How to Handle Family Issues at Your Wedding With Class
A wedding is an amazing time in a couple’s life. Traditionally, a wedding means that two people have finally found that one person who's a perfect match. They have found someone who understands them, loves them, and wants to spend the rest of their lives in the other’s company. What a wonderful feeling! Being a celebration of two souls coming together to become one, you’d think that friends and family members would be ecstatic for the couple and would want nothing more than to have the honor of celebrating their incredible day with them. However, that’s not always the way it works.
For friends and especially families, weddings can be very emotional and difficult. A mom may no longer be the confidant in her son’s life, a father may feel like his little girl is being taken away from him, and friends may feel like they are being abandoned. What’s even worse is when one set of parents attacks their child’s partner feeling like he or she is truly at fault for how they are feeling. Is any of this really accurate? Of course not, but it’s hard to reason with emotions. You and your soon-to-be spouse absolutely deserve to have the best event in the world to celebrate what you two have found in each other, but this usually does not come without any hitches.
If you want to preserve those precious relationships, you’re going to have to face these issues head-on. This is also a prime time in your lives to really become one on every issue. If you are getting married, you are no longer just making decisions for yourself. You now have to consider the other person as well. This may be the hardest part to adjust to when getting married. You mom and dad may try to get you to side with them, and your significant other likely has the same pull on the other side. When helping couple’s plan their weddings, I’ve had to be more of a counselor on more than one occasion.
If there was ever a better time to truly become a couple, this is it. When your mom demands one thing, you could say, “Well, Tim and I have talked and this is what we want.” When his dad is pulling on him, he could very easily respond with, “Cindy and I definitely want to consider your needs but….” The simple act of banding together as a couple, and letting your parents, friends, whoever, know that you are working together as a team will harness a great many arguments in the future. If you think that the strong opinions and persuasion will stop at your wedding, they won’t. The next argument will be where you live, what either of you does for a living, when to have kids, how to raise them, etc.
Head off the issues now by standing together and making decisions as a couple. That’s the first step to having a strong marriage. Here are some tips for tackling some of those difficult but sometimes fragile situations with the people you love with respect and understanding.
Be Gentle With Them
Normally, any “emotions” that arise from your friends and family during the wedding planning phase are coming from a place of sadness, jealousy, or even a lack of self-confidence. Like some of the situations mentioned above, the loved ones in each of your lives are not upset that you are getting married, but there are most likely some underlying feelings that they simply do not know how to handle in themselves.
This may be jealousy from a sister that has yet to be married, a friend that fears that you will no longer talk to her after you are married, a father scared that he will lose his daughter or a mother her son, or even someone in your lives that doesn’t understand your decisions. When Tim and I moved from Texas to Arizona we had many friends and family members that were very angry with us for moving away from them. It didn’t’ matter why we were leaving. We knew good and well that it wasn’t really anger they were feeling, but fear, sadness, and even jealousy. Though it didn’t hurt any less.
Let these people know that you understand that they are not happy. Offer your shoulder if they need to talk or your assistance if they need it. It might be as simple as asking if they want to join you in working on planning of your wedding. Maybe you could delegate some of your work their way. They may just want to know that you still care and haven’t forgotten them in all of your excitement. It sounds funny, but those people reacting the strongest, likely care about you the most and don’t know how to discern or express what they are feeling.
Really Listen to What They Are Saying
If your folks are normally loving, thoughtful people who have always had your best interests at heart, and they have genuine concerns about the person to whom you expect to commit your life, pay close attention, advises Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Long Beach, California. Talk to them—without your fiancé present—about what specifically concerns them. “Parents are right to worry about a guy with undesirable qualities, and you could save yourself a lot of pain and trouble if you listen to them,” advises Tessina.
However, this may not be the case at all. Consider that your parents may have had a specific image in their minds about who they would have imagined you marrying that simply doesn’t match up with the person you chose. Just reassure them that you are happy and make sure to speak well of him or her in their presence. It may just take them some time to adjust to the new situation and get to know the man or woman that you have chosen. If for some reason they never like this person, it’s just fine. You are the one that has chosen to spend your life with him or her. You will be living with him, and you can simply request that they be respectful in his/her presence.
Unfortunately, I think the same thing happened with my husband. His family didn’t take well to me from the beginning. I was a little different, I obviously was not what they originally had in mind, and many of them told Tim that I had ill intentions, even refusing to come to the wedding. When we married, we had been together very happily for 3.5 years and were deeply in love. I knew that I didn’t have negative intentions.
I truly just wanted to spend the rest of my life with the man that I loved and start a family. As I write this, we have now been together for 10 years, we have two beautiful children, and lost one beautiful little boy a couple years ago. We are very happy together, but several of them are still holding back. Only you truly know what’s best for you, and you have to listen to your heart.
Give Them Time
Most of the time, if there are any relationship problems between friends and friends, parents and parents, friends and your partner, parents and your partner, or whoever, a little time heals all. You can always expect a few clashes right up front when you first try to combine different friends and families. The dynamics change a great deal. You are literally combining two completely different families and ways of thinking. This doesn’t mean that they won’t all get along at some point, and may even find great friendships that they never would have found otherwise. Just have a little patience and try to minimize any negativity, keeping them separate indefinitely if needed.
You and your partner probably had a few clashes and differences in opinion on several topics when you first met as well. Give your loved ones the same chance to get to know one another. If you remain positive and encouraging, your good attitude may just pour over onto everyone else. Especially when they see how happy the two of you are together, they will likely give in and accept the union and each other as a consequence.
Divorced parents and their differences are one of the biggest situations to come up in weddings, but it doesn’t have to become an issue. Hopefully, yours are the kind of parents who will put your needs ahead of theirs—at least for your wedding day. Even so, it may be worth reminding them that they have a responsibility to “be civil and gracious toward each other for the few hours of your ceremony and reception,” says Tessina.
Also, pay close attention to the seating arrangements. At the ceremony, seat the parent with whom you are closest (plus his or her new spouse, if there is one) in the first row and the other in the second. At the reception, put them at tables with their own relatives, equal distance from the head table. And be sure to acknowledge them both in any toasts you give at the reception, so they never think one is getting preference over the other, she says.
You can only do your best, and insist that they be reasonable otherwise. If at any moment it becomes inappropriate, don’t fear asking the one(s) causing problems to leave or not come to the wedding in the first place. In the end you can’t please everyone and it’s not fair to you to be expected to handle family issues on your wedding day. I would recommend thinking through some of these possible issues ahead of time and planning your game plan just in case problems arise.
Stand Up for Your Relationship
I can’t say this enough. Don’t tolerate in-law bashing on anyone’s part. When it really comes down to it, if you truly want a happy life with the person you are going to marry, you will have to put your foot down with your friends and family in regards to your relationship, and your choices together. Don’t fear telling your friends and/or family that this is the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with, and that you need them to respect and honor that. If they can’t, there will always be distance between you.
Parents especially like trying to dictate how the wedding should go, what decisions you should make, and like to question and even criticize what you want for your wedding day. If you let this happen, it will continue into your married life with decisions about where you will live, your children, your jobs, etc. If this starts happening with you, make it a point with them that you will shortly be husband and wife. From this point on you will be making decisions together. You can reassure your friends and family members that you still care about them and respect their opinions, but when it comes down to it, the decision will ultimately be made with your partner.
Especially at this extremely exciting time in your life, the last thing you want to deal with is family drama. You want to be thinking about the honeymoon, the dress, the flowers, the music, the food, and celebrating with all of your friends. You are your significant other are soon to be a married couple. With a little patience, understanding, and a game plan you make together, these issues can truly be non-issues. You definitely don’t have to let issues with family and friends put a damper on your big day, but you can still handle those small snafus that do arise with respect and class.
It may not be possible to avoid all family problems during the planning and on the day of your wedding, but there are many things you can do to set everyone up for success and head problems off before they have a chance to start. Remember that your friends and family care a great deal about you and need your patience and understanding. However, don’t allow anyone to mistreat you or your partner. A little resolve now when it comes to your families will really pay off in the future.
From the very beginning of your marriage you are setting the tone and the habits that will take you through, hopefully, many decades of marriage. In-laws, different friends, and difficult decisions will always be a constant in your life. One great thing though, is that you no longer have to handle them all by yourself. You have a partner in crime, a best friend, and a spouse that can help you to fight the battles of life by your side, for the rest of your life.
You’ll need to learn to stand up for each other, lean on each other and trust each other fully. Why not let that start right now? I promise your friends and family will either respect you for it, or will slowly fade out of your lives regardless of what you do.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Victoria Van Ness