Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Q & A: Family Drama

Reader Question: I would love to have a wedding like yours. To me, a great wedding would be where our friends and family (about 40 people) are with us for a couple days (similar situation to yours where guests can stay at the reception site), we're all together cooking our own food and everyone's having fun and laughing playing card/board/video games. I see beautiful wedding photos, yours included, where everyone is having fun, laughing, looking great. Things look effortlessly wonderful. Then reality kicks in.

We just spent Christmas vacation with his parents, and I'm not really fond of his dad. I don't think his dad and my dad would get along. Like to the point if his dad said some of the things he said around us in front of my dad, there might be yelling. (His dad is racist and sexist and I really can't stand it, but I don't think it's my place to correct him, so I at least try to ignore him or not encourage it.) I inevitably argue with my mom whenever I see her. I don't have that many close friends and even with my best friends, I'm not as close to them as they are to each other. I don't really talk to my brothers (not that there's anything bad between us). All of that leads to a not very social person, without the connections you seemed to have with everyone at your wedding. Everyone will be coming from out of state, so I want to make sure their trips are worth it.

So when I really picture our wedding, I think of having to avoid and ignore his dad, do everything I can not to fight with my mom while trying to be something I think I'm terrible at: a good party thrower and host. It makes me want to run away from all of it. (My boyfriend's the one who wants to have a wedding, not me.) It's not that the ideas we have aren't us, or me, or are things that make me feel uncomfortable, it's that I don't see any way to get the outcome (happiness, fun) I want for our wedding. It seems so simple, but in my mind I can't think of how to achieve it.

Yes, the underbelly of wedding planning. Too bad it's not all flowers, taffeta, and centerpieces!

I think one of the keys to making it through the tumult of wedding planning (and life, for that matter) is to draw a big, fat line between the things you can control and the things you can't. Once the line is drawn, you should focus only on the things that are on the Can-Control side of the line.

You can't control the relationship between your dad and your father-in-law. You can't control the type of person your mother is. You ultimately can't control whether people have fun at your wedding (you can do everything within your power to set up a fun environment, but you can't actually make them have fun).

It's very liberating to free yourself from being responsible for the things that are beyond your control. It also frees up a whole lot of energy to start thinking about the things you can control.

You might want to consider these questions:
  1. What can you do to strengthen the friendships you have? More frequent phone conversations can go a long way in terms of helping you reconnect.
  2. What can you do to make new friendships?
  3. What can you do to distance your problem relatives from you at the wedding? One idea is to select a B&B that is only big enough to accommodate your friends and then find alternate accommodations for family.
  4. What can you do ensure that you don't feel like a "party thrower and host" at your wedding, if those are roles you're not comfortable with? Although I love planning parties, I don't actually like being the center of attention. (This post talks more about not wanting to be the center of attention at your own wedding.)
  5. What can you do to prevent drama at your wedding? First, talk to your dad to prepare him for potential interactions with your father-in-law. Take the opportunity to express to your dad how important it is that the situation doesn't devolve into yelling or anger. Also, consider minimizing your interaction with your mom. If that won't work, make a personal resolution to let the things she says or does roll off your back. Again, you can't control your mom, but you can absolutely control your reaction to your mom.
  6. Are you going to be ready to let it all go once your wedding day arrives? There's a lot that you can control about the wedding planning process, but once the actual day arrives, you have to let it all go and immerse yourself in the moment.
If you think through all these considerations and still can't get excited about your own wedding, then I highly recommend you talk to your partner about coming up with a different plan. You don't have to follow anyone else's wedding formula, if you don't think it's going to work for you.

Wishing you the very best...

(2000dollarwedding kindred spirits, please jump in and share your insight!)

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miss fancy pants (the bride) said...

I'll second basically everything Sara said! Especially the recommendation of the article on how to avoid being the center of attention. If you're worried about the host role, skip the traditional aspects of a wedding that focus all the attention on the couple. For us, things like the garter toss, cake cutting and the first dance aren't important and were only sources of stress given my introverted nature. So we're leaving them out.
And like Sara said, the best way to plan a wedding is to realize what you can control and what you can't. I have a similar situation with my mother, so I try to shrug off most of what she says or limit my defensiveness when I'm around her. I know she probably won't change, but I can change my attitude when it comes to our relationship.
More importantly, I do think its important you surround yourself with people who love you and have your best interests in mind. Try calling your friends or brothers and strengthening what you've already got. It makes a world of difference to plan a wedding with people who support you. Trust me, it makes the difficult mom and in-law situations a heck of a lot easier to deal with.

Plus Size Bride said...

When we got married I knew there were people that weren't going to get along being thrown together. We chose a place that was special to us but pretty much 2 hours minimum from anywhere. We told people they could bring their campers and tents and if they didn't want to rough it we gave them info on a few hotels in the next town. People clustered in their own little groups on Friday, on Saturday people were showing up all day long before the ceremony. Yeah there were a lot of my extended family that didn't make the long drive (400 miles or more for most of them) to come to our wedding BUT everyone that REALLY mattered made it. Including a favorite Aunt and Uncle who drove in from California via Florida. I stressed over how the two groups would interact and while they chatted with each other they pretty much stuck to their little groups from what I saw in the wedding pictures. I was getting ready so I didn't have to deal with playing ref. But in the end pretty much everyone that I was worried about behaved and the couple of people that got pissy (like my niece with the wild children who got mad when someone reprimanded her child for going where they weren't allowed) got pissy but I ignored it.
Everyone's stress level is going to be HIGH. Just have someone there with a xanax when you need it the most and maybe a stiff drink.
The amazing thing about a wedding is that it brings out the best in most people. Pretty much everyone was pretty dern cheerful.
Of course it's been almost a year and my selective memory has taken over.

Nicole said...

I adore what Plus Size Bride said: "The amazing thing about a wedding is that it brings out the best in most people."

Because I think that it's sooo true. Your email sounds like something that I would have sent in during my planning stages. And I think that I put way to much pressure on myself to be in charge of everyone else's emotions, which I just can't do.

And I think that you need to try your best not to compare yourself to others' wedding photos.

We pick out the ones that make everything look effortless and fun -- I know that I certainly did. But the reality of it was that my mother blew up at me twice, his family did some awful things... but I got MARRIED and that's what I wanted.

I really want to just hold your hand and tell you that you'll make it through this, because it can be hard and scary -- especially if you feel like you don't have someone to lean on.

Try really hard to focus on marrying your guy... and get through the rest.

Unknown said...

I have to ask, have you given your father-in-law (to be) a chance to realize how uncomfortable he makes you when he says racist or sexist things? If he truly holds desultory opinions about people of other races or women, that position is unlikely to change, but is there even a smidgen of possibility that he doesn't realize he's out of line? Also, where does your fiancee stand on this? Has he already had knock-down, drag-out fights with his dad about this?

I can't help thinking that it would be a million times better to at least get the issue in the open air than sit on it and pray he doesn't say anything offensive. I can't imagine how I could have any fun at all at my own wedding while waiting with bated breath to see if someone was going to be a massive jerk. When you bring it up with him, it doesn't have to be a total you vs. your father-in-law showdown where you tell him you hate everything he stands for. The next time he makes an objectionable comment, you could just say "ouch," or "It makes me uncomfortable when you say things like that." Maybe, even if his viewpoint remains the same, he'll be willing to put a lid on it for the duration of the wedding once he knows how uncomfortable it makes you (and, um, your fiancee too, right?)

Marina said...

I agree with everything Sara said, but I do think you have to decide for yourself whether you're willing to run the risk of it all ending in tears. If it all ends in tears, will you be able to shrug it off and say, "Oh well, at least I got married"?

That said... I totally agree with what Nicole said about how we all pick out the effortless and fun pictures. No one took a picture of my mom staying up til 4am worrying about paper plates. No one took pictures of the fight we had over invitation wording. And thank GOODNESS no one took a picture of me the night I had a total breakdown and sobbed to my fiance that I didn't want to get married anymore. ;) No one's family is perfect, and yet somehow many of us make it through this wedding thing anyway.

Sophie said...

All weddings are different. I would have loved a wedding like Sarah's too, but in my family of hardcore intellectual for whom the idea of physical activity is taking a 5-minute swim in the pool of their posh condo building, achieving such a get-together would have been impossible. So to us, a $2000 wedding was either eloping, or waiting next summer and having my husband's mom organize everything in her backyard. We chose to elope, as we don't like to have any "strings attached". It was just us and the two friends who were our witnesses. No drama, no "how come you didn't invite Aunt This and Uncle That?", no one was invited!

Megan said...

Oh Honey! I totally agree with all of the great de-stressing, letting go advice given here.

But, as someone who has been guilty at times of not noticing how much people love me, and who's thrown parties and thought nobody would want to come (ah social anxiety!), your words about your best friends being closer to each other than to you really struck me, as did the not talking much to the brothers despite not having problems there. In addition to all of the great advice from Sara and other commenters, please try to remember that, however close your best friends are to each other, however little you talk to those brothers, these people are coming to your wedding, because they LOVE YOU. I don't know you, but I feel comfortable promising that this is true. Try to trust the functional relationships you have, and best of luck with the slightly dysfunctional (we've all got 'em).

Kate Wells said...

It's hard to be a hostess and also feel present for your own experience at your wedding. And DIYing it can bring that pressure down even more. Do you have anyone that you could rope in to helping out?

One of the things that seems to have made Sara's wedding so much fun was that everyone pitched in to make it happen. If you get strangers to work together on a project, they end up getting to talking and then are strangers no more. And if they are working on something, attention can be focused on the project at hand and perhaps not on political, religious, sexist comments.

Somebody gave me the following advice : "Guests will take the lead of the couple. If they are happy, easy-going and having fun, everyone will pick up on their vibe. If they are anxious, picky and cliquish, the guests will be too." It really helped me to be aware of how my attitude framed how successful the party would be.

And just remember...a marriage is a very separate entity from a wedding or reception! Just make sure to celebrate your marriage in a way that feels authentic to you!

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