Are you starting to feel like you’re starring in your own Shakespearean tragedy? or West Side Story? When you’re embarking on a lifetime of partnership with your beloved, the last thing you want is for your families to be embarking on a lifetime feud.
Getting The Families Together
Even if your families have very little in common with each other, they do share one important topic of interest: you. Use yourself and your fiancé as a starting point to get the conversational ball rolling. If you’re looking for topics to break an awkward silence, get your family to tell their stories of the first time they knew your sweetie was here to stay.
This will invite your in-laws to relate their own stories about the first time they met you. Sure, you might face a few embarrassing anecdotes along the way, but if you can laugh along with everybody else, you’ll have successfully broken the ice.
If you know ahead of time that there will be tense topics, go ahead and quietly mention it to your folks before introducing them to the other side of their new family. Maybe your mother is a strict conservative and your fiancé’s mother is still burning her bras. It’s wise to mention, in a loving and calm voice, that there should be no politics at the dinner table.
Get your fiancé to mention the same topics to your in-laws, and with any luck, both sets of relatives will be polite enough to keep the peace. If you sense the conversation heading to dangerous ground, come up with a list of “deflection topics” before the meeting so you can interject, “What do you think of a Spiderman-themed wedding cake?” just in time.
When all else fails, break out the organized games. Card games, board games, and any games with easy-to-learn rules are great ways to make up for a lack of common ground. If you don’t think your two families will have much to say to each other, at least they can have a good time interacting over a shared game.
Choosing something with a verbal element will further discourage non game-related conversation. Keep in mind that your families probably won’t have to cross paths often if they don’t want to, so anything you can do to keep relations pleasant while they’re in the same room will go a long way toward keeping the goodwill.
Keeping Them Apart
In some extreme cases, there is no way of bringing the families together. This can happen when there are intense cultural or religious differences, or if there are already (as in the case of some unlucky couples) legal restraining orders involved.
If you suspect that forcing your families into one location for the duration of your wedding would simply be too much, it may be time to accept your situation and move on.
You have three choices. You can hold two wedding receptions and involve both sets of relatives separately, you can choose a private wedding and involve neither family, or you can invite everyone and let the family members make their own decisions on whether or not to come.
If you and your partner are both close to your families, holding two receptions is a way to include everyone without risking a drama blow-out. Many couples who choose to go this route have a more intimate wedding ceremony with just a few hand-picked close friends.
Holding two receptions afterward (just not on the same day!) allows you to celebrate your new marriage in two locations, which can be a fun bonus if you’ve always wanted a ballroom wedding and a beach wedding. Just be careful of conserving your budget, as you won’t want to blow everything on the first celebration.
You may decide that gingerly skirting family drama isn’t for you. A private wedding (and yes, even a confidential wedding) is a good option for couples who want to get away from it all. Pack some bags and head to Vegas, Bermuda, or even the closest nature preserve with your officiant and your sweetie.
If your families complain that they didn’t get to taste the wedding cake, you can suggest they put aside their differences in time to celebrate your first anniversary.
The third option is a little more risky, but it takes the pressure off of your shoulders. Simply send invitations to your families, and be completely honest and open with everyone about the list of invitees. Your relatives are adults, after all. Make it clear that you will tolerate no bad behavior at the wedding.
The feuding families will not be obligated to interact with each other at all, or even to sit on the same side of the room. They just have to show up and give you love and support. If they can accept the ground rules, they will come.
Is the wedding the problem?
Did your families get along before wedding planning began? If so, you need so sit everyone down (or use a conference call if the families don’t live near each other) and decide on strict ground rules. Explain that you’re worried that the wedding is driving your loved ones apart, when the happy occasion should be bringing everyone together.
With you and your spouse-to-be presiding over the meeting, you can be sure to steer the conversation away from topics that are becoming too heated.
If voices get raised over any specific topic (such as whether the wedding flowers should be silk or real), step in and calmly remind the room that you’re not meeting to argue specifics. You’re meeting to decide how the decisions themselves will be made.
While different approaches work for different families, you may want to try this conflict-resolution technique: Have the group cooperate to list all of the difficult wedding decisions. For example, if your mother thinks the reception should be served family-style and your mother-in-law has her heart set on a buffet, you would write down, “Dinner serving style.”
Write down as many topics as the room can generate. When people finally run out of suggestions, you’ll have a comprehensive list of all of the wedding-related things that are causing your family tension.
Then, roll dice or draw straws to see who goes first. The first person will choose a topic from the list. You will write that person’s name next to the topic. It is now to be decided by that person. Go clockwise around the room (and don’t forget to include yourself!).
In this way, everyone will get a say in the topics that they feel are the most important. If arguments start to arise, stop the proceedings and gently remind everyone that you brought them together because you care about them and want to have their undivided love and support on your wedding day.
The encouraging news is: if your families got along well before the wedding planning started, they will probably get along well once the dust settles. Stay as calm and impartial as possible during the stressful part, and once you’re happily married you’ll be glad that you put out the small fires before they could get too hot.
Do Your Part: Stay Impartial
As much as you may need to vent to someone when the wedding planning stress bubbles up to your ears, do not give in to the urge to vent to your family members. The immediate satisfaction of having someone on “your side” will come back to haunt you when you’re trying to plan holiday vacations in years to come.
Remember, it’s never wise to paint your in-laws as the “bad guys” to your parents, no matter how frustrated you may be in the moment. If you need to complain to someone, grab your best friend for some drinks or an afternoon away at the salon.
Even if you end up souring your friend against your in-laws, it will be easier to deal with later than trying to convince your own parents to change their minds. You’ll probably do better avoiding friends who are in the wedding party, just to be safe.
Ultimately, your families may decide that they simply don’t have much in common with each other, and that’s fine. As long as they can behave maturely when events (such as your wedding, or the birth of a child) place them in close proximity, you’ll be able to enjoy a life with your partner that honors both sets of families and that satisfies you both.
Getting along with other people is a lifelong process, so if you get frustrated along the way, just remember Romeo and Juliet. Their relationship lasted only three days and caused six deaths. You’re already doing better than that!
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.