‘My mother-in-law sent a text complaining about my mum to me, by accident’: How to cope with family disharmony at your wedding

That evening I got a text from my now mother-in-law: “Sarah’s mum has emailed me re wedding, call me to discuss, all a bit offensive really.”

Two minutes later, the message was deleted and his mum text again to say: “Sorry! Wrong person,” – we never, ever mentioned it again. But I did call my fiancé’s brother. “I don’t know what to do,” I told him. “But we could really do with your support, James is getting increasingly upset, as am I.”

He told me to leave it with him, and that evening his mum called me to ask if there was anything she could help with for the wedding, but her voice felt ever-so-slightly sour. And when she did get involved it was worse, because her opinions were very different to mine and she would make comments like, “we’ve never been to a wedding that hasn’t had [insert name of any item I didn’t want],” or “is that your parents decision or yours?”

In the weeks leading up to the wedding I was up during the night worrying that all this unease between the families would ruin the day, that there would be a palpable unease in the air and that we’d all end up feeling uncomfortable. On top of that, James and I had begun to get into arguments over how to manage everything, he felt stuck between his loyalty to his parents and to me and I felt upset for that my parents’ were working so hard to make our day perfect and were feeling undermined by his. 

On the day though, it all seemed totally irrelevant to the joy we felt, and if there was an unease between any members of our family, we were too busy dancing to notice it, but even now it still causes me anxiety to think back on that year of planning, and I wonder what we could have done to avoid all the stress and disharmony.

It’s too late to change anything for me, but if you’re planning a wedding currently, or about to, and are worried about the family dynamics, I’ve got you. I spoke to relationship expert and therapist Tami Sobell for her top tips on how to manage the stressful parts of the most joyful time of your life.

How to many family disharmony while planning your wedding

1. Discuss your wants, desires and concerns privately with your fiancé before discussing them with your wider family. “It’s likely that if your family are involved in the planning of your wedding – or think they are – you’ll be bombarded with suggestions and opinions. Often they are well-meaning but it can start to feel confusing or overwhelming and so getting really clear on what you and your partner want from the day from the outset is really important. Giving family members clear boundaries on what will and won’t be happening on the day can help manage expectations and help you benefit from the suggestions put forward, rather than trying to appease everyone.”

2. Try to get the two sides together for an event that doesn’t involve wedding discussions. “Weddings are joyful but they can be divisive as you try to bring together two sets of traditions, beliefs and values. If you feel there is discourse between the families, try to organise an outing or a dinner early on where there is one rule and one rule only: not to talk about the wedding. It’s likely your two families will have lots in common outside of the wedding and it creates a more neutral space for people to chat and get to know each other without an agenda. 

3. Be willing to listen to others. “Your family is highly invested in your big day and they want it to go perfectly. Their request is a way they show they care. A great way to respond would be: “Thank you for your input, we will be happy to consider your request.” When you approach your relatives with a level of flexibility that is collaborative and caring, it may help them begin to react this way, too.”

4. Give people clear jobs. “Often your family will want to feel included but there are all sorts of dynamics that stop this being straight-forward. Perhaps your family are paying for the wedding and so your future mother-in-law feels ousted and as though they can’t contribute, or perhaps your sibling wants to feel of use but ends up overstepping boundaries and feeling hurt that their efforts aren’t appreciated. Giving people really clear roles helps all parties feel happier, included and valued. Don’t have a job for someone? Make it up, there are always small things that won’t have a big impact on the day but will help one of your family to feel involved.”

5. Remember it is normal and not an implication of your life together. “Planning a wedding is up there with one of the most stressful things you can do, and while you’re working toward the day it can feel all-consuming and as though the family dynamics that exist now will always be there, but that isn’t the case. Often the day itself smooths everything out, but if not, you’ve got a lifetime together to work on creating a more harmonious family dynamic. 

“Many couples find managing their families during a wedding difficult, it’s totally normal, so try not to catastrophize or get too bogged down in it. And remember that not everyone is going to get along with everyone, sometimes people don’t have much in common, or trigger each other, or perhaps don’t really understand each other – that’s life, it’s not a necessity, as lovely as it is, for your families to be best friends in order for your wedding day to be joyful and your lives together happy.”