How to Make Everyone Behave

Meddling moms, diva bridesmaids, outlaw in-laws: how to manage everyone without losing your cool.
Michele Bender

Wedding planning would be quite a handful even if you didn’t have to deal with friends and families. But it’s a time when everyone’s emotions can run high, explains Sheryl Paul, bridal counselor and author of The Conscious Bride. “Even though you’re the one getting married, it’s also a transition for them,” she says. Adds Jeri Kadison, a bridal coach and an expert in stress management, “Differences are a natural part of the wedding planning process, and weddings can be stressful. But if you start with good communication, listen to others and your messages come from a loving place, you can keep everyone on the happiness track.” Here, some helpful tips.

Meddling Moms

Oh Behave_mom

Mother-daughter relationships are complex enough. Add wedding planning to the mix and they get even more so. “A mother’s role in the wedding can touch on financial, emotional and cultural issues,” explains Bethann Schact, the bridal coach at One Precious Life Counseling and Coaching Services in Natick, MA.

  • Figure out the financials. If your parents are paying for the wedding, they may do so with strings attached. “My mother wasn’t sold on the wedding planner so she fired her,” says Lily, 24. “It was frustrating, but she was paying so she had the final word.” You and your fiancé should figure out your budget early on and discuss with both sets of parents who will pay for what and how much. If Mom and Dad are kicking in a large amount, ask them how involved they expect to be. If you find out they want a high level of control, you may want to think twice about the arrangements.
  • Pick your wedding planning battles. If you don’t care all that much about the flowers and tablecloths, give those jobs to your mom; if the dress and music are critical to you, take those tasks on as your own. When it comes to her desires versus yours, pick those that matter most to you and address them head on. Simply tell her, “I understand that you want me to wear your wedding dress, but finding my own is really important to me. However, I’d love to wear your earrings,” Kadison says.
  • Go below the surface. “When you’re able to recognize and address the issues underlying your mother’s behavior, the two of you can actually become closer through this process instead of more fractured and resentful,” says Paul. Think about what may be triggering your mother’s behavior; she may feel she’s losing her daughter, or she may be experiencing emotions that have to do with her own marriage. Perhaps she feels she has do your wedding planning because her mother planned hers. Have a heart-to-heart talk. Start by trying this: “Mom, I know this is a really emotional time for you, too. Can we talk about it?”

Get more advice on handling your mom.

Inappropriate In-laws

Oh Behave_inlaws

There’s that old saying, “A daughter is a daughter for life, a son is a son until he finds a wife.” The essence of this saying may be lurking behind your future mother-in-law’s outrageous behavior. “A wedding signifies that it’s time for a son to cut the apron strings and to make his future wife the number one woman in his life,” says Paul. “A transfer of allegiance from mother to wife takes place and this may not be easy for his mom or his whole family.”

  • Include the in-laws. Often, in-laws feel left out, pure and simple. This happened to Madeline, 29. “My in-laws were upset that we didn’t invite more of their friends. At the wedding, my mother-in-law acted displeased the whole time. It was mortifying! I think it was her way of getting even.” Though you don’t have to do everything they want, figure out how you can accommodate at least some of their wedding planning demands, so you start out on the right foot with your soon-to-be family.
  • Be clear about their role. Not too long ago, there were traditional divisions of wedding planning responsibilities. For example, the bride’s family paid for the wedding and the groom’s paid for the rehearsal dinner. “But times have changed and these things can’t be assumed anymore,” says Schact. So sit down with your in-laws and decide what they will be responsible for. Say something like, “We understand this process can be difficult. But we want everyone to be happy, so let’s agree upon what your roles are now.” “Just don’t ask your soon-to-be mother-in-law to be your wedding planner. For me, that ended in disaster,” says Beth, 25.
  • Let your fiancé do the talking. If there are issues with the in-laws, let your groom-to-be step into the fray and show his family that the two of you are a wedding planning team. “It’s part of his transition to manhood and a symbolic start to your life together,” says Paul.

Find out how to connect with your future mother-in-law.

Diva Bridesmaids

“One of my bridesmaids showed up at my shower with a severe hangover,” says Sara, 30. “On the wedding day she was hours late to the hair and makeup session, but still expected full service when she sauntered in.” When a bridesmaid behaves badly, there may be more going on than meets the eye.

  • Analyze yourself first. Although you’re probably not making extreme demands, perhaps you’ve gotten a little carried away. “I loved the idea of my maids all having the same hairdo, so I suggested that one of them cut her bangs to match the others,” says Sue, 28. “Later I realized how ridiculous it was and why she seemed so miffed.”
  • Pick a point person. Choose a go-to gal to be in charge of the wedding plans of the bridesmaids. “This way you can have her corral them and tell them what to do,” Schact says. “Since she’s neutral it may be easier for her to organize them to plan the shower, for example.”
  • Have some girl talk. “Your bridesmaid may say that she’s ‘busy,’ but busy may hide her jealousy of you for getting married or even disapproval of your groom,” says Schact. She also may be worried that your friendship is going to change once you walk down the aisle, which may cast a pall on her feelings about your marriage. Lastly, “old conflicts in your friendship may surface,” says Paul. “Be up front. Try: ‘It seems to be hard for you to be a part of things. I’d like to talk about what’s going on.’ ” If she’s a true friend, she’ll be open to making changes.

More on how to handle difficult bridesmaids.

Groom Service

If your fiancé isn’t jumping for joy at the prospect of wedding planning, don’t take it personally. “Many men truly believe that wedding planning is a woman’s realm,” says Schacht.

  • Give him credit for his efforts. Has he gone the traditional route of choosing a ring on his own, asking your parents for your hand and planning how to pop the question? In that case, by the
    time you’re engaged, he has done a lot of work, and he may prefer the ball to be in your court.
  • Divide and conquer. “You may assume that your guy doesn’t want to be part of the process, so you do everything without him. Next thing you know, you resent that he isn’t involved,” says Schacht. Have him take charge of the details that matter to him.
  • Play as a team. “Often a couple starts out with an idea and then it snowballs. Now, the groom feels his day is nothing like what was discussed,” says Paul. Make sure you’re sticking with your plan. “In the end,” says Schacht, “the details don’t matter as much the fact that you carried out your plan together.”

Photography: Kenzie Shores Photography

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