Four Hidden Reasons for Family Drama During Wedding Planning
Joint identity and split loyalties.
Posted Jun 05, 2019
The summer wedding season is upon us—the culmination of months or years of planning and executing the day that honors a couple’s legal union. For many couples and their families, these months mean navigating a complex web of logistical decisions tied to culture, religion, money, relationships, and identity. The fight over centerpieces, a stressed-out “bridezilla,” or even mundane miscommunications may immediately come to mind as the culprit for interfamily discord during wedding planning, but the fights are typically much deeper. Here are some of the real reasons why wedding planning can be so acrimonious and stressful:
1. The Couple’s Joint Identity and Split Loyalties
When a couple comes together, they merge their experiences, traditions, and values into a life that reflects their shared goals and priorities. In the process, they may step away from their original families’ religious, political, financial, geographical, or dietary values. Typically, couples can gloss over or avoid these differences, attending their family’s religious events even if they no longer believe in the tradition or eating before attending a family dinner that doesn’t meet their dietary needs. But during wedding planning, these differences must be negotiated, and decisions must be made about what the wedding will look like, leading to hurt feelings. Families may experience the couple’s diverging views with feelings of irrelevance, confusion, alienation, abandonment, or rejection.
Complicating matters, during arguments, each partner may feel loyal both to their future spouse and their family. When a future spouse and a parent disagree about the religious nature of the ceremony, for example, the partner may feel compelled to both defend their parents and defend their partner. In that process, somebody’s feelings can get hurt. Weddings force couples to draw lines in the sand and declare their loyalty to one another while managing delicate family ties.
2. Whose Wedding Is It, Anyway?
Perhaps it seems obvious that a wedding should reflect the choices and preferences of the couple getting married. But if the members of a couple come from different religious backgrounds, ethnic cultures, geographical regions, socio-economic classes, or culinary traditions, the question of “whom should this wedding reflect” will almost certainly emerge and create tension. Should the day reflect the couples’ wishes and beliefs, even if they diverge from those of their families? Should one family expect the wedding to reflect their own needs and values? When the wedding cannot reflect everybody, who takes priority, and does that change based on who is paying for the wedding—one or both sets of parents, or the couple themselves? Some weddings more closely resemble the desires and preferences of parents, while others focus more on the couple’s vision for the day. Many couples and their families try to work together to incorporate important cultural elements to create a sense of inclusion and respect, but parsing out those details can lead to many arguments and hurt feelings.
3. Fear of Judgement and Community Perception
The question of whom the wedding reflects may be tied not only to a family’s commitment to their culture and beliefs, but also to the issue of perception. With family, friends, business colleagues, and community members from all sides of the family attending, many worry about how the wedding will reflect back on them. The couple and both families may worry about what their friends and family will say about the event, and what others will assume about them based on what it looks like, how much money was spent, and what religious and cultural traditions did or did not take place. Fear of gossip, judgment, and community standing may be present, heightening the stakes of the wedding. Concerns about perception muddy the waters of decision-making, because they turn the question of What do we want for the event? into What does this event need to look like to receive the approval of others?
4. Control and Inclusion
When families argue over venues, centerpieces, and colors, the point of the disagreement can quickly become less about the centerpieces and more about who has the power to make the decision about the centerpieces. Logistical conversations quickly turn to who said what to whom, what families think about one another, and who feels included and excluded. For some, the desire to have control may reflect the fear of being left out or feeling irrelevant on the couple’s big day. For others, the need for control over decisions ties back to the idea of parental control over their now-adult children. Many adult children no longer live at home by the time they get married, leaving parents with less say over their decisions and choices. When a wedding comes around, that parent/child dynamic can re-emerge, and parents and kids may seek or unconsciously recreate that power differential.
A more complicated truth
For many families, weddings are not merely a day to celebrate the couple, but a way to illustrate family identity, beliefs, wealth, and culture. And so the couple, with its new, differentiated identity, as well as each family, must address their different priorities, needs, and beliefs. It is much easier to blame a stressed-out bride or disagreements about wedding decor for ongoing tension, but the underlying dynamics tell a different story. Indeed, some couples avoid these dynamics all together when they decide to make all decisions unilaterally, taking full responsibility for their wedding. But even then, families may carry expectations.
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