Q: I am getting married this winter. My fiance and I want a small formal ceremony. We found a small chapel that holds only 12.
My mother told everyone in my family and invited someone I don’t even know to our wedding, and then manufactured a list of people I “have” to invite. I went home to my fiance and cried my eyes out.
He told me we could change our wedding to make Mom happy. I was so relieved he was willing to, but I also wish I could have the wedding I want. I vented to a friend about the change. She ran into my mom a while later and completely laid into her about how it’s my wedding and it should be the way I want it. I was unaware of the conversation until my mom called and screamed at me about how she won’t be coming to my wedding.
I was crushed! My fiance came up with a plan. We would have “our” wedding earlier in the day with friends who support us, and have “their” wedding afterward. I liked the thought. My mom decided to come and everything was fine.
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Until my sister decided to send me a book on manners. She had the (dis)courtesy to write comments in the margins ( “Dad in a tuxedo what are you thinking?” “Married in winter? Put it off until spring!”). She even informed my family that the wedding is begrudging and I am only putting it on for show.
I’ve had it. I’m so upset. If it is all coming out of our own pockets, why can’t we have the wedding we want?
A: I don’t know – why can’t you?
Your family wants what it wants and goes full banshee to get it, but that’s not a reason you “can’t” be in control; it’s the reason you’ve (BEG ITAL)chosen(END ITAL) to cede control to them. Two very different things.
You’ve asked about a wedding, but please know this is about everything.
That’s because it’s about your family’s poor grasp of boundaries: One member’s business is treated as everybody’s. Your mom invites people to your wedding, your sister anoints herself your protocol chief, even your friend takes up your battle with your own mother.
Your friend isn’t family, of course, but you chose her, and so it’s not a stretch to connect some dots: Your family trained you in no-boundary interaction; we seek friends who seem familiar emotionally; your friend is not good with boundaries.
Even your fiance, who sounds lovely, is about accommodation versus holding the line.
So I think it’s fair to call your wedding a brutal, 5 a.m. alarm telling you to work on your understanding of boundaries.
Think of them as the lines between your business and somebody else’s. “Lifeskills for Adult Children” (Woititz and Garner) is great on the basics and so perfect for an adult “beginner,” as in, one whose family makes no such distinctions. Brene Brown also has a nice take here: http://bit.ly/BBBound.
To enforce a boundary is to decline to allow others to control you, and to respect one is to choose not to attempt to control others. For example: “Mom, I see how excited you are for the wedding. You do not get to invite people, though, without asking me first. I’ll share my guest list when it’s ready – and I won’t add extra people just because you told them they could come.”
Boundaries have consequences; your mother will accuse you of being rude and making her look bad when you do this, and people who thought they’d be included won’t be.
But the long-term emotional benefits are well worth the short-term pain of defining, owning and defending the parts of your life that are yours alone to govern.
If you and your fiance decide that pleasing your mom is a higher priority than having the wedding you prefer, then so be it; there’s nothing wrong with hearing people out – or even changing your mind. What matters isn’t the exact nature of your decisions, but instead that you give your peace of mind the last word in making them. Caving to others breeds resentment. Example: You. This. All of it.
You can assert your autonomy and its limits in the way you announce your decisions: “This is our wedding, as we prefer it. We realize not everyone is thrilled, but we also hope you’ll respect our wishes and share in our joy.”
Put it in your own words, of course – and then entertain no further complaints, pressures, fits, judgy little margin notes (!!), gate-crashers or harrumphing boycotters. Just be loving and firm and consistent as you do (or I-do) your own thing.
When your resolve buckles, as it surely will under intense pressure from people accustomed to getting their way, remember: It’s your life. Full stop. Remember this unhappiness as what caving will always produce.
Loved ones either adjust and honor your integrity, or accept a diminishing role in your life.
Congratulations to you both.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.