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Why Families Fight During Wedding Planning

A reader seeks advice about family tension in the lead-up to a wedding.

Key points

  • Stressful situations, such as planning a wedding, may bring out the worst in people.
  • It isn't always wise to make a decision about someone's character based on short-term, stress-fueled behavior.
  • Stay focused on the happy occasion ahead.

A reader writes:

I desperately need your help. My daughter is getting married in July to a young man that I will call Jack. Although I am happy for her, the wedding planning has been an unhappy time for me.

The groom’s mother and stepfather are very wealthy, so they are paying for the wedding. The mother of the groom has three sons and always wanted a daughter. She is a control freak and uses her money to get what she wants.

I insisted on paying for my daughter’s wedding dress, but the groom’s mother kept saying that she wanted to pay for it. I ended up buying the gown for my daughter.

I felt very left out of some of the plans but my daughter did try to include me. Last weekend, I offered to help with the bags for the overnight guests. The mother-in-law-to-be wanted them done a certain way, which I did not mind doing. After I put a bag together, she said ”Look at your bag and look at mine.” It was said in front of other people and the tone of voice was condescending. I did not answer her back because my daughter would have gotten angry at me.

How could I have handled this differently, as I am still upset over it? I am planning to stay away from this woman in the future, if possible.

You, like many other mothers of the bride, find yourself in a tough spot. You are distressed by your daughter's in-laws-to-be but you don't want to upset your daughter. Kudos to you for your lovely intentions and for being thoughtful. Your main goal should always be to maintain your dignity and act as graciously as possible so that your relationship with your daughter and her new family is not ruptured.

Unfortunately, based on your account, the new mother-in-law does indeed appear controlling and seems to be trying to usurp your important role as mother of the bride. That really is a shame. I am glad that you prevailed and were able to buy your daughter her dress. That must have been a wonderful bonding experience.

I agree with you that the mother-in-law has behaved in a less-than-kind manner with you. My guess is that the wedding planning is bringing out the worst in her. As you said, she seems controlling. My best guess is that she wants the wedding to be perfect and that her anxiety is likely contributing to her less-than-desirable behavior. As we all know, weddings often bring out the worst in people because of the desire for it to go well and without any major snafus. The expectations for a perfect wedding with good photos and happy guests are overwhelming.

My suggestion is that you keep acting like your usual self, always keeping in mind that your relationship with your daughter is the main priority. Try as hard as you can not to devalue your daughter's new family. Also, making the decision to stay away from the mother-in-law in the future is premature. After the wedding, tensions may calm down and you may be able to have a connection with the mother-in-law that may not be what you would have liked but it may be manageable. I hope so because I am sure that there will be family get-togethers that will include both of you.

Try not to get too worked up about this. Focus, instead, on the fact that you have a nice relationship with your daughter, and a happy occasion is coming up soon. Good luck.

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