Not Just Cold Feet: Weddings Go Wild

If they've been following the latest wedding trends, brides, grooms and guests might want to don boxing gloves before heading to the reception for an eve of dancing and drinking.

Forget road and air rage. Now in the ring: wedding rage (search), which is rivaling its relatives in the "formidable force" category.

The phenomenon has had more than its 15 minutes lately, with back-to-back weddings-turned-brawls making national headlines — one in Cleveland, Ohio, in July, another in South Windsor, Conn., last week and a third in Gainesville, Fla., over the weekend.

All three involved alcohol and ended with members of the wedding party in jail, according to police and press accounts.

Experts say the costs and stresses associated with the Big Day have become almost too much to handle — to the point where all the hard work can turn into a wedding gone wild.

"A wedding is very stressful, and the bride and groom want everything to be perfect," said Oregon psychologist Marilyn Sorensen (search), author of "Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem." "It doesn't take much to push them over the top."

She said perfectionism and "keeping up with the Joneses" are usually major culprits.

"There's all that competition to have a better wedding than somebody else did, to spend more," Sorensen said. "Anything less than perfect is a failure. People overreact."

In addition to pressure over how things will run, weddings are emotionally charged because of the big life transition they represent.

The stress has mounted to such a degree that at least one company — Emotionally Engaged in Brookline, Mass. — offers "bridal counseling" and engagement workshops for couples to help them deal with the roller coaster leading up to and including the wedding day.

Family members sometimes get caught up in the intensity as much as or even more than the happy couple.

Thirty-four-year-old Neena of Washington, D.C., (who asked that her last name not be used) said her brother's northern California reception was one of two wild weddings she's witnessed. But the bride and groom weren't involved — it was the bride's brother who flipped his lid at the DJ.

"A fight broke out," said Neena. "The DJ felt threatened enough that he called the police. Everybody was yelling, telling everybody to calm down. It was a wedding divided."

Alcohol was a factor in that wedding brouhaha — as it was at another rowdy reception she attended in New Jersey, to which the groom's friends weren't invited because the bride didn't like them. They showed up anyway, in jeans and Harley Davidson T-shirts.

"There was a big fight with the security people — pushing, shoving and yelling — and they got escorted out," Neena said. "Then the bride and groom got into this huge fight. The bouquet toss didn't even happen."

As a wedding consultant from A Bride's Best Friend in Kansas City, Mo., Angela Alcantar has had a ringside seat more often than she'd like in the wedding rage phenomenon.

Alcantar remembers one instance in which the bride and groom got into such a big squabble during the ceremony that they were alternately screaming at each other and not speaking at the reception.

"The arguing got loud enough that the photographer came over to me and said, 'We need to wrap this (picture-taking session) up' because they were just at each other's throats," Alcantar said.

At that wedding, the bride was drunk and the groom was trying to calm her, Alcantar said.

There were other alcohol-related dramas, too: The bride's "plastered" mother was sobbing because her inebriated husband was dirty dancing with younger women; someone vomited in an elevator; and one drunken guest tumbled down a marble staircase, according to Alcantar. Luckily, the woman wasn't seriously hurt.

To avoid such a ruckus, Alcantar suggests that couples and the wedding party engage in a physical or relaxation activity the day before the big event to relieve tension.

She advises starting the reception with an open bar and then switching to a "soft bar" serving only beer and wine. And she tells brides and grooms to limit their alcohol intake.

Taking things in stride helps too. That's how 31-year-old Ellen of Seattle handled her rowdy wedding last summer — even after groomsmen set off bottle caps in church, tried to take over for the band at the reception and released a stink bomb at the end of the night.

Through it all, Ellen kept her cool.

"It didn't faze me," she said. "I never pictured having the perfect, uptight wedding where everyone is really polite."