When you marry, you not only marry a person, you marry a family. And your fiancé gets more than just a new spouse, he/she gets another branch of the family – your family!
This is how it has always been, but in recent decades, the reality of extended family has come to be seen as an intrusion into the private life of the couple. And a wedding is a peak time when tensions with extended family and in-laws are inflamed.
For many engaged couples, interference in the wedding plans by a domineering family member from either side, is a major source of stress and resentment. Power battles can erupt over any and every thing, causing deep wounds that may poison the relationship for life. At a time when everyone wants to be celebrating, such tensions can be a devastating killjoy.
The reasons for the tension can be many and are rarely the fault of only one party. Both sides are often guilty of insensitivity, ingratitude, judgementalism and selfishness. Here are some tips on how you can navigate these trying times.
1. It’s (not really) Your Day
The idea that it’s your day is a myth that’s fed by the ‘princess-day’ culture – that is, it’s all about the bride primarily and groom secondly. The thing is; weddings are community events. Marriage is not really a private relationship – it’s a community sanctioned and supported institution because good marriages make stable families which produce well-adjusted children. And everyone benefits when children become mature, tax-paying citizens (as opposed to welfare-dependent delinquents)!
Moreover, couples in love generally want to share their joy with their friends and family. A major part of the desire to marry is to marshal the approval and support of those closest to us for our relationship. We want to not only celebrate our union; we want our friends and family to celebrate with us.
And this is great. It’s what makes weddings such wonderful occasions; two families and their friends coming together to celebrate the life-commitment of two of their own.
It’s a celebration of the joining of two families, not just two individuals.
Unless you’re prepared to elope and have a wedding with only your witnesses, you need to come to terms with the fact that it is not ‘your day’. If you want to have your family engaged and really participating with you in the celebration, you have to be willing to let them in. And, for your own sake, do it graciously and without resentment, otherwise you’ll only be punishing yourself.
So do some soul searching and think about what you really want. At the end of the day, most couples do want their families involved; you just have to come to terms with the reality that it will be a compromise.
And by the way, this is the stuff of married life – learning to let go of cherished assumptions and expectations to make way for your spouse’s (and your children’s) needs and desires. Learn to give a little now – otherwise you’ll be in for strife down the track.
2. Blood to Blood
Let’s face it. Sometimes the in-laws can be difficult and trying to find a way through seems impossible. In cases where there is substantial tension, we recommend the “Blood to Blood” principle described by Bill Doherty and his daughter Elizabeth in “The First Dance”. It simply means, that if there’s going to be a difficult conversation with a particular family member along the lines of, “thanks for your offer, but we really feel very strongly about doing xyz differently”, it should be initiated by the fiancé who is related to them. That is, ‘Blood speaks to Blood’.