I love to read the Facebook groups about weddings. Being in the wedding industry, it gives me insights about what products brides are looking for, and my store is better for it. But I find that a lot of the conversations on the wedding boards are based around relationship issues caused by the event or the decisions made for it.
Consider the bride whose bridesmaid doesn’t want to contribute time to the planning, and refuses to pay for her dress.
Consider the Mother of the Bride who refuses to attend if the Father of the Bride brings his new wife.
Consider the 2nd sister who is not chosen as a bridesmaid because of the numbers.
By and large, most of the comments to these group-queries answer the conundrum like this; It’s YOUR wedding, do it the way YOU want it.
This is good advise, if you are having a wedding only for the purpose of making yourself happy. But for most of us, our wedding purpose is much broader.
I held a couple of online polls to help me understand more about the purpose of one’s wedding (not marriage, that’s another topic altogether) and, when asked, 60% of respondents chose the primary purpose of their wedding as “To give my family and friends an opportunity to celebrate our union”. And yet, these are the same audiences that are advising us to cut that inconvenient bridesmaid out, to not invite the step-mother, or to keep it very small to allow for more spending elsewhere.
I had two weddings in 2012 (to the same man). It was before I started working in the wedding industry, and I am not the kind of girl who spends years dreaming up what I want it to be like. Instead, I went to Thailand, where my family live, to celebrate our first ceremony at a privately owned botanical gardens - a package deal including venue, decor, food, bridal suite for the day/night, and a hand full of other stuff. I chose my colours, chatted about a few things, but most of the planning was arranged by the staff. My parents generously paid for this event.
My mother is a cake maker, and wanted to make my cake; she did a beautiful job, but I find it was an all encompassing task for her. She wanted to make every conversation about which layer would be what flavour, where the flowers would go, what type of icing… it was so involved for her, that she didn’t have time to find herself a new outfit for the wedding, or even get a haircut (which was long overdue). She was still fussing with it (and badgering me with questions) during the reception itself. But focusing on the cake was what brought her the most joy, so I was happy to let her do it. Plus we ended up with a very lovely cake. We have a conflict of interest in this story; my mother’s desire to create the perfect cake, and my desire to have my mother’s help with a dozen other things.
Friendships are also tested during wedding-season. One of my close friends was a bridesmaid for me, and she read the speech about how important I was to her, how wonderful she think I am, and how happy we will be together etc. etc.
Skip ahead 2 years to her own wedding, and I receive a letter explaining that she is having a ‘small wedding’ that only close friends and family were invited to. I was so hurt that I wasn’t even allowed to witness the ceremony to someone I considered one of my top 5 friends. To avoid the pain of rejection, I had to block all the pics on Facebook of her pretty wedding. After 5 years, and all the self-talk and a couple attempts at a renewal, I still hold a lot of hurt and our friendship will never be the same.
What I take away from these experiences, along with the testimonies of the ladies struggling with similar problems, is that a wedding is a testing ground for all types of relationships and it’s highly likely that someone (or multiple people) will get hurt.
To give yourself some boundaries to make wise decisions, consider the following:
What is the main purpose of the wedding?
Obviously you wish to be married, but that can be achieved by eloping or a quick trip to the registries office.
If you want to bless your family and friends with an opportunity to celebrate with you, make decisions that honour them. What would make your mum most proud? How can you keep all your girlfriends happy if they aren’t bridesmaids? What can you do to include as many people as possible? This wedding, I think, would be one where you give much and expect little. The less you expect of your friends and family from the start, the more you can appreciate what they DO give. If this is a financial stress, be creative and find cheap ways to do things (we had all our guests for our Australian wedding bring a pre-arranged dish to share - cutting the entire catering cost).
The bigger risk is that you won’t end up with the day of your dreams, and you may be disappointed in that; but it’s unlikely to cause a life-long rift between yourself and anyone else.
People probably aren’t going to be hurt or offended by a ‘cheap’ wedding, but they may if they are excluded from something. If you want your wedding to be for the others’ benefit, plan for it.
If your primary purpose of your wedding is to celebrate your union with your spouse, a la “It’s all about us today” - consider ways to express that as you communicate with your people. This may end up being a smaller wedding, or even an elopement, but the risk is that people may be hurt by being left out or their opinions not mattering. Use phrases that communicate your primary desire and leave little room for argument - “It’s always been my dream to …” or “We’ve decided that the best way is…” and don’t ask for any opinions or affirmations from people whose answers will not be relevant to the decision.
Be careful with this purpose. We all want to be the centre of attention in our most amazing dress and fantastic hair in a perfect setting at our wedding, but consider the relational cost if it means we need to exclude people from the role they thought they would be able to play.
How can I honour the key people in my life?
- Given a role
- In a speech
- Given a gift/poem/thing
- Featured in the photo display
Is there anyone I’ve overlooked that will be heartbroken if they are not present/included in wedding?
- Is there a good reason that they are excluded?
- Is there an alternate way to honour them?
- Have you communicated with love and respect?
How will having a kid-free wedding affect my child-burdened people?
- Would it be better to hire a babysitter/children’s entertainment?
- How can I communicate my desired outcome with kindness and understanding?
- Is there anyone who would not be able to attend without their children?
What expectations do I have of my wedding party and family?
- Financial or time cost?
- How have I communicated the expectations?
- How will these costs affect them?
- Will this involvement bring us closer or cause more tension?
- How can I express my appreciation for their help?
When tensions do come up, address them with love and respect. Talk about how you feel, how they feel (not what they did/didn’t do) and avoid the urge to say something hurtful or get the ‘upper hand’. A little bit of humility goes a long way. Even if you already have made your decision on the matter, don’t put your relationship at risk by refusing to listen.
After thinking about this article for a long time, I know that there’s no simple answer to all the relational issues involved in a wedding. They are as complex and varied as people themselves. But I would like to re-iterate that the decisions that you make for your wedding can affect more life-long relationships than just the happy couple. Remember the big picture - and celebrate your love by practicing love.