By Amanda Kirzner & Nina Bronson
When a couple gets engaged, the air is colored with excitement, hope and dreams of the future. The couple basks in the attention and love, looking forward to the fairy tale wedding they envision.
Often, this perfect moment is short-lived. Faster than many expect, the couple ends up entrenched in wedding planning. Despite the fact that this is – or should be – a celebration full of pure happiness, wedding preparations can be one of the most stressful, trying events of a couple’s relationship. It’s difficult enough when you’re juggling a busy work schedule, trying to spend time with family and friends and, most importantly, spending time with your fiancé(e) while prepping for the big day. Add to that the joining of two families with differing values and opinions, and you may have a recipe for tension and arguments that many people don’t anticipate. While some degree of wedding drama is almost inevitable, there is proper etiquette to ensure a smooth process and avoid ruffling any feathers. We enlisted the help of New York event planner Farrah Edelstein of Top of the Party to gain some insight into the process.
“When it comes to weddings, there isn’t always one correct way to do things. It really depends on the audience you’re dealing with,” says Edelstein.
She shares that while her official title is “wedding planner,” she often feels like she’s the middle man, voice of reason or even therapist for the wedding party when things aren’t going as expected.
“My job is to smooth over every situation,” she says. The bottom line is that “there are a lot of people involved, a lot of personalities, and most of the drama that arises comes from trying to please everyone without sacrificing the vision of the bride and groom. Often, achieving that is not possible.” The more people involved, the more concessions people will have to make, including the bride and groom.
After the initial excitement of the engagement dies down, it is critical to have a frank discussion with both sides of the family about their desired participation in the wedding, both financially and otherwise.
“This can be a really awkward but necessary conversation,” says Edelstein. “On one hand, if one set of parents hasn’t offered any financial help or expressed any interest in contributing, it might be safe to go ahead and assume that they aren’t contributing anything. However, assuming isn’t always the safest approach.”
Importantly, you need to know your budget before you begin planning a wedding. Nobody wants to waste time, and knowing your budget will help you avoid just that. If people are going to contribute financially, it’s important for everyone to understand where they would like the money to be allocated or if the lump sum can go towards any aspect of the wedding.
Traditionally, the bride’s parents pay for the wedding, but things are changing.
“It’s a different generation. Often, both families split the costs, or the bride and groom pay for it themselves, especially since people are getting married later,” says Edelstein. “I really do find that the weddings that are the most seamless, drama-free events are the ones where the bride and groom pay for it themselves with no involvement from their parents.”
This is likely because people feel that their financial contributions toward the event allow them to have more say than they should have, which, again, is the reason an up front conversation is so important in the first place.
Everyone intimately participating in a wedding likely has the purest and best of intentions; they may not even realize if boundaries have been overstepped. People can get sensitive when they feel left out or if their opinions aren’t valued. Even if you don’t have a strong relationship with your future in-laws, Edelstein still recommends trying to involve them in some of the wedding groundwork.
“I would pick two or three categories to involve them in, whether it be the band, flowers, food tasting – anything works,” she says. “You are really just looking to create a feeling of collaboration and sensitivity towards everyone’s thoughts and feelings about the big day.”
As far as the bride inviting her future mother-in-law to help select her wedding gown, “it is a very personal decision, and it really depends on your relationship. There really is no standard when it comes to this, and you can argue both sides,” says Edelstein. On one hand, “it is understandable that the bride would want to keep this big event or right of passage as a special outing with her own mother, sister or best friend, but at the same time, if the bride’s future mother-in-law only has sons, it might be a really nice gesture.”
While it should not be expected, inviting your future mother-in-law is generous of heart, but involving someone too much can also make a situation worse, depending on the dynamic. It really is a judgment call.
With regard to proper wedding attire, all of the guests and wedding party should be comfortable in what they’re wearing, but, at the same time, it is not unreasonable for the bride to have the final say. It is not uncommon, for example, for the bride to request that the wedding party wear a certain color, and the courteous thing to do is for the wedding party to simply oblige without argument.
“Although there can be issues with anything and everything when it comes to a wedding, I feel like most people don’t argue too much when it comes to the dress code. Despite what is shown on TV, it is pretty rare for the mother-in-law to show up to the wedding in a white gown intended to upstage the bride,” says Edelstein.
Bigger issues usually come into play and overshadow the trivial things. For example, if one family is Jewish and the other is Christian, they may fundamentally differ on how to incorporate both religions into the ceremony. Trying to navigate differing beliefs while simultaneously trying to keep everyone happy is difficult.
“I tell brides to focus on their relationship with their partner, and as long as her future spouse stands by her and sticks up for her, it’s all good,” says Edelstein. However, it can be hard to focus and move forward when both sides of the wedding are clashing – it can take a lot of the joy out of planning a wedding. Both sides will ultimately have to relent and give the bride and groom the final say when it comes to differences of opinion.
“After doing so many weddings and dealing with so many people and personalities of different backgrounds, you do start to get a glimpse of who will and won’t make it, and who will have a more challenging relationship going forward,” says Edelstein. “Weddings can bring out the worst in people, and I have had people cancel their weddings during every stage of wedding planning. I have even had a bride cancel her wedding the night before due to fighting with her mother-in-law and a lack of support from her fiancé. I have had fights break out between the two families during the wedding.
“But, I have also seen weddings bring out the best in people. I will never forget a bride I had whose mother had passed away. As if that weren’t bad enough, her father was ill and in the hospital. The father would not allow his daughter to cancel the wedding even though he couldn’t be there. Her father Skyped in during the wedding, and her uncle walked her down the aisle, but her future in-laws were so kind and sweet and loving, it just made me happy that she was marrying into that kind of family, since things were already so hard for her.”
People’s true colors often shine through during wedding preparations – whether they are good or bad – and this feat has been particularly difficult in 2020. Couples have had to become very creative in celebrating their special day with all of the event restrictions and guidelines; this has added another layer of complication to an already stressful process.
Being aware that it is common to have issues during this time can help couples navigate the situation and mitigate problems early on, before drama can snowball out of control. Being up front and having difficult conversations about finances and expectations on both sides is the best way to avoid disagreements down the road. It is safe to say that this past year has forced people to put everything into perspective. The most imperative thing to do is to focus on the beautiful, new beginning that planning a wedding signifies, and to try your very, very best not to sweat the small stuff.