Making a wedding without making the in-laws the outlaws

How do you successfully have what can be one of the most uncomfortable conversations that you have ever encountered?

Making a wedding without making the in-laws the outlaws (photo credit: Courtesy)
Making a wedding without making the in-laws the outlaws
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The wedding season is upon us. Weddings are joyous occasions, a time to celebrate with relatives and friends, but the burden of making the celebration can make for some really uncomfortable conversations.
There are financial aspects and wedding preparations to discuss, during which the effort to try to accommodate all involved requires delicate balance. The parents of the bride and groom, and the bride and groom themselves, each have their own interests, which may or may not coincide with the interests of all or any of the others.
In today’s society there are no set rules for who pays for the wedding, or who arranges the celebrations.
Once upon a time the bride’s mother would be in charge of the wedding preparations, and the groom was expected to pay for certain costs, such as the band, flowers and photography. Now, the wedding may be arranged by the couple themselves, and the financial costs may be split in a number of directions.
Where the bride and groom’s parents decide to fund the wedding, the two sets of parents will have to negotiate the split in the financial costs of the wedding celebrations and any money that they give to the couple to set up their home. In many instances, the parents of the couple will meet for the first time after the couple become engaged and, very soon after, will have to discuss their finances with relative strangers.
Adding to the stress of the situation is the fact that these two couples will be looking to have a lifelong relationship with their future in-law’s parents, at family celebrations and holidays in the future.
Today, as brides and grooms marry later, they may want to arrange their own wedding, without interference from their parents, but at the same time may still require parental funding. While some parents may be happy to acquiesce to their children arranging the wedding, they may still want some say in what sort of wedding it will be. Add into the mix those with divorced parents, and the picture becomes very complicated.
So how do you negotiate these delicate matters? How do you successfully have what can be one of the most uncomfortable conversations that you have ever encountered? Don’t avoid the conversation The first and most important step is not to avoid the conversation.
While Israelis may have no problem in discussing finances and how much you do or don’t have (in the park, on the bus or the dentist’s chair), those with Anglo backgrounds are very reticent to do so. It may feel extremely awkward to have a conversation about your finances and how much you are able, or willing, to spend on your child’s nuptials, or what sort of wedding you imagine it will be.
However, avoidance is not the answer. This is a conversation that you are going to have to have at some point or another, and so it is best to go in prepared. By avoiding it, you will leave yourself open to stress and surprises (and some of them not pleasant) when it does inevitably happen. At the end of one wedding the parents of the groom were shocked when the bride’s parents came to them with a bill for half the wedding, when they believed that the bride’s parents were footing the whole bill! Sooner is definitely better than later.
Do a little research Before the initial conversation, do a little research.
Work out what you believe your budget will be, and try to have an idea of the type of wedding you are envisaging.
Phone up a couple of places/people to ask for an estimate of the cost. This can really help with planning and negotiation, as many times lack of knowledge leads to ambiguity, and a lack of decision-making.
Discussing various ideas for the wedding and then finding out that they are over your budget can be disappointing.
You may be thinking of having a wedding at a certain venue on a particular date. Finding out if they are available is a good start. Having an idea that certain aspects are within, or completely out, of budget helps the conversation flow and move toward options that are realistic.
It is also worth noting that when there are two people or more on “your side,” it is worth having a “pre-conversation” to check that you are in agreement as to budgets and how you see the wedding. Coming into the conversation united on issues is less confusing to all, and provides a united front, which makes negotiating easier.
Be clear In many conversations that we feel uncomfortable in, we are ambiguous. This is often done, even unconsciously, so as not to appear pushy. We avoid talking in numbers or in exact facts. The sentence “We would like to invite some friends/close family” leaves the other side with no real information. “Some friends” may be 10 or 50, and this lack of clarity may cause problems later on.
The main example would be your bottom line (how much you are prepared to spend in total). This is very often a fact that people are not clear about, due to many reasons, such as embarrassment, a feeling of showing your hand too early in negotiations, or even a lack of clarity and forethought on the matters themselves.
Whatever the reasons are, this is an important point that must be addressed.
Small issues can also cause friction. For example, the flower girls’ dresses. Some expect the bride’s mother to cover the cost, or for the costs to be absorbed in the overall cost of the wedding. Others expect the flower girls’ parents to pay. Whichever way you are leaning, say it out loud. By stating it clearly, you immediately stop the stress about the issue, and everyone knows where they stand and can act accordingly.
This is not to say that you have to be certain on all the facts, but where you are, do let everyone know the position.
Where you are unsure, try to set some parameters so that you both know what ballpark you are playing in.
The other side Try to work out what is important to the other side (keeping in mind that the other side could be his/her parents or the happy couple or both). Working out what is important to the other side/s can help you think of ways to combine all of your interests. Showing that you have honestly considered other people’s point of view is very helpful in creating an atmosphere of cooperation.
This involves asking questions and really listening to what is significant to the others.
If the young couple have expressed their desire for an intimate wedding with their friends, but it is important to you, the parents, that you invite all those who have given you hospitality in the past, try not to go into the discussion with the idea that these are just two opposing views. Instead, try brainstorming ideas beforehand and bring your ideas with you to the discussion.
In this situation, parents presented an idea that they would invite their friends to the wedding meal, but the whole wedding would be earlier, so that their friends would disappear when it came to dancing and only the couples’ friends would remain. They also presented the idea that if this was totally unacceptable to the young couple, they would reduce the budget for the wedding and make a large Sheva Brachot to which the parents could invite their friends. The couple were very touched that the parents had made such an effort to accommodate their wishes, and chose the first option.
Take some time There is a serious amount of money and effort in consideration, and so making a wedding can be a complicated negotiation and an ongoing one. Don’t be afraid to say “Let me think about this.”
If the other side requests that the wedding be abroad and this is an option that you haven’t considered, ask why this option is good for them, and consider their response, but you don’t need to respond with an answer straightaway. Say you would like to think about the idea, before launching into the pros and cons for you of such an option.
These situations can be extremely stressful, and sometimes just taking a little bit of time can create perspective and let emotions that are high with stress decrease.
You can then think about what is possible and good for all involved. However, in saying that you want to think about certain matters, do set another time to talk about those unresolved issues.
Try to keep it within the circle Making a wedding is a pressurized time; no one could blame you if you need to vent to someone. If the other side demands that white doves be released and you agree, but think it ridiculous, try not to let your views be known to all. Pick a person and complain to her, and her alone (your sister or good friend is a great idea).
If you start telling everyone how ridiculous the other side is, this can reinforce your negative views, and your opinion could end up being relayed back to the other side and the couple, with the result being bad feelings all around (which negates the goodwill achieved by agreeing to something you didn’t want).
Remember why you are all there Despite all the stress surrounding arranging a wedding, this is an exciting time, and you all have a shared value of wanting the best for your children. Hanging on to the fact that this is what everyone ultimately wants can smooth over many disagreements and provide some much needed perspective. When looking to the future, the knowledge that you all share the wish to have a good ongoing relationship with one another, and that that wish is ultimately more important than one night of celebration, is a great help when negotiating these hard conversations.
The writer qualified as a lawyer in the UK and then retrained as a licensed mediator in both England and in Israel. She currently resides in Jerusalem, where she has a mediation practice specializing in mediation for English-speakers.