How to Gracefully Handle Difficult Family Dynamics when Planning your Wedding

Family: you can’t live with 'em, but you really wouldn’t be here without ‘em. Regardless of where you are in your wedding planning process, if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve had your feathers ruffled (or perhaps, you did the ruffling) and you’re wondering how to settle the situation. First off, you need to know you aren’t alone. Following are some techniques to help you handle the dynamics you’ll face from the family you are born with, and those of the family you've chosen to join.

You’re engaged and you’re planning your wedding; what an exciting time for you! It’s a beautiful moment in your life, where you may find yourself constantly surrounded by family! I mean, c’mon - it’s everyone you love and everyone who loves you, dedicating their time, their energy, their experiences, their fears, their dreams, and their opinions, all to you - isn’t it enough to make you wave your white flag of surrender, and give in to everything they're demanding? Just wait: before you cross a few lines you can’t uncross, unclench that jaw, roll your shoulders, pour yourself a glass of water and keep reading, because your wedding plans are about to become a whole lot smoother.

Let’s start this off with the obvious perspective: this is your day. Yes, you may have some words of wisdom to consider from a few family members who are covering a cost, who are physically hosting your wedding day, or who have some wedding industry experience, but all of those incredible wise words are just that - words.  With the help of the internet, Netflix, Instagram and other streams of media, there seem to be wedding pros wherever you turn. I’m not saying to plug your ears to any advice from your personal connections, I’m just suggesting that you take whatever resonates best with you and your partner (because ultimately, your partner is a key component of your future family) and leave the rest - I’ll explain more about this later. Take every piece of advice with grace as well as with the understanding that your family and your in-laws are only trying to assist you in your plans, or steer you away from mistakes they have made; know that their intentions are kind (most of the time), and try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. 

It’s easy for family members to insert themselves in areas of the wedding planning process where they either have a particular opinion from their own wedding day, or where they have a particular financial or emotional investment. This can cause a buildup of tension over time if not properly addressed. If there is one key take away from this entire article it’s that to be clear is to be kind. How many times have you found yourself getting way more upset than you needed to be, simply because you misunderstood the situation, or vice versa? If this happens regularly, the increased energy and emotion that occurs throughout the planning process will only heighten your reaction. Be clear with your expectations, your role and your wishes. Be sure you are responding, not reacting.

Prior to any discussion you plan on having with your family members (or future family members) it’s vital for you and your partner to sit down and discuss both of your personal wishes regarding your families and their roles on your wedding day. From your discussion, you’ll need to decide as a unit what is best for the two of you, and remain united in your WHY. When I say “your why” I’m talking about the reasoning behind your choices throughout your wedding plans, and I implore you to come back to this ‘why’ for every major decision you need to make within this time, as well as after your wedding.

It’s important for the two of you to be able to explain your decisions calmly, and prove that you are on the same page together. There will be times in your wedding plans where it may feel as though the whole world is against you. Standing strong as a united front with your partner will make all the difference, especially in the difficult conversations you will likely have to have.

 Is your stomach in a knot at the idea of having a serious conversation with your parents or your future in-laws? Though it's definitely a tough conversation to have, you and your partner need to establish mutual priorities, and stand firm as you explain and defend those priorities to your families. While it may be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation, standing your ground as a united front will stand you in good stead for the future. Never forget that you're planning a marriage, not just a wedding! Have an open discussion with each family member regarding your expectations of their role in your wedding plans, as well as their role on your wedding day. 

With that in mind, please adapt these questions to serve you and your partner! Be specific with family members' names (of course, have some discretion and sensitivity) because once again, to be clear is to be kind. Listen to their answers, pick up on their body language and ultimately, keep your 'why' in the back of your mind, and stay focused on that. 

Ask important questions like:

  • When they imagined your wedding day when you were younger, what was their role?
  • Are they comfortable with the roles you have imagined for them?
  • Are they hoping to contribute financially to the wedding day?
  • What will the financial contributions look like? (Would they prefer to contribute to a specific vendor, or give a specific amount to be used at your discretion).
  • In their mind, does a financial stake imply decision-making power?
  • Are they hoping to speak at the wedding (or are they more comfortable speaking at the rehearsal dinner)?
  • Are you and your family comfortable with other family members (estranged or not) participating in the wedding?
  • Are there any family members or family friends that they need to see there?
  • Are they comfortable sitting with other family members? (Especially in the case of divorced or separated families).
  • Are they comfortable talking with other family members?
  • Are they comfortable attending wedding events (attire shopping/fittings, hair appointments, showers, parties etc.) with other family members?
  • Are there any fears or worries that they have regarding your wedding plans?

Now, I look great in sunglasses, but I still know when to take off my rose coloured glasses. These discussions may not go entirely as you had imagined. Your calm, cool, collected self may fly out the window when yet another debate regarding budget comes up - and that’s okay.

Unfortunately, weddings bring out emotions that most families don’t realize they have kept bottled up until  they’re forced to reflect, and face them head on. Navigating the wedding world is hard enough, and it gets increasingly more difficult when you are trying to accommodate, seek approval or simply share excitement with family members (oh, and add in our current reality of restricted numbers with extended or separated families... that is an entirely different blog post in itself!). However, these awkward moments are merely the beginning of an incredible journey of blending two families into one.

The strength and connection you and your partner share is your best resource through this process. Exercise that trust and unity throughout your wedding planning journey, and you’ll be surprised at the encouragement and the growth that will bring not only you, but your relationship. Lean in to each other when you need to, remind one another of the big picture, and stay true to your why. When you feel the disagreements building, or the tensions rising, don't be afraid to take a pause to set your boundaries, just make sure you are open and willing to listen to the needs that are being expressed: as much as they drive you up the wall; they are still family and they helped make you the person that your partner fell in love with.

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