When you’re busy planning your dream wedding, the last thing you want to deal with are family feuds. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for familial ties to fray a bit during this emotionally charged time. If you want to preserve those precious relationships, you’re going to have to face the problems head on. Our top solutions for messy situations.
Believe it or not, your sister may be acting out because she feels sad. This is a tough emotion for some people to express, so jealousy, hurt and anger often serve as a mask. Put yourself in her shoes: What she sees is that “all of a sudden, you're putting your husband-to-be first and your entire family second,” explains Allison Moir-Smith, founder of Emotionally Engaged. And if your sister isn’t married yet, she could also be feeling a lack of self-confidence and concern about her own life.
Take a gentle approach with her. Say something to the effect of, “You seem unhappy. Is there anything I can do to help?” Hopefully, she’ll open up. “The jealousy will likely go away if your sister believes she’s being heard and that her feelings are important to you,” adds Moir-Smith.
Another tactic: Ask your sister to tackle a significant wedding-planning task, like compiling creative favor ideas. Just let her decide how much she wants to be involved, warns Moir-Smith. “I’ve been counseling a woman whose sister is getting married soon, and she doesn’t want anything to do with the wedding,” she says. “She’s very jealous, and even though she knows she’ll regret it later on, it’s just too painful for her to be involved right now.” If this is the case with your sister, try to honor it.
If your folks are loving, thoughtful people who have always had your best interests at heart, and they have genuine concerns about the man to whom you expect to commit your life, pay close attention, advises Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Long Beach, California. Talk to them—without your fiancé present—about what specifically concerns them. “Parents are right to worry about a guy with undesirable qualities, and you could save yourself a lot of pain and trouble if you listen to them,” advises Tessina.
Maybe the reason is simpler. Your parents probably had dreams about the kind of man you’d marry, and it’s possible your guy doesn’t quite fit that picture. If that’s the case, be patient; they may simply need time to accept that fact. However, you must also be prepared for the possibility that your folks might never approve of your fiancé. If this happens, you must stand firm. “Say, ‘This is the man I have chosen to spend the rest of my life with, and I need you to respect and honor that. If you can’t, there will be distance between us,’ ” suggests Moir-Smith.
Of course you want your parents to love his—after all, you’re about to become “one big happy family.” But this often takes some doing. First, find out what the problem is (you should each talk to your parents separately). They just need time to become comfortable with their differences.
If, however, the problem is a total clash of personalities, you may be best off just minimizing contact altogether, suggests Moir-Smith. “Don’t try to force something that isn’t there,” she says. “The only thing that is essential is that everyone behaves well when together, such as at the wedding and other family functions,” says Tessina. Be careful never to side with either set of parents or tolerate any in-law bashing.
Hopefully, yours are the kind of parents who will put your needs ahead of theirs—at least for your wedding day. Even so, it may be worth reminding them that they have a responsibility to “be civil and gracious toward each other for the few hours of your ceremony and reception,” says Tessina. Also, pay close attention to the seating arrangements: At the ceremony, seat the parent with whom you are closest (plus his or her new spouse, if there is one) in the first row and the other in the second. At the reception, put them at tables with their own relatives, equidistant from the head table. And be sure to acknowledge them both in any toasts you give at the reception, so they never think one is getting preference over the other, she says.
Another option is to allow them to make the call on the seating, says Moir-Smith. “Ask each of your parents, ‘How can we make you most comfortable at the reception? Do you want to be across the room from each other or do you think you would be okay at the same table?’ ” she suggests. It makes sense to raise this issue well before the big day so your parents have plenty of time to adjust to the plan and to voice any objections before it’s too late. Then, once they’ve come to their decision, you can focus on the good stuff: enjoying every minute of your special day.