Shadow Weddings: A Ceremony to Show Your Dark Side

PHOTO: The silhouette of bride and groom wedding is seen at sunset.
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Imagine wearing rags to your wedding, carrying a bouquet of thorns instead of roses, and getting dead leaves thrown at you instead of rice. Then you admit your darkest flaws and fears about marriage instead of loving, eloquent vows.

It sounds like a nightmare, but it's actually part of a new trend among couples: shadow weddings. They're ceremonies hosted before a couple's real -- or "light" -- wedding, marriage therapist Jessica Benson told ABC News.

"This isn't for everyone and we don't expect it to be," she said. "We really are here to help people become closer, not fling mud at each other."

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Benson and her husband Jim, a sex and relationship coach, began facilitating shadow weddings in 2011, a year after they married and hosted their own. Now the Bay Area couple offers shadow wedding packages that run from $2,500 to $7,500, depending on how much counseling, traveling and planning is necessary.

The goal is to acknowledge "aspects of the individuals that are less than glorious, knowing that's what comes up in a relationship," said Benson, 40.

It's a way to make sure you're in love with a person's darkest side before you commit to their best parts, her husband explained.

"It's a form of premarital counseling," said Jim Benson, 53. "It's not like you show up for this ritual and pay us $5,000 and we'll get rid of your shadows."

In fact, there are no actual shadows. The name refers to "shadow material," the dirty truths each person must present about themselves in the form of vows, like "I vow to never do the dishes when I'm tired," or, "I vow to call my girlfriends and complain about you instead of bringing the issue directly to you," for example.

Most shadow weddings are held at night, and many couples opt to wear unattractive clothing, or sometimes, costumes. Sometimes there's a bonfire, but every ceremony is personalized, Benson said.

"One guy made a ring out of pages of self-help books that he used to read to get women," she said.

"And then burned it in the fire at the end of the ceremony," Jim added.

They recommend couples undergo a few months of therapy before shadow weddings, and keeping the guest list short. So far, the Bensons have facilitated four shadow weddings, but say many friends have incorporated some "shadow material" into their main ceremonies.

On their website, they stress that shadow weddings aren't for the "faint of heart."

"We do not assume in any way that mainstream culture will accept this," Benson said. "This is for people who hear the idea and say, 'That feels really right for me.'"

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