Setting boundaries with family when planning your wedding
Updated: Oct 9, 2022
I was once a terrible people pleaser. I'd like to say I am rid of all those tendencies, but that would be a lie. I am, however, in a much better place than I was when I planned my own wedding five years ago.
Weddings seem to be one of those milestone events that people feel they are entitled to comment on. Bizarrely, there almost always seems to also be a pocket of relatives that expect to be invited even though they haven't seen the bride/groom since they were a toddler. I always view being invited to a wedding as a privilege, never an expectation, but we have to accept there are a large chunk of society (usually lurking in our distant family tree) who don't share that viewpoint.
So how do we go about navigating all of this without wanting to call the whole thing off and elope? (An aside note - I LOVE an elopement, so if the drama really is too much, or you just want something intimate and romantic, then let's talk.)
If you are a people pleaser in any capacity, then this is for you. Here are my top five tips for setting those boundaries when you're planning your wedding and sticking to them.
Figure out what you want
Early on in the planning process, you need to get clear exactly what you both want from your day. This is your baseline. It's not about colour schemes, bridesmaid's dresses or favours; it's the bones of what you want the day to be like.
What is most important to you? How do you want your guests to feel? My own list of must-haves went like this:
a December wedding
a quirky, yet classy venue
space for us to host the whole wedding in one place and have guests stay the night before and on the day itself
only close friends and family - no children other than nieces/nephews
an indoor ceremony space that has the wow factor
a celebrant-led ceremony (obviously!)
an evening celebration that feels like a proper party
guests getting in the festive spirit, able to relax, unwind and have a brilliant time
Now, you might make this list and immediately know where you'll face opposition. Granny has always said how much she wants you to marry in your local church? You know your cousins will expect to be invited, but you haven't got the budget? Having a vegetarian meal is important to you, but you know there are plenty of carnivores on your dad's side? Knowing where the niggles might come from helps you to prepare for them.
You don't have to have justifications for anything you do, but if you're a people-pleaser then you will undoubtedly find confrontation and letting others down difficult. Having a reason for what you're doing can really help. If you're not sure you can get everything out in person, try writing it down in an email or text. Something like this can really help:
'Hey! We wanted to let you know that we're having a non-religious ceremony for our wedding. [X] and I aren't religious, so we knew getting married in church wasn't for us. We've decided to have a celebrant-led ceremony which means it will be completely personal to us. We're really excited about it and can't wait to fill you in when we see you!'
This then immediately paves the way for those tricky conversations - you've laid the groundwork and you're managing expectations. Go you!
So what happens when Granny doesn't relent and gives you her heartfelt sob story? That leads me to tip number two...
Practice saying no
No matter how nicely, succinctly and diplomatically you explain something, there will be some people who keep pushing. Now, I'm not suggesting you go to the 'no' straightaway; there is room for you to explain your position in person, but if it's clear you're getting nowhere, you need to bring out the big guns.
As a people-pleaser, saying no is agonising. I know; I've been there. In a previous career, I prided myself on how I could say yes to anything my colleagues needed of me. I was reliable and helpful - a problem-solver who got stuff done. None of my colleagues saw (or cared) that I was burning out because of my inability to say no. I had to learn to stick up for myself and you do too.
The conversation with Granny might look something like this:
'I know you've always wanted me to get married in the church, but what is important to me and [x] is having a ceremony that is meaningful to us.'
'We won't be getting married in the church. I know that's disappointing for you, but what is important to us and our values is having a celebrant write and perform our ceremony.'
'No, we won't change our mind. We are not getting married in the church. Let me show you a video of our celebrant, I think you'll love her.'
In the former career I mentioned, I was Head of Customer Care for a property developer. I loved helping people, but the number of times I had to say no to things that weren't our obligation to fix started out as a real struggle. I quickly learned that for someone to hear what you're saying, you have to say no three times. Soon, people realise you're a broken record; you're not changing your mind. You've said no and you mean it.
Stick to your guns. If it's something that matters to you; have confidence in your convictions.
Delegate and accept help
It's worth remembering that not every tricky conversation has to be done by you.
If you know that your sister has a better relationship with your aunt, then ask her to explain your position. This isn't shying away from difficult topics, it's just taking the pressure off you a little - lord knows you have enough to do!
It's also worth letting your other half deal with their family; you don't need to be fighting those battles before you're even married. Just make sure that you're both on the same page - the last thing you want is them using you as the reason that something is or isn't happening!
I have previously hated other people tackling things on my behalf as the anxiety of that conversation going on without me makes it not worth it. I want to be able to handle something, so that, ultimately, I come out of it still liked and well thought of. Not everyone will like you. That's normal. Let it go. Just like you need to...
Block out the noise of unsolicited opinions
If you haven't asked for someone's opinion and it isn't kind or helpful, then block it out. Let it run off you. You don't have to take everything on board (it's impossible, you'll explode if you do.)
That's hard for us people-pleasers, I know. But really, what do other people's opinions have to do with anything?
A note on money
You may be reading this and thinking it's all very well setting boundaries, but how on earth can you do that if you're relying financially on others for help. I get it - there can be a sense of obligation or that you have to do what others want as they are paying for it.
Simply put, this isn't true. If you are under the impression there's any conditions with the money being given then get that out on the table. If you get the feeling this is going to be held over you in any way then I strongly suggest you politely decline; financial guilt is the last thing you need.
On the other hand, if your parents are laidback and have lovingly said they'll 'help out but haven't given you an indication of the amount - you need to ask. It's not an easy conversation as you don't want to seem ungrateful, but it's crucial for you being able to set your budget.
Once you know the amount you're being gifted and there seem to be no obvious strings attached or conditions, agree where the money will be spent. Choose something you don't mind your relatives having some say over - that might be the flowers, the band or the food. Make it very clear that's what they are paying for so you don't feel that you have to compromise in other areas. This sounds cold, but it can be done with absolute love and warmth. Try this:
'Thank you so much for the money you have given us towards the wedding; we're so grateful. We'd like to use the money to pay for the flowers and arch in the ceremony space. Would you like to come with us to meet with the florist on [xx]? We'd love your help and advice as we don't know where to start with colours!'
Remember it's your day
Ultimately, this is what it all comes down to. It is easy to get carried away with other people's opinions and lose sight of what the day is actually about. Focus inwards; why are you doing this? What do you want your day to look like? This is your day - all that really matters is that you and your partner are able to celebrate in a way that's meaningful to you.
What issues are you facing at the moment? Leave me a comment and let's chat - I'd love to help you navigate these tricky conversations.