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Any bride will tell you that mom and dad — and future in-laws — can be tricky when it comes to wedding-related topics. But that dynamic multiplies when it involves various religions, cultures and ethnicities... or a combination of all three.
With nearly half of all marriages being interfaith unions, making decisions for the wedding and life happily ever after can prove immensely challenging to appease contradictory perspectives. While settlement is not always possible, say couples therapists, there are ways in which couples can approach each other and their families with more efficient communication. Here are six top tips.
1. Before anything else, set expectations as a couple. Couples therapist Irina Firstein believes the best possible course of action a couple can take is to be on the same page with each other first, from wedding ceremonies to lifestyle choices and values. Then, as they discuss issues, big or small, with families, officiants and wedding planners, they approach as a united front. "Ultimately, a couple needs to create a unit of their own," Firstein says. "It really tests the love and commitment, because negotiating with families is extremely stressful."
2. Educate your families. Take time to explain cultural traditions. Send them videos and articles on different wedding ceremony traditions and have parents talk to religious officiants to answer outstanding questions and become more comfortable with each other. If possible, have parents attend weddings or other religious ceremonies, so they have a better idea of how your event will function.
3. Understand parents' points of view, even if you and your partner don't agree. One of the worst things you can do for communication is to be on the constant defensive or start heated arguments. Approach conversations with understanding and assertiveness, but without accusatory language or an air of entitlement. "Try to explain to each set of parents that their feelings and feedback are very important and they will be taken into consideration," explains Rachel Sussman, licensed therapist and relationship expert. "However, the actual wedding may not turn out exactly as they would like it to." She notes that this may take several meetings to wade through all the concerns.
4. Once on a united front, talk with the parents about often sticky subjects like money, children, religion, naming conventions and lifestyle. This will likely go beyond the wedding ceremony, but Firstein encourages couples to discuss this now rather than hoping discrepancies among family members will solve themselves later or "when children come."
5. Consider pre-marital counseling. Some religions incorporate pre-marital counseling into wedding preparation courses, like the Catholic Pre-Cana. Brides and wedding planners both agree any engaged couple should consider counseling, especially those with compounded issues that come from differing cultural, religious, or racial backgrounds. Counseling helps couples solidify their values as a unit, and secular therapists, like Firstein and Sussman, can provide a non-denominational, impartial resource for advice on overcoming stressful issues with parents and the wedding planning process.
6. Pick up a book. Whether or not therapy is in your price range, the self-help section of the bookstore offers a collection of titles relating to engagement and marriage, including worksheets on morals and values, tips on improving communication with various personality types, and quizzes for soon-to-wed couples. Set aside time with your partner to complete the exercises and guide your own discussions.
Stephanie Cain is a freelance journalist based in New York City. She became passionate about multicultural and interfaith ceremonies after attending half a dozen and planning her own Catholic-Hindu wedding weekend.