Family Matters

family matters blog post image of wedding seating

Weddings bring family together. Family members are happy for you and excited to celebrate this hallmark occasion. So what could possibly go wrong, right?

Well, family dynamics are complicated, and bringing two or more families together for one important day can be intense. Planning the ceremony, even with well-intentioned family members giving conflicting advice, can bring added stress to the day.

Solutions to Common Ceremony Dilemmas

As Justices of the Peace, couples tell us about sensitive situations that worry them. We thought a discussion about some common concerns along with solutions would be helpful. We’ve enlisted Anne Ziff, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, to provide a professional perspective.

Q: My step-father is very important in my life, in fact he raised me. But my biological father has always dreamed about walking me down the aisle. How should I handle this?

Anne says: The person that walks the bride down the aisle should be the one she wants to walk her. If possible, she can give another important job to the other father.

Q: I just learned that my cousin is disappointed that I didn’t invite her to the ceremony. We agreed that we wanted to limit the amount of guests and therefore no cousins were invited. Should I invite her anyway?

Anne says: Send a note to her saying how you know she understands and appreciates how hard it is to limit the number of guests. Invite her to a private lunch before or just after the ceremony; let her know you love her and want something special for just the two of you. However, if you do not have that kind of relationship with her, it’s okay to do nothing. She may be disappointed, but generally people understand you have to set parameters.

Q: I don’t have a strong relationship with my mother, but I really want her at the wedding. How should I handle the awkwardness I may experience?

Anne says: Talk to her about how much it means to you to have her blessing and her presence at the wedding. You’ll be too busy to pay attention to awkwardness! A therapist can also help you work this out by coaching you in pre-marital and wedding day issues.

Q: My mother and father had a nasty divorce. My father remarried and his new wife will be coming as his guest, but my mother is coming solo. I fear some sort of conflict. Is there anything I should do to limit the risk?

Anne says: Seat them separately at the ceremony and reception. For the ceremony, consider having ushers seat them at different ends of the reserved aisle. At the reception, assign them a table with others they can have fun with, either a table of single adults or with people from her side of the family. Have one or more friends watching for red flags: those who are willing to intervene if necessary. Your job is to enjoy the celebration.

Q: How should my fiancé and I work together to plan the event and manage family expectations?

Anne says: Talk to each other, make lists and make your decisions. Then tell, don’t ask, families what to expect. It’s not always easy to make these decisions, but you need to make them and then let your family members know your decisions. Weddings with too much complexity and family tugs often end up as elopements.

However, if the parents are paying for the wedding, their needs and opinions become equal to those of the couple. In this case, sit down together and discuss plans as a team. The event is as much theirs as yours if they are writing the checks!

In any situation, the most important quality of the couple is to clearly and effectively communicate. If that is hard to do, get a therapist into the mix. A professional can help a couple learn to talk, listen, and think without judgement, and to remind us never to lose our sense of humor!

About Anne Ziff

Anne F. Ziff is in private practice in New York City. She’s a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP), and American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Approved Supervisor. Ziff is an Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai.

For more information, consider picking up a copy of her book Marrying Well, the Clinician’s Guide to Premarital Counseling, W.W.Norton & Company.

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findajp blog author and Justice of the PeaceCindy Dumont is a Justice of the Peace in North Hampton, New Hampshire.

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