they were in years past. The Bride/Groom with an Earth Shadow may view strong family suggestions or recommendations for how their wedding “should” or “ought” to be as domineering and manipulative. They may also view their partner as inflexible or conservative when making decisions about how their post-wedding lives should be led.
Brides/Grooms with a Shadow Temperament of Air
Brides/Grooms with an Air shadow may see dominant Air parents/friends/other relatives as condescending and patronizing. They may see a dominant Air friend as a “know it all” who professes to be expert in every aspect of marriage and, at the drop of a hat, provide an unrequested tutorial to demonstrate his/her superiority. Brides/Grooms with an Air shadow may view Air parents as intellectually curious about their wedding preparations but cold and elitist in their personal involvement. They may see a dominant Air best man or maid of honor as not appreciating the honor nor recognizing the importance the position holds for the happy couple.
Brides/Grooms with a Shadow Temperament of Fire
Brides/Grooms with a Fire shadow may see dominant Fire relatives as unpredictable and potentially wedding “killers,” willingly doing their own thing no matter the situation. They may see a dominant Fire bridesmaid as a reckless thrill seeker with may say or do something totally inappropriate to the minister, caterer, bartender or wedding guest. Brides/Grooms may view dominant Fire parents as immature, unreliable and untrustworthy. They may try and place them in a confined space with close relatives to keep an eye on them and prevent an unhappy incident.
Brides/Grooms with a Shadow Temperament of Water
Brides/Grooms with a Water shadow may view dominant Water parents as highly emotional and overly sensitive. They expect the to break into tears throughout the wedding day and tell embarrassing stories about when the bride/groom were children. They may see a dominant Water grandmother as too nosy and fear they will be delving inappropriately into the private affairs of other wedding guests. They may also view a dominant Water friend as clinging and meddlesome during the wedding dress selection process as try to provide their objective views. They may also view dominant Water friends as chatty and bothersome during the post-wedding stage as the new bridge and groom try and sort out their new lives together while establishing their own sense of privacy.
The Shadow Temperament – So What?
The shadow temperament is typically the one that causes trouble for most people. The shadow may drive a Bride to avoid confrontations with parents, friends and relatives because she is uncomfortable dealing with people. The shadow may cause a Groom to fight with his father about the plans for the wedding ceremony and reception because he perceives there are too many rules to follow. The shadow may influence a Bride not to invite a friend to the wedding because her friend just doesn’t take anything seriously and won’t stop talking! The shadow may cause a Groom to argue with his Bride over her condescending and patronizing attitude toward the efforts of their wedding planner who can’t seem to please her. The shadow may undermine the espirit de corps of the entire wedding party.
Our ability to identify, acknowledge, and learn to develop our shadow temperament is critical to achieving an effective level of emotional intelligence. It is the emotionally intelligent Bride/Groom that is capable of handling any and all situations with diplomacy, care and a gentle forcefulness, if necessary. This requires our Brides/Grooms to view the development of all four temperaments as powerful tools that will enable them to successfully and happily achieve all of their pre-wedding, wedding day, and post-wedding activities.
How Can Brides/Grooms Develop their Four Temperaments?
Learning any new skill takes time and practice. In fact, research shows that while it takes 300 repetitions to produce the correct movement or technique from memory, it takes 3,000 repetitions to do the same activity without thinking about it. Practice does, in fact, make perfect. We know now that we each have all four temperaments within us and that our dominant temperament has received all the attention to date. Get smart on the subject of temperament! There are a number of books to read and workshops to attend that will provide a common language and understanding of temperament. Our workshops are custom-tailored to meet the unique requirements of our clients, especially those considering marriage. We are resource-sensitive (time and money) and can design, develop and conduct workshops rapidly with effective results that typically leave our participants excited about their newly found skills.
A better understanding of temperament becomes yet another learning tool in your never-ending journey to make your marriage more enjoyable, personally satisfying, and joyous and, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Brad Dude and Jim Harden are the co-authors of, “What Makes You Tick and What Ticks You Off – How the Basic Elements of Temperament Will Lead You to a Happier Life.”