Your engagement and the planning that follows is meant to be a happy and celebratory time for you and your family. Yet a stressful family dynamic (read: drama) tends to be many people’s chief complaint when it comes to wedding planning.
While some amount of “drama” may be unavoidable, one of the best things you and your partner can do to get ahead of this potential is be proactive.
How? When possible BEFORE you begin the actual planning process, sit down with your partner and think through your extended families together, then identify where possible problems may come up. Even if you didn’t have this conversation up front, it’s not too late to have it now. This isn’t intended to be a pessimistic exercise, instead think of it as a game/opportunity to prepare for marriage and strengthen your problem-solving skills as a couple. In this game there are no scenarios too outlandish, and there is no getting defensive or upset when your partner brings up your needy aunt. Talk through these things together so that you’re prepared if/when things come up in the moment.
Of course some of the scenarios you come up with may never happen, while other things that you never could have imagined will. Regardless, getting on the same page with your partner ahead of time will allow you to minimize stress and allow you to greet whatever comes your way as a team. This exercise will also help you be able to listen to the needs of your family members fully, while keeping your relationship central. What a great place to start a marriage from.
Once you and your partner have had this discussion – have another one with any relevant family members (i.e. all parents and anyone involved with paying for the wedding). Discuss everyone’s expectations and the kind of wedding that everyone is envisioning. See where you all agree, and where you don’t. Regardless, communicating well and discussing details up front will help you navigate (maybe even prevent) any misunderstanding that may come up as you move forward with the planning process.
This may be it! You may be one of the lucky ones, like my husband and I, who somehow avoided any family drama during our own wedding planning process (THANK YOU for being so chill, family!) – Not so lucky?
Here’s a list of possible scenarios that you may run into. Use this as a guide for your conversation with your partner and family. Feel free to come up with your own game plan if the ones below don’t fit for you.
STRESSFUL THING: Divorced parents and/or stepparents don’t get along
GAME PLAN: Start by talking to each parent individually to get an idea of their expectations: what they’re comfortable with, what they’re not, and any possible concerns they have. You may find that even if your parents don’t get along, they’re willing to suck it up for the day. If not, talk through possible solutions with them while also making sure they know that they have put you in a tough spot, and one that doesn’t have a simple solution. If you’d rather not have a conversation, maybe it’s best to keep your parents as separated as possible. Come up with creative seating solutions, like placing someone (a grandparent, siblings, ANYONE that is a neutral party in your immediate family) between them as a buffer during the ceremony, or assign a neutral family member to monitor them throughout the wedding day so as not to interrupt or negatively affect you directly.
STRESSFUL THING: Estranged parents or siblings
GAME PLAN: An engagement may spur a longing to reconnect with family you had at some point imagined being at your wedding but since become disconnected from. While the wedding day itself isn’t a time to address messy pasts, it may be helpful to have a conversation following your engagement. Have a conversation and prepare yourself for however it may play out and base decisions on that. Do not feel like you have to invite someone just because they are “family”, especially if having them there will put you on edge during your wedding day. Perhaps you invite them only to the ceremony, but not the reception. It may even be best to clear the air before the wedding and explain to them why they will NOT be receiving an invitation.
STRESSFUL THING: Who to invite
GAME PLAN: You may notice now that you’re engaged, some people come of the woodwork. You may be getting pressure from your parents about who to invite and who not to invite. If you’re having a giant wedding, you may be able to invite the whole family. But if you are having a smaller wedding, you may have to make some tough choices and hurt feelings. One tip I got from a friend was to think of it this way: Does _____ (your second cousin, great aunt, whoever it is) know anything about your life that they couldn’t find on social media? If the answer is “no”, then they probably don’t need to be at your wedding. Another “easy” way (that people often understand) to cut down a guest list is to have a “no kids” policy. This may most likely apply if you have family members with kids you’ve never met. Follow your budget, your venues max capacity, and your gut. You are going to hurt feelings, but it’s all part of the process.
STRESSFUL THING: Parents (or any family member) who take control and managing opinions
GAME PLAN: Your parents have likely been envisioning this day since you were born, so give them a little grace if they get a bit wrapped up in the process. Start by being willing to listen. People will be much more likely to let go of any defensiveness if they feel as though you have heard them understand where they are coming from. Once you’ve done that it’s likely that they will have an easier time hearing your response to their opinion. Decide which parts you’re not willing to budge on, and stand strong on those, and let go of the rest. Reframe your parents’ control as help and love. Invite it in. Let them take on the things that you don’t care that much about and then be grateful and say thank you for their help. Keep them included on the little details so that perhaps their controlling parts feel at ease because at least they know what’s going on, but don’t go along with something you feel strongly about just to avoid hurting feelings. If you find this feels impossible, it’s probably not about the wedding. Talk to a therapist who could help you work through control issues in your dynamic with your parent.
STRESSFUL THING: Parent’s are paying for (at least a majority of) the wedding
GAME PLAN: Doesn’t sound like a stressor? You must not be experiencing any manipulation in the form of holding the purse on your wedding day. This is a tricky one and I plan to talk more on the money topic in future posts, but start by being grateful for the financial help. Also know that sometimes financial help means those who are fronting the bill are going to have opinions. Don’t like that? Maybe reconsider your budget and pay for the wedding yourself. I know that sounds dramatic, but it may be the best way to separate money and control on your wedding day.
STRESSFUL THING: Blending families and children from previous relationships
GAME PLAN: To keep it simple: remember that your marriage is not just about you and your partner, you’re now a new blended family. Some children have a more difficult time than others, but it may help them feel included if they are allowed to participate in the planning of your wedding and the ceremony itself. Pro-active family counseling, kind of like premarital counseling, can also help this transition.
Ultimately – take care of and prioritize yourself and your relationship and let the rest go. Remember that you WILL have to set boundaries while wedding planning. If you need help doing this you may benefit from seeing a therapist. If you’re local to Nashville, I’d be honored if that therapist was me.
Don’t lose sight of the marriage that starts once the wedding day has ended. Focus on the good and let the rest go.