Your parents and your future in-laws are bickering about the guest list and the table linens before you've even set a date. Maybe your sister and future sister-in-law are at each other's throats over the bridesmaids' dresses. When family dynamics get tricky, you probably just want to bury your head in the sand, but it's not practical. Odds are, conflict will arise as you're planning your wedding, even if you're part of two of the chummiest families around. So what's a newly-engaged couple to do when their parents or siblings are fighting from the very start? We asked Natasha Strait, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the founder of the Better You Institute, to provide some tips that will help you get through it.
Just because the families are clashing now doesn't mean they'll never get along or that your relationship is doomed. It means everyone is just figuring each other out says Strait. "Look at wedding planning as an adjustment phase," she explains. "Parents are in the mindset that they have influence over you, and they're not used to sharing that influence." Strait suggests using this time to become aware of your knee-jerk reaction to take your parents' opinions as the ultimate authority and instead learn to look to your soon-to-be spouse as a support system.
Be a United Front
When families clash, it's unfortunately the couple that must serve as the mediators. In order for your input to be effective, you need to be sure you're saying the same thing. "The couple needs to be a solid duo throughout the entire process," says Strait. "When faced with controversy, have a united conversation. First, discuss the issue at hand with your fiancé. Come to a resolution for the two of you. Then, both you and your partner together sit down with the family that wants something and have a conversation with them. Stick to the resolution you've decided on." Honor your alliance by not agreeing to any arrangement or detail without first running it past your partner. It's not for permission—it's to ensure you're both aligned and a signal that you respect the union.
Pick Your Battles
For a practical tactic, Strait suggests instructing invested family members to rate their priorities on a scale from 1-100. Understanding where each parties' heart lies may make it easier down the line to acquiesce to certain demands. "Your father may have been dreaming of relaxing with his closest friend on a veranda smoking a cigar for years now. Let him have that," says Strait. "You may have to balance this with something that your father-in-law wants. If each family feels their needs are being heard, they will be more compliant with you and each other."