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Mission of The First Dance and Take Back Your Wedding


Our mission is to help engaged couples manage the people stress of wedding planning and have more wisdom to carry over to their marriage.



About The First Dance


The First Dance was created by a father-daughter team: Bill Doherty, a nationally recognized marriage and family therapist, and Elizabeth Doherty Thomas, a recent bride. When Elizabeth got engaged she was determined to resist the crazy wedding industry and prove that you can, in fact, focus on your marriage, not the wedding. But Elizabeth soon began to realize that it’s hard to focus on your marriage when you are not yet married. The real focus, and the real stress, was the wedding planning.


When Elizabeth went searching for wedding guidance, she came across online communities of brides. She found thousands of stories of big time stress in bridal land, mostly coming from the people and relationships, not the logistics. The standard advice to stressed-out brides seemed lame: “It’s all about you, so do what you want.” This did not make sense to Elizabeth; why would brides bother writing their darkest pains and frustrations about family and friends in a public online forum if they truly thought everything was about them? Or maybe many brides (and grooms) did not understand the complexities of family dynamics and friendship loyalties in wedding planning, leading them to make mistakes especially with their families that could plague them for years into their marriage. Elizabeth would share these stories with her father, who offered insights from a marriage and family therapy perspective.


Out of these conversations between father and daughter, and with the urging of Bill’s colleague Diane Sollee, the idea for The First Dance was born. The First Dance supports everyone, not just the bride or the couple; we are sensitive to the stresses and deep emotions that affect everyone in wedding planning. We are a new voice in how to work with, not against, your loved ones and friends while planning a wedding and launching a successful, lifelong marriage.


William J. Doherty, Ph.D.


William J. Doherty, Ph.D., is Professor and Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota.  He is a scholar, researcher, and practitioner with many years of work in the areas of marriage and fatherhood. Bill is past president of the National Council on Family Relations and author of 12 books on the family, including Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart. He leads the federally funded Minnesota Family Formation Project, which works with urban at-risk couples.  He is co-founder of the National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists and co-founder (with his daughter Elizabeth) of The First Dance, a new premarital program on the family dynamics of wedding planning). He speaks across the country to both lay and academic audiences and appears frequently in the media. He has been married for over 35 years, is the father of two and beaming grandfather of two.


Elizabeth Doherty Thomas


Elizabeth Doherty Thomas is the co-founder of The First Dance, LLC.  She has a B.A., in psychology from Macalester College and spent 8 years in the business world before starting this new venture.  Having grown up as the daughter of a famous family therapist father, she found herself in a strange new world when she became engaged.  After deciding to use herself as an experiment on how to avoid the wedding industry and instead have an “intentional” engagement, she quickly realized that wedding planning offered tremendous opportunities to learn about relationships, marriage, and family life.  Elizabeth read thousands of internet posts from brides who were overwhelmed by the interpersonal stresses of weddings–such as divorced parents, difficult mothers in law, and unsupportive friends—and invited her father to help uncover the family systems principles behind these stories.  Out of these father-daughter conversations came a program to help engaged couples where they are—planning a wedding with their loved ones.

Elizabeth is married and has two small children.