CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY
Wedding planning is stressful no matter how you slice it, but when you throw two different extended families into the mix, things can get…complicated. The mother of the bride wants everyone dressed in tuxes and evening gowns, while the mother of the groom insists on a more casual dress code. One side of the family isn’t Catholic and doesn’t understand why the wedding party can’t break out the bubbly right before the wedding Mass. Or perhaps the guest list is the bone of contention: one set of parents insists on everyone being invited—budget notwithstanding—including that friend-of-the-family you haven’t seen since you were two years old.
What some couples don’t realize is that there is an emotionally healthy and charitable way to keep these potential conflicts. By setting clear boundaries with both of your families, you’ll not only avoid wedding planning drama (and the tears that accompany it), you’ll also be setting the tone for your future interactions with extended family.
Be realistic about how much autonomy you and your fiancé can expect during the planning process.
If your parents are paying for some or all of the festivities, you probably can’t reasonably insist on having complete control over the details—especially when it comes to the reception. Think of it this way: this is your parents' gift to you. Normally, we don’t get to choose the gifts that others give us; we simply accept them, even if they’re not exactly what we wanted. At the end of the day, you and your husband will be married, which is what matters.
That said, if you want total control from soup to nuts, you’ll need to pay for most everything yourself (like one of our recent contributors, Katie, and her now-husband did). This may not be an option for young couples who are getting married right out of college or grad school, but it’s definitely something to consider if you and your fiancé have been working in the “real world” for a few years.
Communicate clearly from the beginning.
Figure out what you’re willing to compromise on, and what’s non-negotiable for you and your fiancé, and discuss it with both sets of parents as soon as possible. A face-to-face meeting of some kind (FaceTime counts) is preferable, as emails can get easily misinterpreted. Make sure your parents and future in-laws know how much you value their support and input, but make it clear that there are certain things you’re not willing to budge on—especially when it comes to the nuptial Mass. This will be particularly important if one set of parents isn’t Catholic.
Remember that you’re laying the groundwork for your new family’s future.
After you get married, your primary family unit is you and your husband, not you and your family of origin. This is a tough transition to make, especially if you’re close to your family or are still working on establishing healthy boundaries with them. Think of engagement and wedding planning as a trial run for newlywed life, when parents and siblings may struggle to accept that your primary roles are not daughter/sister anymore. You and your future husband are a team, and the more you act as a team while engaged, the easier it will be to set healthy boundaries with your families in the future—especially if you have children.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” (charitably).
Christian charity is not the same thing as being a doormat. Yes, it’s difficult to say “no” to your well-meaning family members (or future in-laws) when they offer their opinions, advice, or assistance, but there is a kind way to do so. The key is to thank them whole-heartedly for their suggestion, and calmly explain that you and your fiancé have already decided to go in a different direction.
Enlist your fiancé's help.
Your fiancé is your biggest ally and can encourage you as you try to establish boundaries, especially with your own family. Make sure you keep him in the loop as much as possible, so that he can call you out if he sees that boundaries are being crossed in either direction. On the flip side, be sure to let him know if you feel like he needs to work on boundaries with his family, especially if you feel as though he is prioritizing his family’s feelings over yours.
If you want to explore the topic of healthy boundaries further, consider discussing the topic with a pre-martial counselor in your area. You and your fiancé may also want to check out the following books as part of your marriage preparation:
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman
Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody
Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do by Dr. Tim Clinton