I wonder whether you could speak about the importance of family in the premarital process. Several of my friends/co-workers struggled with family throughout the premarital process. And these struggles created long-lasting rifts in families. I was fortunate to survive the premarital process relatively unscathed and enjoy a good relationship with my family/husband's family.
Erin picked up on one of the most difficult aspect of planning any major life ritual: finding ways to include and honor the experiences, memories, values, and desires of all those who are closest to the bridal couple. Erin asked about family in particular, so I'll limit this post to that, and offer a few points to consider when difficulties with family members arise.
The first thing for a bridal couple to realize in wedding preparation is that rituals matter, because rituals say worlds about what we believe and value in life. Rituals such as weddings are iconic of relationship dynamics, and rituals tell us what matters to those who prepare them. Often the preparation for a ritual is even more difficult to manage than the ritual itself, because the preparation period is the time when decisions are made about what will happen, who will have a role to play, and what the most important roles will be. It's easy, then, for insecurities about relationships and perceptions of shared values to surface in the process of preparing for a wedding. More about that below.
The second thing to consider is who will pay for the wedding. Weddings are often considerably more expensive than what the bridal couple can afford without going into a great deal of debt. With the question of money comes the question of power: if the bridal couple accepts an offer by parents (or others) to help pay for the wedding, those offering to help pay may feel a sense of entitlement about how the wedding ritual is to be prepared. Is it right for parents or other financial donors to expect to be able to shape the wedding? Well: yes. And no.
- If the bridal couple wants to be able to shape the wedding without having consider the input of someone who has offered to subsidize the wedding, the bridal couple should seriously consider the possibility of having a "non-glamorous wedding." Just figuring in the cost of catering, a reception hall, a wedding site, an officiant, the clothing (yes, the clothing!), the rings, and a photographer, your "bare-bones" wedding budget can cost over $10,000. The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is closer to $20,000. With most couples getting married in their twenties, it's obvious that budgets like this are well outside what newlyweds can afford. If you want to avoid having your wedding paid for by someone else, you'll have to challenge the norms that the U.S. wedding industry has established and find other ways to make your Big Day as special and beautiful as you want it. Personally, I think this is a great idea; I think it's also the very best way to make your wedding your own while still honoring those you love.
- If the bridal couple accepts the financial assistance of parents or others, they'll very likely have to face to engage in some difficult conversations. The key to handling conflict with parents and other family members, especially if they are helping you pay for your wedding, is to be honest from the very beginning about how much say you're willing to give them in the wedding preparation. If someone is helping you cover the cost of your wedding, they absolutely have a right to know what role they'll have in planning the wedding, and if you want that role to be minimal, they also have every right to withdraw their financial support. You may end up being forced, for lack of funds, to have the non-glamorous wedding I mention above; but "glamorous" should not be your end goal. "Loving," "beautiful," and "meaningful" should be your end goal.
- Don't wait till the wedding rehearsal to get your closest family members all in one room. Do have both sets of parents over for dinner at the same time. Make their favorite foods. Share with them how much they mean to you and how glad you are that they're going to be there to share in your Big Day. It will mean the world to them, and will shape how they feel and act once the Big Day arrives.
- Don't wait till you have a request to make of your future in-laws to talk to them by phone, e-mail, or in person. Do make an effort to talk to them just for the sake of talking with them. You'll be spending a lot of time talking with them for the rest of your married life, and now's the time to build relationships with them. I always noticed growing up that my dad had a really friendly, easy-going relationship with my mom's dad--it's part of what made our family so strong.
- Don't forget that, in the end, your wedding day will be just the beginning of the rest of your life, and most of the minute ritual details of your wedding will be forgotten. Do remember at every planning stage to approach and shape your wedding in a way that honors the people you want to have around throughout your married life, especially family members. Finding the perfect dress or the most dashing shade for the tuxedo vest won't matter; honoring those you love and creating meaningful ways for them to honor you will matter. That brings me to one more point:
- Don't forget that the reason your family wants to be involved is because they love you. Do remember that the roles you give them throughout the wedding preparation and the Big Day will, in part, show them how much they mean to you.
In the end, the love and care the bridal couple demonstrates for those who share in their wedding day--and the love those people show for the couple--is what really matters.
If you have questions or stories to share about wedding preparation, you are more than welcome to leave a comment below! I look forward to hearing from you. Audience participation is encouraged!