If you're lucky, you might be on amazing terms with your soon-to-be in-laws. And, if you're really lucky, you might have avoided conflict and confrontation with them up to this point. But, chances are, once you're in the thick of wedding planning, there may come a time where bones of contention run deep. In fact, according to Lindsey Sachs, a wedding planner and owner of COLLECTIVE/by Sachs in Boulder, Colorado, and Minneapolis, conflict over wedding planning is nearly inevitable within families.
"A wedding is an occasion that close family members get so excited about, to the point they can project their opinions and judgement too quickly, upsetting (and annoying) the couple," she explains. "This is especially true in scenarios where close family members have committed to paying for all, or a portion of, the wedding—they feel that their generosity buys them a vote in wedding decisions."
Even in situations where the in-laws are not paying for the wedding, they may hold some entitlement over the fact that it's their child getting married. This was the case for Stephanie Freas, a recent bride from San Antonio, Texas, when she was planning her wedding this past spring. She and her husband envisioned a more of a laid-back wedding with close friends and family celebrating their marriage. "We have been together for over eight years and, at this point in our relationship, we really just wanted a more intimate, adult celebration, so we included no children on our invitations to the wedding," she tells Martha Stewart Weddings. "Once my now-mother-in-law realized we were serious about not inviting children, and that we had included 'no children' on the actual invites, she let us know how upsetting this was and how she was having a really hard time understanding how this could possibly be what we wanted."
Freas and her husband drove from San Antonio to Dallas to have a sit-down conversation with her mother-in-law-to-be about their vision and intentions. "We were patient and understanding and really could see her viewpoint," she describes. "We just had to let her know we weren't going to budge on our big day." Having her then-fiancé's total support was definitely a huge help. While she's not sure if her MIL ever completely understood their decision, she did come to respect it—and never brought it up again!
Sara Western's debacle with her in-laws didn't resolve itself as quickly. Since her wedding was held at a hotel, their respective families planned on staying several nights. All was well until her husband's mother called the wedding coordinator at the hotel to try to have her rooms covered on Western's parents' tab, as she felt it was part of their investment. Needless to say, she was unsuccessful in her attempt. "I'm lucky to have a powerful, strong-willed mother, so in the instance of the hotel rooms, she called my in-laws directly, but for future instances where my mother-in-law would communicate directly through the hotel, my mom would have the coordinator passively agree to the changes, without actually implementing any of them," Western describes. "In my mother's opinion, if they weren't contributing 50 percent of the cost of the wedding, they didn't have detail-changing power."
To avoid as much confrontation as possible, Western tried her best to stay out of anything she wasn't paying for. "All in all, the more you communicate through each other, and not to each other, the more you're setting up a precedent for passive aggression and confusion," she adds. "Understand what's of most importance to you, and invest your energy there. Things will go wrong in even the most expensive, expertly fawned over weddings, and life goes on and people still get married."
Whatever the issue that might arise between you and your future in-laws, the good news is that it can be resolved—oftentimes without a struggle. That doesn't mean there aren't ways to mitigate the arguments that do come up, though. First and foremost, our pros stress the importance of listening. At the beginning of wedding planning, Sachs recommends making a concerted effort to sit down with your in-laws and listen to what makes them most excited about the wedding. "Take notes of the things they mention. Does your mother-in-law seem particularly excited about the décor? Is your father-in-law most concerned whether there is a golf course near the venue?" she asks. "By knowing what's most important to each family member, you can ask for their help in in certain areas, and keep planning conversations centered on what they're most interested in."
In the event that your in-laws are projecting missed opportunities from their own wedding, or ideas that suit their personal style and not yours, Sachs urges couples to be transparent about their plans. "With wedding planning, it can be easy to get wound up in minutiae details and forget the bigger picture," she says. "In a constructive way, bring the conversation back to the larger picture of your vision and dreams for the wedding and then discuss how each individual decision can achieve that vision."
Don't lose sight over the most important fact: that the wedding is about you and your soon-to-be spouse. "While you can certainly solicit and listen to the opinions of others, don't feel like you have to 'compromise' just because someone makes a request," says Jonathan Bennett, relationship and life coach and certified counselor in Columbus, Ohio. "Ultimately, you make the final decision and there is no reason to feel guilty about that."
It's always best to resolve any outstanding conflicts before the big day. "Your wedding day goes by faster than you can imagine, so any extra time spent fussing over details that ultimately won't change is a royal waste of time and energy," says Sachs. "Your future self will thank you!"