Planning & Inspiration
Interview With Landis Bejar of AisleTalk
The moment the engagement ring goes on your finger to the exchange of vows marks an exciting, but very stressful period. From finding a dress and venue to choosing décor to dealing with the demands of not only your family and friends, but also your fiancé’s, the wedding planning process can be overwhelming and pressure-filled. Having recently gone through it herself, Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) Landis Bejar understood the modern bride’s headspace, specifically the emotions, anxieties, and uncertainties she feels entering into a major life transition – marriage. Landis realized that the wedding industry was missing one key service – no one was providing support and advice on how to handle wedding related stress in healthy and productive ways.
Since founding AisleTalk in 2017, Landis has been offering consulting and therapy to brides, couples and their families. She caters to each client’s unique situation, working to create a non-judgmental space for open discussion. When we first heard about Landis and what she was doing to help brides-to-be and advocate mental health awareness, we couldn’t wait to interview her for our Women Paving the Aisle series. Here, Landis talks about why she entered the psychology and mental health field, the immediate and long-term benefits of “bridal therapy,” and her surprising favorite celebrity bride of all time.
You’re a licensed New York State Mental Health Counselor. Can you tell us about your background? What made you want to pursue a career in psychology and mental health counseling?
I’ve always been kind of the go-to friend for a sounding board or advice, so the desire to turn this into a profession came really naturally to me in college. I was thrilled to learn that I could be a therapist sooner if I pursued a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling instead of a PhD.and ultimately decided I liked the curriculum and opportunities at Columbia best, so that’s what brought me to NYC!
Since graduating, most of my experience has been working for a non-profit mental health clinic and my private practice, where I have worked with adults, children, families, and couples across a really wide range of mental health concerns. It didn’t take long before I realized how stressful the life transition of getting married can be. I began to notice it with my clients, with my friends, and eventually with myself when I took my own trip down the aisle.
I realized that wedding stress is almost universal because it combines a major life transition with the merging two families in a relatively short period of time. This is when my passion for psychology, counseling people through stress, and my interest in (and love of) weddings and life transitions in general all came together to inspire wedding therapy as a specific specialty.
Even the most laidback bride-to-be is going to have some stressful moments during the wedding planning process. Was there a particular experience or event that motivated you to start AisleTalk?
A year after my own wedding I found myself back in a bridal dress salon, now shopping for my sister-in-law with her and my mother-in-law. MY SIL came out in one dress option that my MIL was less than a fan of. When my SIL broke down in tears, my MIL was so confused as to why she was so upset. As a family therapist, it’s nearly impossible for me to hold back from jumping in when I see a parent and child having difficulty communicating, so without pause, I did just that and helped the two come to a mutual understanding of why the comment was made, what the intention behind it was, and why it may have been interpreted more harshly than intended.
Once tears had dried and humor was invited back into the conversation, MIL said to me – you should be a bridal therapist or something!
It was like lightning striking: In that moment, all my own wedding stress came back to me. And then all the conversations I had had in the past with my friends and family about their experiences with wedding stress – the bridesmaid drama, the budget constraints, the diet worries, the cold feet, the in-law struggles – and I realized, when planning a wedding nearly everyone has SOMETHING that will make them lose sleep, seek comfort food, or snap at their partner, so why isn’t there anyone around to help with it?!
Mental health advocacy is a heated topic right now. As stress and anxiety builds in creating the perfect day, a bride or groom can often be left feeling, and even behaving out of the ordinary. A sense of guilt and shame inevitably follows. Can you tell us how AisleTalk is working to create a non-judgmental, stigma-free platform to discuss these issues?
First off, we start by meeting our potential clients where they normally are when they are wedding planning- bridal shows, bridal magazines, wedding vendor events, etc. We’re not hiding in the dark corners of the Internet for your late-night stress-searching. Instead, we’re coming to wedding expos and bridal shows, sandwiched between the planners and the make-up artists, across from the cake decorators and the florists – wedding planning stress is no secret at this point, so why should finding support for it be a secret or feel unavailable?
The other thing is that we really emphasize a short-term model. We understand that the stress can be very circumstantial. This doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, but it can serve as a reminder that there’s nothing wrong with you if you want to talk about it. And because it isn’t usually a long-term arrangement, that makes it more approachable, accessible, and stigma-free in general.
What are the major sources of stress you see during the wedding planning period?
Stress ebbs and flows throughout the process of planning a wedding. It can sometimes even start before the engagement and linger a little beyond the big day. Throughout the process, the most common sources of stress that I see tend to be related to managing competing expectations of others, family or partnership strain, difficulty making decisions, and budget concerns.
I have found that bridal stress can stem from two general “bride personalities”; I call one of them “The Overwhelmed Bride” (OB) and the other “The Determined Bride” (DB). OB gets overwhelmed by all the decisions to be made, and is shocked when everyone around her seems to have an opinion. OB is at risk of losing her own voice in the process and feeling like the wedding isn’t even hers. OB might seem calm, cool, and collected on the outside, but might have that “straw that breaks the camel’s back” as the wedding date creeps up.
Determined Bride, on the other hand, has all the answers. Some might be calling her a Bridezilla in the background; but the truth is, she’s been planning her wedding for years and is ready to finally see it come together. The only problem is that DB will inevitably be confronted with some sort of reality constraints – budget, logistics, availability, something, that will threaten her vision and cause her stress.
As we mentioned, even the most laid-back brides have stress, and most brides will relate to either one of these bride-types and sometimes a combination of both! These bridal personalities tend to dictate how the bride will respond to the different stressors that come up during the process and how we can find a way to navigate those stressors in therapy.
Many people feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when it comes to therapy. What would you say to that bride or groom who is clearly feeling the pressure, but hesitant about seeking help?
Anytime we’re faced with something we have mixed feelings about, I think it’s important to take inventory of the potential costs and benefits of doing that thing AND the potential costs/benefits of not doing that thing. So when it comes to “seeking support for handling wedding stress,” you might try asking yourself: “What’s the best that can happen if you get the support? What’s the worst?” and then ask yourself the same questions about NOT getting the support: “What’s the best that can happen if you don’t get this support? What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t?” Considering these things will help her explore potential outcomes.
I would also remind folks in that quandary that all services are completely confidential, and that they can always call for a free consult, or come in for an initial session to see how it feels. We know that help seeking can be extremely difficult for many people, and we want to meet people where they are.
Can you explain the various services you offer?
Individual therapy: Individual talk therapy is 45 minutes of uninterrupted YOU-time typically held once a week, with just you and your therapist. At the start of your therapy, you identify some of the specific difficulties you are facing, as well as some ideal goals of where you would like to be at the end of your therapeutic work. Your therapist will work with you to identify and eventually overcome any internal or external barriers to your goals, using therapeutic conversation, targeted skill-building, and/or evidence-based psychotherapy techniques, depending on your goals.
Couples and Premarital: Couples sessions can be used as a primary mode of therapy or as a supplement to individual therapy. If you and your partner have identified a place where you’ve been getting stuck, couples therapy can be a great way to sit together with a trained therapist to try to work through it. Another common experience is that one partner comes in for individual therapy, and later on, it becomes apparent that certain issues would be best worked on while having their partner with them in session. In these cases, the partner might join for just a few sessions to enhance the individual work.
Premarital counseling is a particular type of couples counseling that is used leading up to a wedding and marriage. Usually with premarital counseling, the couple doesn’t necessarily have specific issues they would like to work on, but rather just come in for a “tune-up” before they embark on the next chapter of marriage. Premarital counseling is a bit more structured than couples counseling; we use the Prepare-Enrich (P/E) assessment, which starts with a questionnaire for each partner to take. It covers various areas within the relationship including communication, conflict resolution, finances, and spiritual beliefs and takes into account individual personality, family of origin, and relationship dynamics. The results of this assessment show us areas where the couple is less aligned or discussion topics that will be important in marriage, but maybe haven’t been talked about yet in the relationship, giving us great guidance and resources to structure our sessions.
Family: Often times, planning a wedding and a marriage is an entire family affair and many personalities converging to plan one special day can make for some difficult conversations. Family therapy sessions offer a safe space to navigate any family issue that might be coming up for a bride or groom. Like couples sessions, the option for family therapy can be used as a primary modality from start to finish, or as a supplement to individual work, and we do not necessarily have to meet with the entire family, but can also work with smaller family units (e.g. a bride and her mother, bride and sister, etc.).
Coaching: Coaching is similar to therapy, but has a bit more of a time-limited, goal-oriented, and structured approach. The coach takes a bit more of a hands-on role than the therapist. Session frequency can be increased and incorporate phone/Skype check-ins. This is also a relationship that is accessible to our out of state clients who participate via phone or video conferencing. The preference between therapy and coaching is completely up to the bride. Sometimes I incorporate elements of both to ensure the bride gets exactly what she needs.
You also offer couples therapy. How will a couple benefit from these sessions?
When couples seek out therapy, they are usually feeling stuck on one or more issues that they are not on the same page about. The issues that are discussed might seem trivial, but underlying these issues are core values and pain that are heightened when you are in a long-term relationship and are dependent on another person, and therefore you are in an inherently vulnerable situation. Because of this vulnerability and dependence, couples often get stuck in their defenses.
Having a neutral third party can help increase insight into relational patterns, help to resolve current problems, prevent worsening of a current issue, or help a generally happy couple navigate through a stressful external experience (like a wedding, death, job change, or parenting difficulty). The process of therapy can help partners improve their ability to express their emotions and developed the skills necessary to better communicate and problem-solve with their partners more effectively.
Common areas of concern addressed in couple’s therapy include issues with money, parenting, sex, infidelity, in-laws, chronic health issues, infertility, gambling, substance use, emotional distance and frequent conflict.
We love that AisleTalk is willing to meet with clients outside the office and even come to the home. What made you extend your services and make these accommodations?
I was actually inspired from my background in a couple of other methods of therapy which lend themselves to out-of-office visits, such as exposure therapy for anxiety and phobias or working with children and meeting them at home or at school instead of an office.
When it comes to wedding therapy, I think there are a lot of benefits of out of office visits. There are specific events and outings that one might be particularly stressed about, so having your therapist or coach join you in that setting can be much more helpful than just talking about it abstractly in the office. It also can be nice if you’re involving a family member or partner who is very busy or ambivalent about joining a session, to be met with in the comfort of your home rather than the office. Finally, we know that planning a wedding means you’re BUSY!! So if it makes it a little easier on you to meet at home, near work, or for coffee after your wedding workout – we want to help you.
During any of life’s significant transitional events like getting married, it’s always best to address problems early on before they come to a serious head years down the road. Do you see wedding planning therapy as valuable to laying the foundation for a healthy marriage?
Absolutely. Marriage is often one of the first major life transitions that a couple will encounter, which will then initiate the formation of a unique family unit. Wedding planning, therefore, serves as the process around the formation of that family unit and how the unit will make decisions to mark the transition.
Since any major decision making can often be accompanied by stress, seeing a therapist during this first significant experience can help a couple identify important insights about the way they make decisions, handle stress, communicate, and prioritize their new family unit – which will be helpful in future transitions, major stress points, and even everyday ups-and-downs.
What advice do you have for someone who has just said yes to a marriage proposal? Before all the stress hits, what can they do to mentally prepare themselves for what the next twelve or more months are going to throw at them?
Since my own experience with being engaged, I have tried to help newly engaged people around me prepare by reminding them that being engaged and planning a wedding is an incredibly unique [and relatively short] period of time in one’s life that will never really repeat itself. Even if you’ve been married or planned a wedding before, planning with a new partner, new sets of families, under different circumstances, and for a new life transition makes for a truly unique experience. To that end, I encourage couples to stay present throughout the process and know that anything that happens, whether stressful or joyous, is only here for a short time, and it will be over soon.
I also like to remind people that the best weddings are reflections of the union of two people and two families. That means that family opinions can be taken into account at some points in the process, couple opinions should be prioritized most of the time, and no one person in the planning process is going to have every expectation met – and all of that is okay and is representative of the fact that this event is to celebrate more than just one person (it’s not a birthday party, after all).
All this discussion about stress has us wondering what you do relax and recharge on your downtime?
For me, de-stressing is all about SELF-CARE! Self-care and de-stressing go hand in hand, and they work best when they are practiced regularly, often, and across many areas of life. For me, I enjoy physical self care of regular exercise (I’m a big fan of spinning, barre, and playing soccer like I’m 14 again), getting my nails done, taking a hot shower, and eating delicious food. I practice emotional self-care through cuddling with my two dogs, long walks around New York City with my husband, spending time in nature, seeking out therapy during particularly stressful periods, and singing (loudly and horribly) to the Hamilton soundtrack.
You just recently launched AisleTalk and are already receiving tremendous response from the wedding industry. Congratulations! Where would you like to see your business in the next five years?
Thank you! In the next 5 years I would love to see AisleTalk continuing to grow and being able to serve more clients. I would like to bring in a few more therapists with different backgrounds and areas of expertise, and possibly some other wellness specialists like a nutritionist/dietitian, certified sex therapist, and nurse practitioner. Further, I would like to expand the services we offer to giving talks and workshops for wedding industry professionals, running bridal and couple groups, and leading workshops and events on health and wellness for brides, couples, and families.
Most of all, I hope that in 5 years, AisleTalk and wedding therapy have at least enough presence in the local wedding planning community that the idea of talking to a therapist about wedding stress is something that is somewhat normalized. It should not be totally unheard of; but rather, seen like any other type of self care or wedding prep for being the best bride you can be on your special day, at the end of this potentially stressful process.
Who is your favorite celebrity bride of all time?
I’ve recently become quite enamored with Kristen Bell. This might be a controversial answer to the favorite celebrity bride question, because she apparently she spent $142 to get married in a courthouse, wearing black pants. But the truth is, I love any wedding that honors the couple in a unique way that is meaningful to them. For some that’s $142 at the courthouse with two witnesses; for others that is $142,000 with every person who’s ever meant anything to both of you since you were born in whatever venue they all fit. I think that’s the message that her wedding sends to me. And more than that, I appreciate what she’s shared publicly about her relationship – she speaks pretty openly about her decision to wait to get married until marriage was legal for same-sex couples, how she navigates partnership stress, and the importance of communicating openly in her relationship about “taboo topics,” which is often what I help people do in couples therapy.
She also made this music video as a love ballad to her therapist, which I’m kind of obsessed with, both as a therapist and a therapy-goer myself.
A big thank you to Landis for taking part in our Women Paving the Aisle series! For more information about AisleTalk and Landis’ services, visit aisle-talk.com