Have you ever woken up in the night in a panic, having had a nightmare about tableware? I have. In my dream we were sitting down to eat at my wedding but had failed to hire any cutlery.
You see, for reasons I no longer understand, I'm planning the kind of wedding where even the knives and forks must be rented, and I'm starting to wonder if perhaps my mother did have a point when she warned I might end up regretting my – I mean our – decision to curate the whole thing myself.
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After getting engaged last June, it's been a steep descent into this frenzied state. I'm not the only one – a rising number of brides and grooms-to-be are becoming so overwrought by elaborate wedding plans, spiralling costs and family issues that they are turning to wedding therapy, designed to help ease the anxieties of those about to walk down the aisle.
Some find it helps them manage the stress of wedding planning; others find it useful for navigating the minefield of tricky relatives. Hayley Smith, a 31-year-old PR director who is getting married in May, sought out a therapist last year when she found wedding planning got too much.
"Wedding suppliers give you so much choice... you get led astray," she says, admitting she now has three wedding dresses. "It can be overwhelming and makes you feel your ideas aren't good enough."
Unlike a regular therapist, hers has helped her organise her wedding planning and taught her how best to communicate with her partner to reduce stress.
"She's taught me how to manage my time and expectations and how to compromise," she adds.
Smith is getting married in a forest in Suffolk, but despite the natural beauty of the setting, she feels under pressure to spend money on redundant decorations – "even a florist I was talking to told us we definitely needed more flowers than we were planning." She wanted the wedding to cost around £10,000 (around $20,000 NZD); now it's £20,000 ($40,800), a sum she admits "makes you feel anxious and guilty."
The price of weddings has skyrocketed over the past few years, with the average wedding costing £31,974 ($65,000 NZD) in 2019, nearly £5,000 ($10,000 NZD) more than they did two years earlier. Meanwhile, earnings have stagnated, further exacerbating stress for brides and grooms-to-be.
In the past few months, I have used inheritance I hadn't planned to dip into to buy my dress; slammed my laptop down so violently it broke a key when I heard how much napkins would cost us; and asked my fiancé to tell his cousin to abandon his four-year-old son after he booked him a flight to our wedding from Belfast despite our clear stipulation that the do would be a child-free zone.
When I first got engaged, I used to pride myself on being a laid-back cynic who rolled her eyes about things like flowers and colour schemes. But the closer I've been getting to the big day, the more unravelled I've become. The spiralling cost is the cause of most of my anxiety (we're already £4k ($8k NZD) over budget), closely followed by the seating plan (an impossible Rubik's cube of a task that can only cause division and discontent).
I'm aware, of course, that wedding stress is a first-world problem. But when the industry concerned is a money-grabbing monster, it is hard to avoid becoming gobbled up in its jaws.
Chloe Newman*, 35, who got married last year, says she wanted her wedding to be "immaculate and spectacular" and therapy helped her see how "absurd" her expectations had become.
"I don't think I knew how tense and stressed I'd gotten until I had a calm space where I could consider these things without feeling like I'd get attacked or blamed for being myself... I'd become a maniac about details," she remembers, and "I don't think I understood the impact of my freak outs on my husband-to-be."
It's not uncommon for couples to struggle when it comes to bringing together their relatives, too. Smith doesn't speak to her parents and hasn't invited them to the wedding, and her therapist helps her process such complicated family issues.
"It's a bit more emotional than I thought it would be. People keep asking me things like, 'Is your dad walking you down the aisle?'" she says.
Like Smith, paralegal Shira Notrika, 30, has a complicated relationship with her family, and turned to a therapist in the run-up to her wedding in London last year. She also has MS and was experiencing stress-induced flare-ups beforehand.
"I didn't want to be stressing about certain people saying things which might initiate a fight," she says. "I wanted everything to be civil, even though there were a couple of relationships that were quite strained. [My therapist and I] achieved that by dissecting, analysing and anticipating the behaviours that might come up and managing my response so it didn't turn into a big deal."
It's not only the big day itself that is propelling more couples into counselling, but the prospect of being together forever, too. Charlotte Fox Weber, head of psychotherapy at the School of Life in London, an organisation dedicated to helping people lead more fulfilled lives, introduced pre-marital therapy to its programme two years ago. She says there has been a steady rise in couples booking sessions, with 95 having signed up already this year compared to 48 the year before. Some even receive it as a wedding gift.
According to Fox Weber, pre-marital therapy helps people deal with the huge stress and anxiety of planning a wedding by unpacking motivations and challenging assumptions.
"Radical acceptance is key," she says. "Accept that some people will be critical and aggrieved, no matter what."
Common topics millennial couples like to discuss include issues around money, in-laws, whether to have children, wedding planning stress and struggles with identity when it comes to taking a husband's name.
We are getting married later in life now, and many women have already forged professional identities by the time they tie the knot and worry they won't be "findable" online if they change their names, she explains. "When people got married aged 21 or 22, they didn't necessarily have their own identity to protect in the same way."
Couples' expectations of their weddings are also high on the list of concerns: "a wedding is meant to be a statement of who you are as an individual and as a couple. That pressure is unbearably immense."
Perhaps stressing out over cutlery is only the tip of the iceberg, then. It's the marriage that matters, after all, far more than a ceremony really does.
Yet right now, as I stare down the barrel of three more months of wedmin, I feel sure that after all this, matrimony itself will be a doddle.