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How to break up with your wedding

By Kat Kinsman, CNN
updated 3:36 PM EST, Fri January 31, 2014
On the fence about getting hitched? Therapist Dr. Nancy Irwin has some advice on how to make it easier on all parties. On the fence about getting hitched? Therapist Dr. Nancy Irwin has some advice on how to make it easier on all parties.
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Saying 'I... Don't' gracefully
Saying 'I... Don't' gracefully
Saying 'I... Don't' gracefully
Saying 'I... Don't' gracefully
Saying 'I... Don't' gracefully
Saying 'I... Don't' gracefully
Saying 'I... Don't' gracefully
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Choose your party very carefully, so you don't have to worry about lineup changes
  • Read contacts carefully; deposits are often nonrefundable
  • If you decide not to go through with it, break it off compassionately.
  • Experts say the financial and social tolls are far less than a bad marriage.

Editor's note: Golfer Rory McIlroy is making headlines for breaking off his engagement with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, and bringing the news public in an official statement. Here's how to end things with compassion.

(CNN) -- There's rarely a brighter day in a person's life than the one they and their beloved decide to wed. But during the days and months between engagement and wedding, the initial delight can dim, and potential problems flare up under the spotlight.

The photographer who seemed ideal to document your special day suddenly seems a little too pricey. The childhood best friend you'd always imagined by your side at the altar suddenly seems like a bored brat. And even your spouse-to-be is suddenly making a lifetime commitment seem like a life sentence.

Emotions run high in times of stress, but sometimes these meltdowns can be a sign that the union -- whether it's with a vendor, guest, wedding party member or your dearly beloved -- isn't meant to last.

Breaking up with a member of the wedding party

For "celebrity broker" Kim Tumey, ousting some bridesmaids from her wedding party was an easy decision, but it didn't go down without some drama. Three of her fiance's relatives assumed that they were to be part of the 2012 ceremony. Tumey went along with it until the trio took to Facebook to complain about the expense of the hotel rooms and how ugly they found their shoes and dresses, and -- quelle horreur -- they even revealed the bride's dress before the big day.

Tumey broke the news over the phone and was met with a few choice words as she reminded the offending parties, "I didn't ask y'all to be in my wedding, geez." The former-bridesmaids refused to even attend the blessed event, and the relationships remain sour to this day.

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Wedding planner and star of TLC's "Wedding Island" Sandy Malone has seen this happen time and time again.

The rift sometimes stems from a "demotion" from maid of honor to bridesmaid, and it rarely goes well, Malone said. "While they play like they're happy to be a bridesmaid, they're bitter, and they act like brats throughout the weekend. Suddenly they get psychotically picky about their own hair, or they don't follow the requested accessory dress code, or they stalk me all weekend trying to tell me what to do. Whatever, they're not my client, the bride is.

"I preach taking your time and carefully choosing your wedding party because it's really in poor taste to make changes to the lineup after it's been publicized unless it's for a very, very good reason," Malone said.

Photographer Veronica L. Yankowski chalks up her uncomfortable situation to naivete. "When I was engaged back in 1999, I was young and believed the world revolved around me," she said.

Her sister-in-law showed little interest in her or the wedding, so Yankowski gave her a graceful out, saying that she understood her job made her too busy to participate.

A longtime friend, however, provided more of an emotional hurdle. "My maid of honor lived in another state. She never got fitted for her dress, wouldn't return phone calls and seemed uninterested as well. She was a friend of many years and this was so upsetting to me," Yankowski said.

After months of missed deadlines, Yankowski asked her to leave the party. The relationship was wounded, and it has never thoroughly recovered.

Breaking up with a vendor

The problems didn't end there, though. Yankowski ended the eight-and-a-half year relationship three months before the wedding (after an initial postponement by her fiance), and in the midst of the emotional maelstrom, had to face a major financial hit.

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"We lost so much money in deposits; over $10,000," she said. "My parents were upset he never offered to repay them what they put down, and I just wanted to move on. I begged some of my vendors to return the deposits and only one did, the limo company because I gather they could still book the date out."

The photographer she worked for at the time claimed he would return a $1,000 deposit because of their personal and professional relationship, but the check never came, she says.

Yankowski learned and grew from the experience and now, as a vendor herself, she insists upon a nonrefundable deposit to secure a date. "As much as I feel terrible for the couple, hey, I've been there, I also am a single parent, and I have a daughter to support. I still need to practice fair business etiquette."

People don't tend to argue, she found, and she's even been hired at the last minute by a couple dissatisfied with their original photographer. "It happens," she said.

PR specialist Bevin O'Rourke saw a loss of $16,500 (along with her relationship) when her engagement ended six months in. While the church she had booked gave the $3,000 deposit back, the band, the dress, the bridesmaid dresses, the invitations and the reception venue all kept at least some of the deposit.

When she made a personal connection with the vendors, though, some were able to bend. The venue had another wedding booked that day and lowered the fee (after she broke down crying and shared her story), and the dress store issued a $1,000 credit, which her sister was able to use later that year.

O'Rourke doesn't regret a penny of it, though. "I would rather deal with a financial loss than the agony and anxiety I would have experienced before walking down the aisle if I had moved forward, afraid I was making the wrong decision," she said.

Breaking up with wedding guests

While guests like Tumey's may end up disinvited, to the tune of a whole lot of drama, there usually isn't bloodshed involved.

Rob Farrow, a wedding expert who developed cloud-based planning app Aisle Planner with his wife (also a wedding planner), has seen clients "modify" their guest lists because of divorces, business disputes, personal differences, but none so dramatic as a physical assault that happened at their former venue, a high-end destination spot in Hawaii.

"We had a part of the wedding party get into a brawl the night before the wedding, and one of the bridesmaids stabbed one of the groomsmen," he said. "Needless to say, bridesmaid was uninvited, and we had to hire extra security on the day of to make sure she did not show up and go into round two."

And sometimes guests opt out on their own, leaving the bride and groom high and dry and paying for a whole lot of unused rooms, meals and more. Some years ago, Farrow was in charge of planning lavish nuptials for a prominent businessman marrying a woman 40 years his junior.

The entire planning process for the destination wedding was based on a guest count of 80, representing the families of both parties. Several weeks before the wedding, the groom's family staged an intervention, and the bride's family decided to boycott as well, Farrow remembers.

"Come wedding day there were the bride, groom and two guests, who were a little surprised to be there all alone," said Farrow.

"We were able to scale back the catering, event staffing and the food service at the last minute, but the very expensive and high profile band, florist, equipment and decor were locked in. Airfare, hotel rooms, rental cars for 80 guests also went unused."

Still, the wedding went off without a hitch, Farrow said, and after 10 years, the couple is still happily married.

Breaking up with your bride or groom-to-be

This may be the toughest decision a person will ever make, and therapist Dr. Nancy Irwin suggests some careful reflection beforehand. She suggests seeking counsel from a professional, like a therapist, counselor or spiritual leader, and definitely not a friend or family member who will approach it with some degree of bias.

List-making, Irwin says, can be a helpful tool. "A good place to start is to make a list of what you want in a marriage and in a partner, what your goals are. Write down what your doubts are. Writing these things down allows you begin to get clarity on what is working and what is not working in your relationship."

And if you decide that it is indeed time to part, Irwin suggests doing it in person, in a safe, private place, with as few words as possible. Consider something like: "This is not a rash decision. I have given it much careful thought. This hurts like hell, but I know it is best for us both. I cannot marry you." Then sit back, listen, and offer to help make phone calls, cancel caters, return gifts and take care of other logistics.

Then, Irwin says, it's time to take care of yourself. "You cannot get past it. You have to go through it. It sucks completely, but won't suck nearly as badly as a divorce, legal fees, child custody issues or feeling like a failure."

While other people may wish to critique your decision, Irwin advises to ignore it. "It takes enormous courage to face the embarrassment, guilt, anxiety, expense, hassle of canceling plans, returning gifts. Honor your courage of doing the right thing in spite of others' potential criticism or gossip."

"I cannot tell you how many people know walking down the aisle that it is a mistake, and do it anyway because they feel like it is too late to do the right thing."

Did you break off an engagement? First of all, we're sorry. Secondly, please share your story in the comments below.

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