I took a little poll a few weeks ago to see which blog post topics people would find most helpful. I had the usual options listed: photography tips, general wedding planning tips, budget ideas. Then I threw in “how to deal with family disagreements over planning.” When I checked back in later, I was super surprised to see that it was the topic people were voting for the most. It seemed that family arguments while wedding planning are super common.
I was also getting messages from stressed-out couples who weren’t sure how to please their parents while still also doing what they wanted. “We would have just eloped” was mentioned a few times.
Wedding planning can be emotionally difficult: not only are you responsible for planning this big party (which you most likely have never done before), but you’re dealing with a lot of high emotions from family and friends. Everything seems to get magnified around this time, and little insecurities can become the basis for larger disagreements.
I was very lucky to have help from a real live therapist, Julia Tsakalis, for this blog post, so hope you get something useful out of it! I shot Julia’s wedding a few years ago, and we’ve kept in touch as her family therapy business has grown. I knew she’d be perfect for this. My questions for her mostly revolved around compromise and how to deal with disagreements overall, because when it comes down to it I think people really just want to feel included and understood during planning. I’ll chime in from the peanut gallery since I’ve worked with so many couples and have seen a lot of different family dynamics! And honestly, the happier and more relaxed you are at your wedding, the better your photos will be too. I always think it’s important to think about these things as a whole, because your emotional state does matter when it comes to the photos.
What are some general techniques that can be used to compromise, and that couples can use if their family wants something and they want something else for their wedding?
Julia: When families don’t see eye to eye on wedding plans, or on anything in general, I encourage them to practice a change in perspective. One of my favorite exercises is something I call the “10/10/10 rule” which I actually stole from businessman Warren Buffet’s decision-making strategy. For any decision or conflict, I encourage you to ask yourself, “How important will this be in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years? Much of the time, the issue you are so hung up on will probably matter in 10 minutes, but not 10 months and certainly not in 10 years. If it is something that you truly believe will matter in 10 years, then I would say that is something important enough on which to stand your ground.
Kathleen: I think this is awesome. I love the idea of trying to step back and gain perspective. Some of the sweetest details I’ve seen at weddings were things that the couple hadn’t planned for–more than once I’ve had a couple point to a guest book or particular flower arrangement and say “it makes my mom happy, and I didn’t really care that much, so I said yes.” I think that’s the perfect way to let people feel included without compromising on anything huge. On the flip side, I’ve also seen couples become upset because they let a family member interfere with something that affected the experience of their day. In those cases, it probably would have been better not to budge.
How can couples deal with the pressure of having family contribute to their wedding costs, without feeling like they have to give up the things they want?
Julia: This is again where compromise comes in. How important is it to you to have every single thing you want? There are certainly some family members with unreasonable requests, but if you can allow them a couple of the things that are most important to them then it’s likely they will be fine with you having the rest of the wedding done the way you and your partner would like. If you have family members who have offered to pay for the wedding but are having trouble remembering that its not their wedding, it’s yours, then I would recommend that you either a) pay your own way for the wedding or b) try to get ahead of the issue by meeting with a therapist for some family therapy sessions.
Kathleen: Money can make things even more delicate, but sometimes it’s not possible for a couple to pay for the whole wedding themselves. I think being up front about what contributing to the wedding means is really important. If a family member offers to pay for something, I really think you have to be open at the start about what that entails and if there are strings attached. It might be a little awkward to talk about, but it’s better than getting stuck in a disagreement further down the road. If your parents are paying for your photographer, are they going to have a say in who you choose? Are they going to choose for you? Or are they happy for you to make the choice yourself? There’s no right answer other than what’s right for you, but it’s important to be clear about expectations.
What are the best ways to show someone you’re listening, even if you don’t agree with them?
Julia: One of the worst things to do is interrupt someone when they are talking! If you don’t want to stir the pot, let them voice their opinions. Make eye contact, nod, and pay attention to your body language. Is your body facing them? Are your arms crossed in front of your body? Are you scrolling through your phone or reading texts while they’re speaking? Imagine how you would feel if you were the one expressing your concerns and someone was doing that to you. Even if you disagree, making someone feel heard can quell some of the drama.
Kathleen: I completely agree–I think a lot of the time family members just want to feel like they’re included. It’s an important day, and they might be more emotional about it than you think. Sometimes chiming in or giving advice is a way for family to release some of that stress or emotion.
What are some ways couples can disagree with family members without getting angry?
Julia: If you are someone who is quick to anger, I would highly recommend you get some healthy coping skills in place! The truth is that wedding planning can be really stressful. Exercise, meditation, and a solid sleep schedule go a long way in mitigating stress and anger. It may also be a good time to seek psychotherapy if you are not already meeting with someone. A therapist can help you figure out exactly what you need to say to your family members in a way that will not rock the boat but will help you get your point across. Aside from that, I always advise people that one of the worst things you can tell someone is that their feeling or opinion is wrong. Whatever you do, don’t say “I hear what you’re saying, but you’re wrong!” That never goes over well.
Kathleen: I can’t agree enough with the meditation recommendation. Practicing mindfulness has been one of the most helpful things in my life in general, and it especially helps when trying to navigate disagreements. I wish I’d been doing it when I was planning my own wedding.
At what point should couples not compromise?
Julia: I would refer back to my answer to the first question on this one; it’s all about having perspective and having a clear picture of what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not willing to sacrifice.
Kathleen: I agree with this. Is the thing you’re compromising on going to go against your core values or beliefs? Will it fundamentally affect how you enjoy your wedding day? Will you feel regret thinking about it later on? If yes, standing up for it is worth thinking about. If not, maybe you can compromise a little.
What if you really can’t agree on something?
Julia: If you really can’t agree on something, I totally understand the frustration! I have seen these situations affect a family’s dynamic years after the wedding is over. However, I do like to remind people that the wedding is just one day; the first of many. It is so easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the day, and the drama building up to it, but doing so can really take the joy out of the experience. The wedding itself is so short so you want to have as much fun as you can! It is a party, after all. Focus on you and your partner, not on trying to make everyone else happy.
Kathleen: Definitely agree with this! Planning is usually somewhat stressful no matter what, so try to let go of some of the little things when you get the opportunity!