Though a wedding is arguably one of the most monumental milestones life has to offer, it’s also a very special day for the couple’s respective families. But, it’s all too likely that your relatives or soon-to-be in-laws might get a little too excited—and overstep on the planning process without even realizing it. While your families might have only the best intentions, having too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen might make you feel as if you aren't even planning the wedding you want.
“Weddings are a part of life with a lot of unspoken expectations,” explains Allison Krawiec-Thayer, a boundaries expert and founder of Poppy Lead. “Everyone has an idea of what their wedding will be like—and then they often have ideas about what their child's, sibling's, best friend's wedding will be like, too. If you are a bit of a people-pleaser, [it might be easy for someone to] insert their direction in the planning process.”
Establishing and upholding boundaries in general might be uncomfortable for some. The plot only thickens if you or your partner’s families are financially contributing to your special day. But, while setting boundaries can feel like an uphill battle, it doesn’t have to be that way. The good news is that it’s possible to stay in the driver’s seat of your big day without causing a family feud.
To help, we chatted with a handful of experts on how to navigate this situation with ease. With insight from a therapist, two boundaries coaches, and a wedding planner, you’ll be a boundaries pro before you know it.
Meet the Expert
Reframe Your Take on Boundaries
If setting boundaries isn’t your strong suit, you might be a little nervous to establish limits with your and your partners’ families. However, we’re going to let you in on a little secret. Boundaries are essential to ensuring your big day goes off without a hitch.
“Remember that boundaries actually strengthen relationships and will allow things to go much smoother throughout the process,” explains Kristin Winchester, a therapist and boundaries expert. “Continue to challenge the narrative that you’re a selfish person for setting boundaries and remind yourself that boundaries are allowing you to have the wedding you desire and deserve.”
But, where to start? Sit down with your partner and jot down your non-negotiables. “Write out your concerns around setting boundaries, then work to challenge and reframe those fears by identifying situations where you were able to set a boundary effectively and they were respected,” Winchester shares. “If it’s a struggle to communicate verbally, try writing out your wishes and use it as a script, or even email (when appropriate) your desires.”
Has it always been your dream to get married by the water, not a church? Are speeches not your thing? Do you want a food truck instead of a formal, sit-down dinner? It’s your day, so make sure that your list of must-haves and no-ways reflect you both.
Simply put, it’s impossible for your respective families to uphold your boundaries if they don’t even know what they are in the first place. That’s exactly why Winchester says it’s important to communicate your expectations clearly as soon as possible.
“You should have that conversation from whomever has offered to help with the wedding plans—whether it's financially or with planning. You must communicate up front that the final plans and guest list are ultimately you and your future spouse's decisions,” she shares. “While you will greatly appreciate any input, the final decisions must belong to that of the couple without causing any unwarranted stress.”
Chances are, your families just want you to have the best day ever—and will be more than open to your boundaries. But, if you’re experiencing any pushback? “If at that time those who are contributing are not in agreement with this plan, the couple must decide whether or not they want to accept the contributions or decide what they are willing to compromise on,” Winchester says.
We don’t know who needs to hear this, but it’s natural to have emotions run high when you feel like your boundaries are not being respected. While we encourage you to uphold your boundaries, it can be all too easy for your real, raw emotions to get the better of you—and a loved one in the process.
“A huge mistake is in setting a boundary, but not providing any context or communicating it in a healthy way,” Krawiec-Thayer. “Maybe the boundary is delivered in a snarky, judgmental way: ‘We're not getting married in church because we're not stuffy and old-fashioned.’ Yes, you're giving some context, but not exactly in the most helpful way.” Instead, she recommends leaning on Marshall B. Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication process with this helpful formula:
- State the observation (without judgment).
- Express your feelings.
- State your needs.
- Make your request (if necessary).
Krawiec-Thayer says your response might sound something like, “We will not be getting married in a church. Nature is important to us and it feels right to have the ceremony outside. I need for you to understand and respect this decision. Would you like to help me review locations?" Firm yet friendly? Consider us sold.
Another common discussion you may have with family is surrounding the guest list. For example, if your parents want to invite a lot of their friends to the wedding. But, you want a smaller reception or prefer to keep the guest list to your closest circle. Make sure to be upfront, state your needs and desires for your wedding, and ask them to refrain from inviting too many guests. You may need to find compromise but this initial conversation will be helpful down the line.
Get Some Help From Your Planner
If a wedding planner fits comfortably within the budget and scope of your big day, it can be the gift that keeps on giving. In fact, hiring a professional can help establish and uphold the boundaries you set with your parents or almost in-laws.
“Before any tough discussions be sure to also have open dialogue with your wedding planner who can provide information on industry standards,” explains Danielle Cartwright, owner and lead planner at Wright & Co. “These ultimately can help add credibility to your cause during a tough discussion.”
Though your planner may not know the ins and outs of your respective relatives’ dynamics, seasoned professionals have worked with a lot of families—so they’ll be able to identify common points of contention and nip them in the bud.
“It helps cut back on debate while also providing third party insight,” she shares. “Sometimes, parents find this information more ingestible coming from an expert.” Still deciding whether or not you should hire a planner? Here’s everything you need to know about enlisting a professional.
Delegate the Duties
Just because you want to set some boundaries with your and your partner’s relatives doesn’t mean they’re cut out from the wedding planning process. According to Jeremy Schumacher, a licensed marriage and family therapist, it’s important to find a way to let your respective families in, too.
“They want to be helpful, sure, but they want to share in the excitement and festivities,” he explains. “Boundaries that are just about keeping people out will often get pushback, but if you can set a boundary that also creates space for involvement, [it] creates a larger sense of teamwork.”
One way to do so is to delegate your wedding to-do list. While your wedding party might be planning your shower or engagement party, ask your relatives to help research florists or caterers. (And, if you want them to spearhead communication with the vendor in question, go for it!) Think of this tactic as a win-win: You’ll get one thing off your to-do list and your relatives will feel involved in your big day without having carte blanche on your wedding.