Navigating Parental Wedding Conflict
November 15, 2021
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What can go wrong when you are planning happily ever after with the partner of your dreams? While some parental conflict may be inevitable, there are many strategies that you can employ to minimize disputes. Damali Peterman, Conflict Resolution Expert and Founder of Breakthrough ADR, is sharing 5 things that every couple planning a wedding should keep in mind when navigating parental conflict over wedding planning:
1. See different visions as an opportunity. For many people, a wedding is a chance to display family traditions, values, financial success, togetherness and, of course, love. Your parents may have a different vision for your wedding than you do. Among other things, this could be because they are funding part of or all the wedding.
So, what do you do? Determine what is important to you. Instead of focusing on what they are saying, consider exploring why they are saying those things. In other words, if your parents tell you that they want you to have a destination wedding in a remote location, instead of (1) reacting to this statement and focusing on what that means for you and your betrothed or (2) assuming you know why that suggestion was made, ask an open-ended question such as “Tell me more about that”. This works to keep the conversation going and you may learn something new about the significance of the location. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you must act on their suggestion, but perhaps there is something that you can do to capture the essence of the request if it meets your vision. For one wedding held in France, the groom’s parents wanted to incorporate a few things from their culture (the bride was from Europe the groom was from South America). The couple decided to incorporate South American cuisine, music, and decorations.
2. Put someone in the middle. Having someone in between you and your parents may help to thwart or de-escalate conflict. Two common options are hiring a wedding planner or delegating specific tasks to trusted friends or reliable family members. While hiring a wedding planner is an additional expense, it just might save you time, energy, and headaches. Many wedding planners offer full-scale planning, partial planning, and day-of services. One bride asked her wedding planner to manage the guest list and to prevent her parents from inviting everyone under the sun to her wedding. The wedding planner was the “bad guy” who told the parents “Unfortunately, we cannot do that” and the bride was able to save face.
3. Use deflection to manage pandemic realities. Fiancés planning weddings over the last 18 months have an additional conflict to navigate given the realities of a post-COVID world. Issues surrounding mask and vaccination requirements are being considered by many people. While you can certainly make a statement that you and your future spouse have or don’t have certain requirements, another approach is to announce that the venue requires that certain protocols are followed by all guests. Deflect. Put the venue in the middle. Alternatively, you can state that the inclusion of certain types of people, i.e., young kids who cannot be vaccinated, grandparents who are elderly or immunocompromised loved ones warrant extra precautions.
4. Use your words. Communication is key. Do not assume that your parents know what you mean or where you are coming from. Tell them and confirm that they understand. As couples are planning the day that will start “forever” for them, it may be hard at times to see the wedding day as exactly that, one day. Sometimes putting things into perspective will help to de-escalate conflict. Over-communicate when necessary to avoid parental disputes that could last well beyond your wedding day. Several brides still have conflict with their MIL years (in some cases decades) after their wedding because of something that happened in the wedding planning phase. Don’t let that happen to you.
5. Remember that you call the shots. When planning a wedding, many dynamics are at play. Perhaps, the couple is paying for the wedding, or their parents are funding the nuptials. If it is the latter, lack of purchasing power does not mean you are powerless. While the power of the purse often dictates the wedding parameters, there are many ways you can still maintain control.
One method that works well is limiting the universe. You provide the options that you want to be considered. So, for example, if the topic is venues – you choose the three venues that you are considering and ask for the choice to be made from those options as opposed to having an unlimited universe of possibilities. Limiting the universe works on a variety of things and make people feel as if they are in control because you have empowered them to decide within a limited scope of selections.
Another good thing to remember is that you know your parents and that you should be able to anticipate some of the things that they will attempt. With a little planning, you can steer that well-intentioned energy to the right place. For one wedding, the bride’s mother was an artist while the groom’s father was a musician. The couple put the future MIL in charge of the creative vision and the future FIL in charge of the music. Each parent was so preoccupied with their specific tasks that they did not complain. Play to their strengths and highlight yours.
At the end of the day, it is your day. You and your partner should have a united front and a list of priorities ranked by order of importance to help guide you. By using these 5 tips, hopefully you will avoid many common wedding planning pitfalls with your parents.