Natalie David, LCSW
Weddings: A recipe for LOVE and family DRAMA
Tomorrow, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry, and the world will watch as the royal fantasy unfolds. Wedding season is upon us, and engaged couples everywhere are planning their own magical day. But, just as the royal wedding has proven, the magic of a wedding is usually not immune to family issues that have built up over years. In fact, weddings provide an opportunity for many family dynamics to bubble up to the surface that usually lay dormant in day to day life. Couples are often left confused and frustrated, wondering why their relatives can’t just “keep it together for ONE DAY for the sake of the wedding.
Marriage and weddings generate several emotions in families, so understanding the psychological reasons for those feelings will help you to be better prepared, to respond to the drama effectively, and to minimize your overall stress during the planning stages.
One of the reasons families disagree and argue during wedding planning is that a wedding represents major change in family structure. Not only will the bride and groom change from “single” status to “married” status in the course of one day, but their parents will suddenly be the parents of a married adult. While this may not seem major on the surface, it can be for some families since it represents surrendering some protective feelings of adult/child roles, changing the way holidays are spent, and just “letting go of their baby.”
For siblings, the feelings may also be complex, ranging from feelings of resentment over the attention that a wedding elicits, feelings of inadequacy regarding their own relationships, and a multitude of other issues that may stem from your childhood experiences together.
Other family members are also prone to add to the family stage of emotional acting out.
Grandparents may have their own expectations of how they might be honored at an event like a wedding, where they will be seated, and may also have some emotions of their own about letting go. Aunts, uncles, and cousins might state opinions, have expectations, or want roles in the wedding, further complicating matters.
Finally, step parents and step families represent even more difficulties as couples try to navigate the seemingly never-ending emotional landmines of wedding planning. In many cases, long standing resentments and issues may resurface and intensify when all members of the family are expected to gather for the happy occasion. Issues become complicated in terms of who to seat where, and who will host certain events such as rehearsal dinners and bridal showers.
If you find yourself facing some of these problems as you plan your own wedding, remember the following:
-Make decisions about your wedding between the two of you before involving your family.
The wedding is ultimately between the bride and the groom. The best way to avoid arguments about the details is to make decisions prior to involving your family members. The fewer the number of people involved in a decision, the better.
-Create appropriate boundaries when discussing wedding plans with your family.Make your boundaries clear from the beginning with all members of your family in a polite, yet assertive manner. If everyone is aware of what you want, there will be less room for arguing.
-Give your parents (or anyone whom you feel you would like to involve) a project of their own and do not interfere in their decisions about it. Allow them to plan it their way. This could be the rehearsal dinner or a brunch. The point is to give them something the feel that they can plan fully.
-Keep wedding discussions limited. Have times when you talk “wedding”, but do not allow it to overtake all your discussions.
-Respect opinions and understand the emotional triggers. By understanding the reasons for the behaviors of your family members, you may be able to avoid feeling anxious or stressed by them. You may not be able to change the behaviors, but at least understanding WHY, can be helpful.
-Keep your cool. Remember to remain calm when discussing your wedding, even if others become heated. It will only escalate the drama if you become heated as well. If you need to leave the room or agree to discuss something at a later date, then do so.
If you are practicing all the suggestions above, and you still need help navigating the difficulty of wedding planning with challenging family history or family dynamics, reach out for help from a professional therapist.
Wedding planning should be fun, and if you avoid some of the common problems of family drama created by the planning process, then you can enjoy this special time with your partner. If you watch the royal wedding this Saturday, take comfort knowing that at least your family drama is private!