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Wedding Woes: The Results of No Communication With In-Laws

relationship problems no attribution required cc0 public domainI always wanted a perfect wedding. I endured a lot as a young person. My parents’ marriage ended in separation after three years and divorce after only six years. Even though I saw two people who could not get along and stay married, they still cared for one another and even spent time with each other. They never married again for the sake of my brother and myself. This really impacted my life, seeing two people work together despite their inability to completely reconcile the relationship. Therefore, I have always held the idea of marriage with great respect. Coming from a faith-based background, I was also influenced to believe marriage was a sacred and holy commitment. My own wedding occurred a little over a year ago. I really wanted it to be a certain way. However, I can say that while it was quite a beautiful wedding, a splendid ceremony, and always a cherished memory, the day was far from free of discord, dissatisfaction and even from sadness.

Let me first start by saying that I was terrified to get married to my husband. I love him so much, and while he is someone I do want to spend the rest of my life with, I was so afraid the night before that I almost called it off. The fear of failure, of a potential divorce, and of not being able to resolve issues with him almost totally swept me away. The idea of commitment was so scary that I almost backed out of this after nearly three years of being with him.  We also have had our differences for a long time but I decided to take a chance. These fears influenced my behavior during our wedding ceremony. Individuals can see that I was not myself when they look at my facial expressions in the ceremonial pictures. So, my fear was a source of conflict that contributed to my wedding woes.

My second source of conflict came from my parent’s concerns.  My mother was one of the best friends that I ever had. After her death, I missed her being at my wedding. She did not exactly approve of our relationship at the very end of her life. There was this force that was tearing at me internally saying: “Is this the right choice?”, “Are you sure about this guy?”, “Are you making a mistake?” that echoed all throughout my engagement, and again up until the wedding. My dad who is still alive also questioned this relationship. So, the parental influence was a strong source of conflict over this decision and contributed to the wedding woes for me.

In terms of my in-laws, they consist primarily of my husband’s parents and his eight siblings. I have never had a positive relationship with his parents. They and I simply do not see eye to eye. I did not want them to contribute financially to the wedding, as I knew there would be strings attached. Even though they did not contribute to our wedding, they still took advantage of us as they invited many people that I did not even know, and they did so through my husband’s generous nature, as they had him invite all of them for them. Regardless, there were a number of differing expectations each of us had of the other based on family tradition, religious values and lifestyle attitudes. Previous disagreements and values clashes limited my communication with my in-laws and prevented me from expressing my true expectations. This lack of communication only caused more tension, the need to control aspects of the wedding event, and my increasing anger that my needs were not met. The fear of judgment and angst caused me to emotionally and physically distance myself from them during the reception. I spent my energy focused on what they would say or do against our wishes, that the day was filled with stress and sadness instead of the joy you wish for any bride and groom on their special day. Upon reflection, my advice to engaged couples whether in private conversation or during marriage prep is to discuss expectations, and there are many. First, you need to determine your expectations of the groom, bridal party, parents, siblings, in-laws, vendors, etc. and discuss them with your fiancé. While I communicated this with my husband, and while the women, priest, organist, and photographer all assisted me with much love and concern for what I wanted, it still was not REALLY what I wanted. My husband really had NO expectations, meaning that he would be happy regardless. I had many needs, but I held low expectations of this whole situation, actually, due to the way that life has gone. My problem was that I did not exactly communicate what I wanted out of this experience and just expected others to know  what I wanted without me telling them. I would pose the following questions to you in order to illustrate what I learned, and what I believe would be helpful for your situation:

  1. Ask yourself, what do you want to clearly communicate to your in-laws? Clearly communicate what your expectations are to your in-laws as soon as you become engaged. Share with them the type of wedding you desire, limits to how many people can attend the wedding versus the reception , and exactly how you want it to look and feel like.
  • Ask them, what are your expectations about your role during the wedding event? Communicate to your in-laws that this is a very special day for you and your soon-to-be husband. They are welcome to be a part of it. Make sure to discuss what you don’t want to happen. 
  • Ask yourself, what are your boundaries or limitations of unacceptable behaviors from your in-laws, parents or family members? Identify what would really cross the line for you and ensure that you are respectful but firm in your communications. Always show kindness in the midst of anger and discord. 
  • Ask them, what would mutual respect look like at the wedding? For many parents, it is hard for them to let go of their children and therefore a challenge to treat their children as adults. Communicating with your parents or in-laws about what respect looks and sounds like is critical if you don’t want to feel like a child again at your own wedding. They very well might have had different experiences from their own wedding which they might impose upon you.

Here are two additional tips for when things go wrong at the wedding:

  • If mom and dad are rude at the wedding and/or reception, simply pretend like they did not make the remark and walk away until you are able to communicate to them in private. Do not cause a serious scene which only lends to embarrassing yourself, your parents or in-laws and others.
  • If your parents or in-laws invite too many or unknown people to the ceremony and reception, and you are concerned about additional costs or food shortages simply tell the officiant to check in the approved invited guests and politely inform uninvited guests  they are welcomed to stay for the ceremony but unfortunately, will not be able to attend the reception.  This allows those folks to still be a part of the day but preserves time and money at YOUR reception.

All in all, remember not to let the hurtful behaviors and remarks of others determine your mood, reactions and ultimately your happiness for this special day. You will regret it for the rest of your life otherwise. For some tips on managing expectations, listen to last week’s podcast from the Texas Conflict Coach® on avoiding wedding conflict: Common Conflicts and Peace Practices for Engaged or Newlywed Couples  featuring Michelle and Dan Joy!

Have a Great Week,

Ann Margaret Zelenka

Graduate Student Intern

University of Baltimore, Negotiation and Conflict Management M.S. Program

 

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