Wedding planning can be stressful, especially when it comes to conversations about money. If you and your partner are funding all the festivities yourselves, you have full control over what the celebrations look like. But when there are other sources of money—specifically if your parents or in-laws—the dynamics can get trickier. While some parents look at funding a wedding as a gift with no strings attached, others want to have a say in some (or all) of the event details.
Navigating these family dynamics can feel confusing and stressful, so to help you get through them in one piece we turned to Landis Bejar, a therapist and the founder of AisleTalk, a service that provides therapy specific to wedding planning. She gave concrete tips on how to talk about money, the expectations that surround it, and what to do if a conflict arises.
Meet the Expert
Landis Bejar is licensed therapist in New York City and founder of AisleTalk, therapy specific to wedding planning.
How Much Say Do Your Parents (or In-Laws) Get?
Having your in-laws or parents pay for your wedding is a wonderful gift. It means they are supporting your union and want to help celebrate the start of your life as a couple. It's also nice to have another party help pay for what can be a costly affair, of course! But having a funder can also invite complicated power dynamics. If your parents or in-laws are paying, they might expect to have some say in what happens on your big day.
You might be asking: how much say do they get? Bejar says that naturally, the answer varies. "This is really unique to each family," she says. "It’s usually uncharted territory for both couples and parents." To some parents, paying for a wedding is equivalent to making a generous gift; they don't expect anything in return. For other parents, however, paying for the wedding means it is their event, too, and thus they'll want a say in matters large or small.
Bejar said it's important to addresss this budgeting conversation upfront, so you have a clear idea of the situation. "Start by talking openly about what it means to contribute financially to a wedding," she says. "Ask your parents directly about their expectations for how much power and control they expect to have in decision making as the ones paying for the event. Whether the expectation is that they have a say in all things, nothing, or some things, you want to know this ahead of time and try to have the conversations early before more emotions get invested," she adds. "Chances are, they haven’t even thought about this consciously. By asking directly, you’re giving everyone involved a chance to reflect on how they would ideally like this process to look, rather than ending up in an unanticipated, financially-motivated power struggle—which isn’t enjoyable for anyone."
Having this information early can also help you make a decision about how you want to proceed. "In certain cases, learning that strained family dynamics will be the secondary cost of a lavish, parent-paid wedding, is a reason to sacrifice part or all of the contribution in favor of footing the bill themselves, having something more modest, maintaining familial peace, and retaining creative control," says Bejar.
How to Approach Budget Conversations with Your Parents or In-Laws
There are steps you can take to make these conversations go smoothly for everyone.
Have the Initial Money Conversation In Person
"For better or worse, money, when it applies to weddings, is usually emotionally charged," says Bejar. "Any emotionally charged conversation is best had in person, where you can get the full picture of someone’s communication and sentiment, rather than drawing on interpretations that can come from not being able to see a person’s body language, facial expressions, or tone through email or other medium." It might seem easier to talk over text or email, but that might invite problems later.
Have the Money Conversation Early
"It's better to know what you’re dealing with early, rather than when you’ve started to pay for things or get emotionally invested in the process of planning or the items that these finances are covering," says Bejar. Again, knowing the situation you are dealing with will help you figure out how to proceed. It might not be worth it to you to take the money if you want full control over your wedding.
Normalize Talking about Money
"Bring it up to parents or family members as a normal topic of conversation," suggests Bejar. "Plan a regular 'wedding meeting' where budget and budget status are not taboo phrases, but a regular part of the dialogue. Use normalizing language like, 'let’s talk about budget!' rather than skittering around the topic."
Ask, Don't Tell
"No one likes to be told what to do, especially not parents by their children and especially not about large sums of money they are expected to spend for one special day," says Bejar. Open with questions like, "Are you able to help us with the cost of the wedding?" or "Did you have a budget in mind or specific elements you would like to contribute towards?"
"Have some deference here," Bejar adds. "It is a generous gift after all, not a birthright. This approach allows parents to want to contribute and not feel like an ATM."
"Even with the most clear or concise plan, these are not one-time conversations," Bejar points out. Often times weddings end up being more expensive than any party thought. So be prepared to revisit the topic and have open and honest conversations with your family about who is paying and what this means for all parties involved.
What to Do If Conflict Occurs
Even if you follow all of this advice, you still might encounter some conflict. Money, after all, is a tricky subject for everyone. If things get heated, Bejar recommends taking a break. "If you anticipate a conversation like this one being difficult, you can also make sure you have 'scripts' on hand for needing to take a break or communicating to your partner that you need to step away so they can help advocate for that," she said. "Something simple like, 'It seems like we’re on different pages on this and I feel like this is taking a negative turn. Let’s pause the conversation here, we’ll all sleep on it, and try to talk about it more.'"
Use the break to reflect on what made you feel triggered and what you want to say to your parents or in-laws. If you decide you need to communicate your frustration, Bejar recommends making sure to use I-statements to share how someone's behavior made you feel.
"Finally, a little validation goes a long way," says Bejar. "If you’re not seeing eye-to-eye with parents, take a few minutes to really try to put yourself in their shoes." Say things like, "I can understand why you would be feeling X, based on your perspective." Showing the other person that you understand how they feel and you aren't dismissing them can go a long way in changing the tone and helping everyone reach a satisfying agreement.