AAPW Straight Talk: Meddlers and Complainers


Because some things you just can’t fix

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

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Q: My very close friend is getting married next month, and I am one of her bridesmaids. She has two sisters in the bridal party, one whom she adores and the other who is, for lack of a better term, bossy. There have been troubles between the bossy sister and the bride for years, and from the beginning of this wedding I could foresee problems arising. The sisters all had a pact years ago that stated each one of them would be the maid of honor at least once. It was the bossy sister’s turn, yet the bride chose to make both of them matrons of honor. There has been a series of disagreements after that, which has led to them barely speaking to each other. I had to sit through a very awkward shower yesterday in which the bride and bossy sister made snarky comments to each other for most of the time. The bride is my friend, and only knowing her side of the story, I sympathized with her. But after seeing and hearing how she acted toward her sister yesterday, I disapprove of her actions and words and tone of voice. The wedding has brought out a side of my friend that I do not care for, but she is my friend and I stand by her. However, I feel bad for the bossy sister, and I just want them to smooth things over.

How can I help the situation? I want them to both see they are both wrong for treating each other this way, and that their relationship is too precious to be disrespected like this.

—Anonymous

A: Dear Anonymous,

You don’t. You stay out of it and let sisters be sisters—a dynamic that would be foreign and difficult to understand to anyone outside of the relationship on the regular, let alone during wedding time. It’s not up to you to “approve” of how your friend handles her family. It’s fine to disagree, but only voice that when asked, because it’s really not your business.

 

 

Q: My fiancé and I are getting married in a week. A few months ago, my fiancé’s mother called and said that his sister was really upset that she and her kids were not members of the bridal party. He called his sister, she said not to worry about it, and we thought the matter was settled.

Today, my fiancé received an email from his sister stating how sad and hurt she is that neither she nor her teenage daughter are members of the bridal party.

I told him that he should apologize, tell her that he had no idea she felt that way, and explain that we wanted to honor her by giving her the reading.

I am VERY upset, however, that his sister elected to feelings dump on him one week before the wedding, when there is literally nothing we can do to make her happy.

Did I tell him to do the right thing? Is she out of line? Are we gigantic assholes for deciding not to include her and her kids in the bridal party in the first place?

—Crappy Future Sister-In-Law?

A: Dear CFSIL,

Wait, you already called to check in on her feelings, and she said everything was fine? It’s only now when there’s nothing you can do about it that she wants to make a fuss? You’ve done everything you can here. Bringing up hurt feelings at this point doesn’t leave you any options to fix the situation, and just spreads those bad feelings around. You’re not the crappy future sister-in-law in this scenario.

If you would like to ask apw a question please don’t be shy! You can email: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off! 

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Lauren from NH

    Excellent succinct advice Liz. Sometimes it is what it is and the best thing you can do is repeat to yourself, “This is not my job” and not let the negativity spread to you as well. Some things just aren’t your business, not your call or just not your GD problem.

    • Ella

      Yes. My husband struggles with this still. “It is not your job to make other people happy/get along/be successful” etc. It’s hard especially when you have a caretaking personality, but I’ve learned through the years (and try to impart to my husband) that sometimes we just have to let it go, and let people make their own (sometimes obviously wrong) choices.

      • I have a care taking personality as well and sometimes find it difficult to let things go. I’ve noticed that the more things that really aren’t my problem that I let go though, the more emotional energy I have to throw towards things that *are* my problem. It’s been kind of a game changer for me tbh.

  • Laura C

    On the bossy sister question, definitely not the questioner’s place to lecture the bride about honoring the preciousness of her relationship. I could maybe see very carefully asking the bride if there are ways to be helpful and run interference — it’s less likely than in normal difficult-relative cases, since she’s the matron of honor, but maybe the bride could think of moments when you could help head off tensions. But probably it just is what it is and you don’t want to get between two people who are both dishing out ugliness based on a lifelong relationship.

    • BR

      The tendency of people to assign value to the relationships of others is probably my biggest pet peeve about wedding planning, even compared to things like budget complaints. And it’s EVERYWHERE, even on APW. Sometimes, you just don’t like people, and sometimes those people are family.

      • Lauren from NH

        Agreed. I think we reach a little too quickly for “but so and sos your _____!” rather than trying to understand why the person feels that way or accepting that while their view is unlikely objective, it is better informed than our own.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      Yeah. I kind of think that the description “bossy” sister says it all That’s just who she is and that’s just their relationship, maybe a bit heightened bc of wedding stress. Meaning, even if she intervened and tried to help, she couldn’t bc it’s not going to go away after the wedding anyway.

  • Sarah

    The line that me and my partner tell each other in situations like this: “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. It works really well as a mantra to repeat over and over when you are frustrated. And when we get frustrated with something that is really not our problem anyways, making monkey noises at each other is a good way to break that tension and remind ourselves to not take everything so seriously :)

  • laddibugg

    Fully agree on LW #1. My partner has a …difficult…family, but sometimes HE’S the abrasive one. I only point it out when asked, and do so as gently as possible. I know you love your friend, but remember that’s her family that she’s known presumably longer than you. It’s sort of rude to expect her to act how YOU would when it’s not your relationship.

    LW #2. How many kids does the sister have? Just find it interesting that it went from ‘not being happy that the kidS weren’t involved’ to ‘not being happy the she and her teen daughter weren’t involved’. I also wonder why the sister isn’t in the wedding, are her and her brother not that close? Did he not want to ‘impose’ on his fiancee buy choosing a female member of the party? YOu don’t owe folks spots in your party but don’t act surprised when people are a little upset they aren’t included (though complaining a week before is absurd)

    • Lisa

      In regards to #2, I honestly had no idea that including future ILs in the wedding party was some kind of tradition, and my husband didn’t bring up his sister when we discussed the matter. I always knew that I just wanted my two sisters to stand up with me and didn’t even consider his. I like her, we have a lot of fun when we hang out, but we’re not particularly close; she also didn’t include my husband in her wedding in any way (not as a musician nor as a groomsman when the groom’s brother had to back out at the last minute for a family emergency). We asked my SIL to be a Eucharistic Minister at our ceremony and considered that fitting enough.

      I don’t think it helps to jump on the LW and say she should have known that there would be hurt feelings. They explicitly asked the sister if she wanted to be included, and the SIL declined to voice her opinions then. The couple chose to include her in another way by asking her to do a reading, and she’s still upset. I don’t think the SIL can have it both ways–she doesn’t get to claim that she’s perfectly fine with the original decision and then be hurt she isn’t included in the way she wants. The LW isn’t a mind reader and shouldn’t be treated as such.

      • laddibugg

        “I don’t think it helps to jump on the LW and say she should have known that there would be hurt feelings.”
        That’s why I questioned how close he and his sister are. If they are super close, but he didn’t ask her to participate at all in his wedding, then I think it’s odd to be surprised she’s upset. I agree she should have spoke up when asked, but people aren’t always rational, and sometimes they do expect others to read their minds.

        Also, I did say I wonder if he thought it would be an imposition on his future wife if he ‘assigned’ her a bridesmaid that she might not have been close to. *I* plan to have a coed wedding party with no bridesmaids or groomsmen (everyone is just an attendant), as my partner has some close female friends, and I have some close male ones, but I know some people do feel that the women picks all the bridesmaids and the man picks all the groomsmen. So maybe he would have liked his sister in the wedding party but didn’t want to step on his wife-to-be’s toes.

        • raccooncity

          That’s how I got around a related issue – my partner has two sisters, and one of them is incredibly mean to the rest of his family, including his lovely parents, but excluding my partner. It’s complicated. I don’t really like her at all, but I am having men in my bridal party, and it kind of took the pressure off to have her in my bridal party all day. I just said “you can have women/your sisters if you want, and I’ll have my siblings”

          • Lauren from NH

            Yes, coed WP sides eliminates so much awkwardness around opposite gender siblings. Even when there are generally good feelings, I was like uh no, my brother belongs with me. And when there aren’t good feelings….whew doggy!

      • Lauren from NH

        Exactly. For me the check in with the SIL absolves the couple of all responsibility for her hurt feelings. You have to speak up if you want something, often without anyone asking. They did ask and you still didn’t speak up. Snooze you lose. Say what you mean, mean what you say. I don’t have much patience for interpretive dance style communication and am a crappy mind reader.

        • “interpretive dance style communication” – brb stealing this for use in my daily life.

  • RMC

    I agree with Liz’s advice on the whole but can imagine finding it difficult not to offer some sort of perspective if LW#1 bride is complaining about how awful her sister is and referring to the specific situation when they were both being awful. It’s not her place to *approve* of the relationship but I can imagine being open to my best friend giving me a pep talk that involves a little kick on the pants, reminding me to let my sister’s actions/words roll off my back in order to make the wedding activities more enjoyable for myself – as well as everyone else.

  • macrain

    Fully agree that you can’t grasp the sister dynamic unless you’re in it. My husband often gets perplexed by this too. There’s just no way he can get it!
    I have also been surprised before at the behavior of bride’s whose weddings I have been in, and I always had to take a step back and just give them a break! I wasn’t as gracious as I could have been either. Weddings are stressful and they don’t always bring out the best in people. Be kind and understanding. Cut them a break.

    • Jules

      On top of the stress, weddings seem to bring to the forefront relationships that just aren’t what we want them to be. That can end up in lashing out. I was pissed that my brother wanted to skip our reception (wtf?) and that he dug up crappy excuses to avoid even committing to a “yes” RSVP for months. I could easily have seen myself letting him have it at some point.

      None of these are reasons for acting crappy towards anyone, but I think it’s awfully hard for an outsider to understand why someone isn’t at their finest. It’s one thing to try and divert some of the negativity if it’s constantly being dumped on you, but another to tell your friend how to act – especially when it’s telling them the “relationship is too precious to be disrespected like this”. The friend may be acting out BECAUSE they don’t feel someone else gives a damn about the relationship.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      My mom has a complicated relationship with her sisters. Sometimes they’re on and sometimes they’re off. Seeing that over the years (as I don’t have this kind of back and forth with my sisters) has helped me to see how sibling dynamics can play out with other people. When she vents, I just keep my mouth shut and stay out of it.

  • Jules

    “There have been troubles between the bossy sister and the bride for years…I want them to both see they are both wrong for treating each other this way, and that their relationship is too precious to be disrespected like this.”

    Take Liz’s advice. Stay out, and reserve judgement. It’s awkward when things are tense, but I know for a fact that even my best friends in the world have NO idea the dynamic between my (practically estranged) brother and me, and wouldn’t appreciate a “well-intentioned” intervention. Don’t presume you’re privy to all the deets that may help you understand their interactions.

    Planning a wedding is stressful enough without having people think, gee, she should really be treating _____ like _______ (fill in the blank: should have made your BFF stay with you the night before, made your SILs bridesmaids, spent more time with her brother….I heard them all).

    • JDrives

      Right. There’s some serious value judgment going on from LW #1, that bride and her sister are not acting the way they are supposed to towards each other, whatever that means. It’s one thing if there’s some serious abuse going on and you’re concerned for safety, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case, so no need to put “shoulds” on a relationship the LW is not even involved in. Different strokes, etc.

      Actionable items for LW #1 include being supportive of the bride to the extent LW feels comfortable, and talking to someone NOT involved in this drama about their feelings to vent and help manage any anxiety they might feel around being close to conflict (as a conflict-avoidant person, I would be anxious being around this dynamic and want them to fix it to help alleviate my anxiety. Which is not their responsibility!).

  • Alexandra

    Saying nothing to the friend who isn’t blameless in her complicated sister relationship is the safe way to go, of course. But…well, how close are you to this friend?

    My best friend in college came home with me after graduation to stay for a few days until we left for a road trip. I had a terrible relationship with my mother in high school and college, and I had spent countless hours venting about it to anybody who would listen. My friend watched my mom and I get into a massive fight right after we got to the house. Tension was at an all time high. Afterwards, when we were alone, my friend said something along the lines of….”can you hear yourself when you talk to her? You sound so spoiled!”

    I was SO PISSED at my friend. But that was probably the first step in me taking ownership of my own issues in that relationship. I remember the whole rest of the stay kind of doing just what my friend said…listening to myself. And it made me kind of run out of gas every time I opened my mouth.

    That was fifteen years ago. My friend was right. My mom has issues, but I was contributing to the problem. I’m actually grateful that my friend spoke up. My mom and I get along very well now, which, granted, probably would have happened regardless of that interaction. But until that moment nobody had ever challenged me to look at my own responsibility in our knock down, drag out fights.

    Sometimes a really good friend has the balls to hold up a mirror.

    • raccooncity

      If you were pissed at your friend for a while, which I think is a natural reaction, maybe that’s the reason why during a wedding is not the time to be holding up that mirror. It’s only a short period of time, and when parts of the wedding are stressful, it’s probably not the time to be removing yourself as a source of unmitigated support.

  • Lindsay Rae

    Re : LW#1 – I am curious to know what the other sister thinks and is doing in this situation. She is also a matron of honor and probably has witnessed these two bickering her entire life. Maybe the letter writer could talk to her to see what she thinks. Personally I agree with Liz in that there’s really nothing she could do to mend the relationship. Meddling might even make it more tense for the bride. Never having sisters of my own, I definitely don’t understand the sisterly dynamic, although I wish I did. Now I have 2 sisters-in-law and their relationship kinda blows my mind sometimes!

  • Kayjayoh

    On the sisters thing, families are definitely their own thing. An outsider might look at the way my sister and I act towards each other sometimes, and be legit appalled. Sometimes. But the truth it, while we have (and will) always had a tendency to revert to certain childish behaviors towards each other, we go to bat for each other so hard when needed. We love each other, even at the times we don’t like each other very much. And we have a lifetime of experience in knowing how the other one is going to react. We can predict each other. It’s helpful sometimes and hurtful sometimes, but an outsider (even a close one) isn’t going to get it.

  • SarahG

    To LW#1: having been a MOH for my best friend, whose mother is pretty toxic but still had to be involved in the wedding, I spent the day running interference and protecting my friend’s experience. (I was happy to do that, and my friend wasn’t at all a pill, so it’s not an exact comparison). From my perspective, the thing that I did that seemed most helpful for my friend was to emphasize the positive things that were happening. “I love how excited people are!” “Your hair is fantastic!” etc and just generally talk about what a good time I was having, and everyone else was. Not to a fake degree — it was all true — but I think it’s just not the moment to be like “Lez be real here, your mom is a challenge, amirite.” I think to the extent that it feels authentic, create a positive narrative around the day and reinforce it with what you do. That will have an impact, even if it’s subtle. Good luck!

    • Sarah

      I wouldn’t exactly describe my mother as toxic, but we do have a difficult relationship at the moment. I am just starting to plan my wedding, and am more than a little stressed about how my mother is going to behave during the whole process, particularly in relation to dress shopping. Recently one of my friends basically offered to run interference for me and emphaise the positive when we go shopping. I was really touched that she cared about me so much that she would offer to put herself out there like that. It sounds like your friend is really luck to have you :)

      • meowsersocks

        Of course you should do whatever works for you, but I want to say that an amazing gift a few different people gave to me was giving me permission (and suggestion) to NOT go dress shopping with my mom, and in fact to avoid it completely. If your mother is someone who might make you feel bad, make negative comments, question your choices in a judgmental way, or otherwise dampen your experience, it might be worth it to find ways to avoid it and pay for the dress yourself. It was wonderful to have my mom’s support via the phone and pictures later after I went dress shopping with two of my close friends, and I got to avoid her making hurtful comments while I was already in such a vulnerable situation. Good luck!

  • Dana East

    The advice is great and all but I just want more information on this apparent flamingo wedding in the photo.

    • Sarah E

      Right?!

  • Eh

    LW#2/her fiancé has done what they need to do and I hope other family members do not try to guilt them about the situation.

    Leading up to our wedding there were lots of hurt feelings between us and my husband’s brother and his wife. Two months before our wedding a family member told my husband that his brother/SIL were upset with us. So my husband asked his brother. They talked things out – or at least my husband thought – and my husband asked that his brother tell us if they are upset with us instead of stewing. Well it turns out that they were upset about other stuff that he hadn’t told us about. Then a month before our wedding we found out (again from a family member) that they were still upset with us. My husband tried to set up a meeting between the four of us (a difficult task when we live an hour away without a car and the four of us work different shifts). We set up a time and then they cancelled on us at the last minute. In the end we decided that we had done all we could do by checking in with them earlier and asking that they talk to us if they are upset with us. It got to the point where we couldn’t stress about it and that we needed to focus on us and our wedding. My in-laws were upset with us and demanded that we make up with my BIL/SIL. We explained that we had tried and that we needed to move on and focus on our wedding.

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    As someone with two sisters, I love your short and sweet answer for that question.

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