"Helping people who help people"

CHAPTER FIVE from our book Take Back Your Wedding: Managing the People Stress of Wedding Planning, available on Amazon.com for $12.99 (link to the right!)

HANDLING DIFFERENCES WITH YOUR FAMILIES

“What? Two thousand dollars for a dress you will wear just once? That’s obscene!”
“We don’t care how many cousins your fiancé’s family feel they have to invite, they will just have to stay within the number of guests we gave them.”
“I can’t believe her parents are so chintzy. Tell them we will pay for the flowers so that the wedding doesn’t look second rate.”
“When your grandmother finds out you are not marrying in the church, it will kill her.”
“If your mother and her boyfriend come to your wedding, I will not show up. It’s your choice.”

Ask newlywed couples what were the trickiest parts of their wedding planning and the majority will tell you it was not dealing with caterers, photographers or wedding planners—it was the relatives. This should not surprise anyone. A wedding is the grandest family event, the family’s main act on the big stage. It generally costs a sizable amount of money, it involves nearly everyone important to the family, it puts the family’s tastes and values on public display, it often involves religion, it launches a major change in family relationships, it brings together two family clans who did not know each other, and it involves hundreds of decisions made by different combinations of people who care deeply that everything comes off beautifully–and affordably.

On top of these standard family dynamics surrounding weddings, add the idiosyncrasies and flaws of family members on both sides. The bride’s mother who never got to plan her own wedding and now is determined to have her way with yours. The bride’s stubborn, practical father who complains vocally every time he hears a price. The bride’s competitive sister who is outraged that she is not the maid of honor. The groom’s mother who is the maven of good taste and frequent commentator on decisions outside of her influence. The stepmother on either side who is determined to stick it to her husband’s “ex.” This is the stuff of theatre, and the script has many authors. You can’t write the whole script, just your own part, but how you handle your role may determine whether the inevitable struggles and mishaps turn out as comedy or tragedy. We want to help you play your part in family disagreements with integrity; in so doing, you just might bring out the best instead of the worst in your fellow family members.

FIGURING OUT WHAT’S GOING ON
Some family disagreements are inevitable in planning a wedding; no two people are going to spontaneously agree on the hundreds of decisions involved. We have listed a number of common conflict areas in Table 5.1, ranging from early decisions such as the date of the wedding to later decisions such as the invitations. Sometimes the sources of these disagreements are straightforward—for example, differences in styles, tastes, or even schedules—and other times they run deeper, for example, family loyalty about who should be invited to the wedding. We like to make a distinction between routine conflicts that can be resolved amicably after a couple of conversations, and deeper conflicts that leave everyone feeling hurt and misunderstood.

Routine conflicts lend themselves to compromise. You want an artsy cake and your mother wants a traditional one, and you settle on something in between. You want a small wedding and your parents (who are paying) want to invite everyone they ever met; you compromise somewhere in between. Routine conflicts also lend themselves to one side coming around to other’s position after reflecting on it. You wanted to get married on January 2 and your parents convinced you that holiday and school schedules make it too difficult for family members who will be traveling to the wedding; you set the date later in the month. Although there may be a few tense moments during a routine conflict, basically you feel good that you worked it out with everyone feeling heard and understood.

Table 5.1
DIFFICULT CONFLICT WITH PARENTS
Here are some major areas of conflict that occur between engaged couples and their parents. Following them is a list of issues or concerns that may underlie conflicts that don’t seem to get resolved–the disagreements that come up over and over and lead to hurt feelings.

Areas of Conflict
1. Location of the wedding
2. Date and time
3. Style of invitations
4. Style of wedding ceremony
5. Money/budget
6. Number of guests
7. Invitation list
8. Bride’s Dress
9. Food and drink at reception
10. Photographer
11. Music
12. Who officiates
13. Cake
14. Wedding party (number, specific people)

Then there are the deeper conflicts, often over the same issues, that drive you up the wall. For these conflicts, you have to look at possible underlying sources in order to understand what is going on and how to deal with it. You know that you are dealing with a deeper conflict when the following things are going on:
· There are raised voices every time you discuss the matter.
· Someone shuts down and won’t talk about the matter anymore.
· You are not feeling heard, or your parents are not feeling heard.
· You are stalemated; there is no progress after two or three conversations.
· You or your parents are feeling personally attacked.
· Language is getting inflammatory (“I don’t care for…” becomes “I can’t stand…”)
· Third parties are getting pulled into the conflict (as in “Your sisters agree with me that the cake you want is gross.”)

When conflicts have some of these ingredients, the solution may require figuring out the underlying fears, concerns, or values that are driving the disagreement, and dealing with those. In other words, the way out of the impasse starts with an effort to understand what is driving it. Say your mother can’t abide the wedding invitations you like. She gripes about the color, the font, the size of the envelopes, and the wording. You find yourself defending your taste under an onslaught of criticism that ends with your mother saying something passive aggressive such as, “But it’s your wedding; you’re old enough to know what you want.” Of course you could just go ahead with the invitations, especially if you are paying for them yourselves, but you feel badly about just overriding your mother’s objections. (And you worry that she will harbor a grudge and make life difficult on future decisions.) But the discussions go nowhere when you say, “The font is large enough to read; I showed it to some of my friends,” and your mother shoots back, “Your friends have younger eyes than my friends, and whoever saw yellow wedding invitations?” “They are goldenrod,” you volley back. If the coming year is going to be this way, you think, eloping looks mighty attractive.

Rather than give in or just override your mother’s views, you can try to understand concerns that she may or may not be voicing. We are assuming for the moment that your mother is not congenitally negative and controlling; if she is, then you need a different strategy we will discuss later in the book. The following strategies usually work with relatives who are being difficult but who are not impossible people.

Your first task, again, is to figure out what is not being put clearly on the table. When people seem irrationally negative or stubborn, there is usually an underlying fear or concern. For weddings, here are some underlying concerns of parents that that can fuel conflicts. The unexpressed concerns may be yours as well; don’t overlook the possibility that you are the one being irrationally negative or stubborn. Look at Table 5.2 for common messages, usually not clearly expressed, that underlie many difficult conflicts during the planning of a wedding. If a strong disagreement you are having with a parent (or someone else) does not make sense to you, ask yourself whether someone may have one of the feelings we outline in the table.

Table 5.2
SOME UNDERLYING SOURCES OF WEDDING CONFLICTS
Ask yourself (or your parents, if your relationship is good enough) if one or more of the following issues might be underlying a difficult conflict.

1. I feel like I don’t count to you; my needs, wishes, and values don’t seem to matter.
2. I will be embarrassed in front of my people.
3. My side of the family is being treated unfairly.
4. I am being taken advantage of by my ex-spouse.
5. My religious values are being compromised.
6. I can’t afford what you are asking for.
7. If I do this for you, I will feel disloyal to someone else.
8. I thought this was mostly my decision and now you have made it.
9. I am not getting enough credit for the time and money I am putting into this wedding.
10. I am ambivalent (or negative) about this wedding: either about the person you are marrying or about the fact that you are getting married at this moment in your life.

In the case of wedding invitations, we know a family in which the bride’s mother feared that the non-traditional invitations signaled that the entire wedding would be something that she and her family and friends would feel uncomfortable attending. She blurted this out when her daughter, during melt down argument, burst into tears and asked, “Why are you being so mean about me wanting these lovely invitations?” Her mother then let out her real fear: “I don’t want to be the mother of the bride of a hippie wedding! I want it to have some dignity!” Her daughter then reassured her that the wedding would be mostly traditional—flower girls, bridesmaids, an organ, the works—but that she and her fiancé wanted to have more contemporary invitations. Her mother took in this reassurance, and came to accept the invitations with some degree of grace.

The bride and groom could perhaps have cut short this painful chapter on the invitations if, after the initial flurry of conflict, they had tried to sort out what mother was really worried about. One way to do this is by asking a direct question. During a calm moment, away of any controversial topics, pop the question: “Mom, I know you are not happy with the invitations we are thinking of choosing. Could you tell me what your biggest concern is?” To ask this question constructively, you have to be ready for an answer that may trouble you, as in “I don’t want this to be a hippie wedding,” or “My friends will think it’s off the wall.” If you have guessed that this might be her answer, then you can be prepared to reassure her that there are lots of decisions ahead, that many of them will come out in ways that she and her friends will find familiar and comforting, and that in fact you and she share many of the same wishes for the wedding. (If you and your parent have strikingly different visions of the wedding, this should have been made clear at the outset of the wedding planning [see chapter three], in which case you would not even be in this dialogue about the invitations.)

Sometime parents cannot or will not tell you what is most troubling them. They will stay fixated on the details, like the color of the invitations or the cake, or they will just clam up. In that case, you can try to elicit the concern they are afraid to voice, as in “I wonder if you are worried that we are going to end up with a hippie wedding.” Or “Are you afraid that everything about this wedding is going to seem foreign to you and your friends?” There is a good chance that she will come clean if you ask the question in a sensitive, loving way. Then you can try to reassure her instead of arguing defensively about the invitations.

Use Table 5.2 as a guide to trying to figure out what might be the underlying concerns family members might bring to conflicts over wedding plans. Here’s a rule of thumb: if the disagreement cannot be resolved in a couple of conversations, and if it gets more polarized with further discussion, then there is an issue underlying that is not being expressed. If you can’t put the concern on the table, it bites everyone under the table. Getting it out in the open does not mean that simple reassurance will always resolve the disagreement, as it did in the wedding invitation example; we’ll talk later about other strategies. But at least you know what you are dealing with—and it’s not the icing on the cake.

NEGOTIATING DIFFERENCES WITH YOUR PARENTS
After focusing on what the real issues are, the second key to resolving differences with families is to be clear for yourselves about which decisions are subject to revision–and therefore negotiable–and which decisions are final and not negotiable. Presumably most should be in the first category, based on the premise that there is rarely only one correct way to do something. Maybe you would like to have all the wedding photos done before the service, but your mother argues that it will be too taxing on grandma to arrive an hour before the service. So you do the photos with grandma after the service. Your father says that his Uncle Charlie really, really wants to do his skit at the groom’s dinner—the one he does at all the weddings. You think it’s corny and will take away from the classiness of the occasion, but you go along, bearing in mind that no one remembers these events anyway. The salmon was by far the best dish the caterer serves, but your parents draw the line at $30 per plate and you settle for the chicken Kiev, bearing in mind that no one remembers the food at receptions. You really would prefer your best friend as your maid of honor, but your mother begs you not to dishonor your sister by excluding her from this role in the wedding. Your sister says she does not care, but it’s obvious your mother does. So you go along, bearing in mind that a good friend will understand. You go along without rancor or a sense of being victimized, because you realize that your wedding has many stakeholders and it’s OK to bend on the things that are not at the core of your values.

Other times, just giving in does not work for you because you care more about this part of the wedding. You then use your negotiation skills. As you learn what good wedding photographers cost, your parents get skittish about paying for the quality of photos that you prefer. Rather than make this a standoff, you can look at the underlying concerns on both sides and negotiate accordingly. Your parents’ concerns are monetary, yours are aesthetic. There are a couple of ways to negotiate this. One is to reassure your parents that you will stay within the wedding budget agreed to earlier, and will cut costs on other aspects of the wedding to offset the higher than expected photography expenses. Another is to say that you would like to pay for the photography yourselves, since you realize that this expense is considerably more than your parents had counted on. Of course, you have to make this offer with an open heart and not with resentment. Here is some language for this conversation:

“Mom and Dad, we’ve been thinking about the photography costs and agree with you that they are higher than any of us thought they would be, and we want to stay within budget. What we’d like to do is to handle the wedding photography costs ourselves, and that way we can all stop worrying about how we will have to cut costs in other parts of the wedding. We are handling the honeymoon, and we’d like to handle the photography. Would that be all right with you?”

If you can’t offer to cover an expense with this kind of spirit, then don’t try. Your parents will feel you are being passive aggressive, offering to pay it yourself while expecting them to decline your offer. But if you can negotiate this as adults with adults, it is likely to lead to a good outcome—either your parents accept your decision or you all agree to watch the other expenses and try to not break the bank.

Then there are the big decisions that are not negotiable. This will differ for each couple, so our examples may not apply to you. It may be very important to you that the wedding ceremony reflect the religious traditions of both spouses. Sometimes this can be accommodated in one ceremony, even though relatives on either side might be uncomfortable. Other times this will require something more radical–we know a couple who had two ceremonies: a Christian one and a Hindu one. In either case, your parents and relatives will just have to accept your decision and make the best of it. Your job is not to ask if they are OK with your decision but to keep them informed about what to expect at an unfamiliar religious service. Later we will deal with the situation where someone threatens a boycott.

Another rule of thumb: do not ask for feedback on decisions that are not negotiable. That sends a mixed message to your family. Don’t ask, “How would you feel about having a rabbi do the service with our minister” if you have already decided the matter, and it’s agreeable to the two clergy persons. Just say, “We want to let you know that we have lined up David’s rabbi and our minister to do the service.” If your parents complain about the arrangement later on when you are discussing the details of the service, you can gently remind them that it’s a done deal. Most people find a way to accept that which is inevitable when, “resistance is futile.” On your end, you may have to accept the fact that your parents do not fully support your decision, and then not seek their emotional approval. It’s part of being emotionally ready for marriage.

NEGOTIATING DIFFERENCES ACROSS FAMILIES
Conflict between the bride’s and groom’s families are some of the trickiest parts of wedding planning. Table 5.3 lists common areas of conflict and possible sources of conflicts that keep coming up and cause hurt feelings.

For Maria and Jason’s wedding, the big problem was the guest list. The head count had been set month before, but now Jason’s mother asked to invite twenty additional people from her work setting. At fifty dollars per person for the banquet, this request shocked the bride’s parents, who were already concerned about the size of the wedding based on the mother’s large and boisterous Latino family. In fact, this was one of the reasons the groom’s divorced mother wanted her friends along; she thought she would feel overwhelmed by this large family from a different culture (she was an only child from a soft spoken Norwegian family and had few relatives) and wanted support from her coworkers since she did not have a husband to support her at the event. After some struggle and hurt feelings on both sides, the issue was resolved in a way that serves as a good example of wedding negotiations:

· The groom’s mother was clear about what need she was trying to meet by inviting twenty new guests. She was not arguing that these were her dearest friends in the world or that she owed them because they had all invited her to their kids’ weddings. Her need for support was out on the table.
· The bride’s parents’ issue was also out on the table: the unanticipated expense of feeding twenty extra people. Although they wondered privately why this woman felt the need for so many support people, they wisely kept these concerns to themselves and certainly did not share them with the groom, who would have felt defensive for his mother.
· The bride and groom suggested a middle ground: to invite the group of ten coworkers but not their spouses or partners. This would give the mother the same access to support people (her coworkers were her friends, not their significant others) and would be less expensive for the bride’s parents. This solution involved some bending of protocol for invitations to a wedding, which calls for inviting a spouse or partner of the invitee’s choice. The deal involved the groom’s mother willingness to take responsibility for explaining the situation to her co-workers, which she was willing to do.
· The whole situation would have been better if the groom’s mother initially had been more sensitive to the expense she was asking the other family to incur, instead of just announcing her wishes. She could have offered to pay for the extra guests, and allowed the bride’s parents to graciously decline, or better yet, she could have told her son that she was feeling the need for more support people, and then problem solved this with him instead of announcing her solution. For example, they might have come up with the idea of inviting two or three people that she is closest to, instead of everyone on her work team. But having missed those opportunities for collaborative problem solving, at least she was willing to compromise on the final number and take the heat for not inviting spouses and partners.

This scenario points to guidelines for managing conflicts between families in wedding planning, which (next to divorce situations) are the most delicate challenges most couples face. The key is for everyone to keep both families’ needs and perspectives in mind from the start. It doesn’t matter who is paying for the wedding—the couple, the bride’s parents or the groom’s parents. Both families are stakeholders. When one of them feels they don’t count or are being treated unfairly, it’s trouble for everyone—and not a good way to start a marriage.

Table 5.3
AREAS OF CONFLICT BETWEEN YOUR FAMILIES

Common Areas of Conflict

1. Religious differences
2. Guest list
3. Money—who pays for what
4. Money—differences in how families spend
5. Regional differences in wedding expectations
6. Cultural differences in wedding expectations

Possible Underlying Sources of Conflict

1. Feeling left out
2. Feeling unfairly burdened
3. Not getting enough credit for contributions to the wedding
4. Fear of losing one’s child to the other family
5. Sense that one’s culture is not being respected
6. Sense that one’s religion is not being respected
7. Feeling “shown up” by the other family’s greater wealth
8. Doubts about the suitability of the new spouse

An unfortunately common scenario is that the bride and her family dictate the terms of the wedding arrangements to the groom’s family. We think it’s a mistake to give decrees such as how many guests the other family can invite, without a dialogue first to find out how many they want to invite. Even 50-50 arrangements on guests can feel unfair if one family has a huge clan and the other just a few living relatives. Sometimes one early decision, such as where to hold the reception, constrains future decisions and leads to one family feeling left out. For example, your decision to have the reception in a beautiful but small place may mean that the groom’s parents cannot invite beloved relatives or life long friends whose family weddings they themselves have attended. This implication had not occurred to you or the bride’s parents when choosing the facility, perhaps because you knew the bride’s network would be easily accommodated. That’s why we recommend getting the big picture of everyone’s expectations before making any decisions that seriously constrain future options. That’s not to say that everyone’s expectations have to be fulfilled, but it is a lot more sensitive to let the parents of the groom know early on that it will be a small wedding so that they can let their network know, rather than dealing with the fallout months later when you say, “Oh by the way, you can only invite forty people, which is all we can handle and which will work fine for the other family.”

WHEN YOUR PARENTS ARE DIVORCED
Far and away the most difficult negotiations occur with parents who are divorced. It seems not to matter if the divorce occurred a year ago or twenty years ago, although current spouses and boyfriends/girlfriends always make things more complicated no matter when the divorce happened. Let’s begin with a positive story, one that can help you appreciate your divorced parents and stepparents when they do come through for you. Marsha had raised Becky since infancy, along with Becky’s father. Becky’s mother Sue had been in and of her daughter’s life but now wanted back in for the wedding. Although Becky was far closer to her stepmother, she accepted her mother’s wishes and made her the central person for the wedding planning and the wedding ceremony (despite the fact that Sue was paying for little of the event). Marsha felt sick about being cast aside in favor of a woman she felt had been a poor mother over the years; Marsha felt that she herself had been Becky’s real mother.
It helped enormously that Marsha was a woman of uncommon maturity and insight, and that her husband, Becky’s father, was very supportive. She realized that Becky was trying to draw her mother back into her life, afraid that if she did not make her mother the central wedding figure, she would be gone again from Becky’s life. (Marsha was her secure female parent.) Unfortunately, Becky was not able to say this to Marsha; she was probably not consciously aware of her complex feelings. Marsha decided to absorb the hurt and not lay a guilt trip on Becky. She did not turn the wedding into a loyalty bid for Becky by competing with her mother. She stayed on the sidelines, managing her grief and resentment with the support of her husband and friends. She could have ruined the wedding for Marsha by going to battle with Sue, but she acted like a good mother, with the hope that someday, perhaps when Becky has children, the two of them can talk openly about it.

Sadly, many divorced parents and stepparents are not able or willing to keep their child’s needs first in the crucible of a wedding. Negotiations can make the Middle East seem like child’s play. We have some ideas to help you make the best of the situation and to keep yourself and your couple relationship intact. To start, let’s go back to our first principle: understand what the deeper issues are behind stubborn or irrational demands. Here are a few common issues that underlie conflicts in divorced families as they deal with a wedding:

· Because I raised you, my needs and desires come first.
· Because I did not get a chance to raise you, I will not be sidelined now.
· I gave that woman so much money over the years, I’m not spending a dime more for this fancy wedding she wants to put on.
· I spent so much money raising you, that cheapskate can come through now.
· That woman your father left me for has ruined my life, and I won’t have her ruin this wedding.
· That man your mother left me for has ruined by life, etc.
· Your father/mother insisting on bringing along their new “friend” is a direct slap at me on this happy day.
· I’m your mother. I will not be upstaged by your stepmother.

Notice that the couple getting married are not central to these concerns; the drama unfolds mainly between the ex-spouses who are often unaware that they are putting their own needs way ahead of their children’s. The wedding is either the latest act in their longstanding struggle or it activates earlier grief and resentment between parents who may have been doing fairly well in recent years. In either case, you will do better with your parents if you can empathize with the pain and hurt that underlies their difficult behavior—and then deal with them with both compassion and firmness. In some ways, you have to be the parent here when your parents are acting like hurt children. Sometimes, of course, it’s just one parent acting badly, with the other parents able to manage the complex feelings and be there for you. That parent is a treasure, something you should let him or her know.

Here’s our advice, not based on personal experience like so much else in this book, but based on what we’ve learned from watching and talking with others, and from Bill’s experience as a therapist.

1. Remind yourself that you cannot control your parents. You can only take responsibility for your own actions. Ultimately, they will each play this out as they personally decide.
2. Keep in mind that the rest of the world sees your parents as responsible for themselves. In the worse case scenario (it’s good to think about this), if they behave horribly in public, no one will blame you; they will feel sorry for you.
3. If you are focusing on the demanding behavior of one of your stepparents, your anger is probably misplaced—it should be focused on your parent who is permitting their partner to act badly and who is not standing up for you. Sometimes the stepparent is actually the stand in for the parent who is too chicken to make trouble directly. Talk first (and firmly) with your parent, not your stepparent.
4. Your main job is to clearly define for yourself and others what you want and need, and what you will accept and not accept in your parents’ behavior. For example, if your father continually says, “Your mother always gets her way anyway,” don’t defend your mother but rather challenge your father: “Dad, that kind of line bothers me and is not helpful in planning this wedding. Would you please stop?” When your mother says, “I wonder what your father’s latest bimbo will wear to the wedding,” you can cut her off at the pass with “Mom, I’m not going to be catty with you. Say that kind of thing to your friends.”
5. Negotiate openly with both sides. Agree to keep no secrets. If there are disagreements about how many people will be invited from each side of the family, be open about that fact and suggest everyone negotiate as adults. If your mother wants clarity about who will be in what family photos, let everyone know that this issue has come up, and work on a solution in advance of the wedding day. There are rarely any surprise concerns in divorced families; the roles and scripts are well known.
6. When discussing extended family, don’t allow the conversation to get sidetracked into comments about who turned against whom during the divorce. Remind your parents that the other parent may not be their family anymore, but they are still your family.
7. You probably have more clout than you realize, because deep down your parents probably do cherish you and want you to have a good wedding. Your best appeal is not for understanding of an “ex” but for understanding that you do not want to be in the middle and that you need support during an exciting but difficult time in your life. “Do it for me” can be your mantra. Most of the time, both divorced and non-divorced parents alike will rally and support their kids, swallowing what they have to swallow. But what if they don’t? That’s what we turn to next.

WHEN FAMILY MEMBERS MAKE THREATS OR ULTIMATUMS
Here we are talking about two kinds of situations: minor threats and major ones. The first is when someone is being passive-aggressive about a decision that cannot be reversed. You decided months ago on the menu, and now your grandmother declares, “This food is going to be so fancy I won’t eat a bit of it.” Ignore grandma, or say “More for the rest of us,” if you can get away with saying it playfully. Sometimes a relative has a track record making histrionic statements like, “I’m sure I will faint in the aisle of a church that does not worship the one true God.” Bring smelling salts. Often these relatives don’t make the comment to you directly, but someone else in the family has the poor judgment to pass it on to you. Sometimes the one who passes on the comment has the same objection, but is hiding behind someone else. Don’t engage. Laugh it off.

The second kind is more serious and has to be engaged: a threat by parents to boycott the wedding if they do not get their way. In intact families, the most common scenario is religious, when you marry someone outside the faith or when you marry outside of the family’s religious setting. Again, the first step is to seek to understand. Some traditionally religious parents believe that they are putting their own souls at risk by participating in another religious service. This is not the teaching of any major religion, and you can ask your parents to check with their religious leader to confirm that. In other words, no religion we are aware of decrees punishment for a parent who sits through a child’s wedding in a different faith tradition.
The issue is more likely that the parents do not accept the fact that their child is marrying outside of the faith and are registering their objection by threatening to boycott the wedding service. If you have decided that your religious (or non-religious) wedding is important to you, then you cannot let your parents blackmail you by their threats. But neither should you engage in screaming matches with them, thereby allowing them to punish you emotionally for making the wrong choice of spouse and religion.

A word about angry exchanges with parents and other relatives: A few episodes of anger are healthy when a parent is threatening to boycott a wedding or being otherwise seriously out of line, but after a few angry conversations, why stay on that path? Instead, we suggest you call a meeting of the four of you—major conversations like this should involve both parents and both members of the couple–and calmly tell your parents that you have listened to their concerns and know that this wedding is hard for them because it will be outside their faith. Then tell them that you will not be changing the wedding plans and that you hope that they will be able to find a way to participate. Say that you will make any reasonable accommodations that might help them get through it, including not participating actively in the ceremony. Then say that you will not be talking with them again about this matter and that they can let you know their final decision at a later date.

If they continue to say they will not attend the wedding, say that it’s their choice; it will make you very sad, and you hope they will change their minds, but it’s their choice. Let them cook on it for a time; there is a good chance that one of the parents feels less strongly than the other and will work on that parent to relent. At the end of the day, most parents get to their children’s wedding—holding their noses perhaps, but they get there.

We have emphasized the challenges and hard parts of handling disagreements with your parents during the wedding planning. It can seem too hard to work through these issues carefully and constructively, and instead some couples cave in to their parents or else try to wrestle them to the ground on every issue. But the payoff from handling this challenging process well is that your bonds with your parents grow stronger, more adult-to-adult and less parent-to-child. The wedding becomes a joint accomplishment and source of pride. Even when these good outcomes do not all happen, you can marry with the sense that you kept your integrity along the way, that you were strong personally and pulled together as a couple, that you listened with compassion, compromised when you could, and stayed the course without rancor or self-doubt when your core principles were at stake. What better way to start your life’s journey together?

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