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Ask Team Practical: Family Conflict

It’s Ask Team Practical Friday with Alyssa! Hooray! Today Alyssa’s doing a grab bag of questions about family relationships. I love her grab bag posts anyway, and today’s is one of my all time favorites. Girlfriend is telling it like it is. What do you do when you think your fiancé’s family is ‘trashy’? What’s really going on when your father and your partner are in a pitted war over… light beer? And how do you deal with the feelings of grief going on when your Maid of Honor (and sister) is having a hard time emotionally standing up for you. Read on, dear reader, read on…

My fiance’s family is nice but let’s call a spade a spade…they are the trashy “from the other side of the tracks” type of family. His mother, her husband, and his sister in particular are just awful…good-hearted people but just not my type and spending more than 15 minutes with them drives my partner and me insane. My family however is well… the judgmental, snobby type and already I am having nightmares about our wedding and the two families clashing. While his family likes me and my family adores him…I don’t think that our families will like each other at all and really do they have to?

What do I do? How do I handle this? In my head I expect people to act like grownups and behave themselves but I fear that I am wrong.

-I’d rather eat some pie than deal with family issues

Ok IRESPTDWFI:

Let’s start at the beginning. Your families don’t have to like each other, but you have to like your partner’s family. Like them enough, or at least respect them. Because you know how they say that you don’t marry your partner, you marry the family? That’s totally true. So, if you’re starting off thinking your partner’s family is trashy and awful? That might be a small red flag.

The wedding, however, is easier. Because here’s the thing: you don’t do anything. A wedding is a social event and generally people tend to behave at big events because social protocol demands that they do so. The, erm, trashy types will refrain from opening beer bottle with their teeth and the judgmental types will hold their catty chatter until the car ride home. So no, your families really don’t have to like each other. But they do have to be on their best behavior.

As far as how you handle it, you just have to figure out what needs to be handled. Will the wedding be the first time they meet? Try and have a family dinner beforehand. Will alcohol loosen the tongues of either side and possibly start a class war? Then have a sober wedding. Already know that your aunt and his kid sister hate each other? Make sure they aren’t seated at the same table.

The best thing you can do is set the tone by example. Don’t fall into your family’s trap of being snobby and judgmental (*ahem* like calling people trashy…) and show them that despite their behavior, you’ve accepted your partner’s family as your own and they should too. (You have, right? You’re ready to be part of this family, right? Now is the time to think about that. Hard.)  Stop thinking of your in-law’s as trashy and learn to love their quirks; they may be annoying but they’re about to be yours for forever. If their behavior gets out of hand, have a talk with them. It’s up to you and your partner to decide how to deal with each other’s family, so it’s best to start having those conversations now.

Besides, all this worrying might be for naught. Who knows, instead of eating pie, you might be eating crow. (HA! I’ve always wanted to end on a pithy one-liner like Dear Abby.)

**************

We’ve provided the alcohol for our (tented, backyard) reception. FH and I picked out a collection of beers we really enjoy and we’d like to have at our wedding. My dad is insisting we also get a case of light beer which has turned into WORLD WAR THREE. FH says that if he sees a case of light beer at the reception he’s going to throw it. Dad and Mom are taking the “This is what your Uncles drink, it’s really not a big deal” stance. FH and I consider ourselves SERIOUS beer drinkers and my family is decidedly NOT serious beer drinkers. They drink light beer because they’re watching their weight. FH and I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking a light beer. There will also be white and red wine and pimms cup’s to drink.

The other issue here is that beer choices were one of FH’s things to handle. My parents ended up getting the beer as it’s much cheaper where they live (doing us a favor) which I guess is where this whole issue began. And I just don’t care at this point. If my family wants to drink shitty beer then fine, I’m over it. But FH is definitely not over it and is fighting this tooth and nail. Help!

~ Bothered and Bewildered by Beer

Personally, I’d  just declare the whole damn moot and NOBODY gets ANY beer since they CAN’T be civilized about it and if I hear ONE MORE WORD ABOUT IT, I will going to turn this damn car around and they will both be grounded.

*Ahem* Sorry. But though it may sound a little silly at first glance, I think there’s more going on here. It may have started about beer, but I think this has become about respect for both of the men in your life. Your partner wants his choices to be respected; it’s his wedding too and beer is the area he was in charge of. But your father wants not only himself, but his family respected also; providing their beverage of choice for his brothers at the wedding is about being hospitable. Both are reasonable in their demands, but both aren’t realizing their demands are putting way more stress on a situation than needs be.

So who wins? Well, nobody if this continues to be a bone of contention. Speak to your partner and your father and explain the other side and see if either will look to reason and concede. Let your father know that you appreciate him getting the beer to save you money, but this is important to your fiance and therefore important to you. Your uncles will be fine for a couple of hours without their favorite beer – they are grown-ups and should be used to such terrible injustices. Also, speak to your honey and let him know that while this is important to him, it is also important to you and your father that your guests be accommodated. These light beer drinkers may drink terrible beer, but they’re also going to be family who drinks terrible beer.

Or, if you’re feeling especially Swiss-like, suggest that all beer be served in lovely glasses and have the uncles’ special brew stashed behind the bar. That way the relatives can enjoy their light beer and not be subjected to going three hours without their brew of choice, and your partner can be spared the indignity of light beer being consumed in front of him. And since this lovely compromise is reached due to the immobility of both parties, your dad and your fiance should be the ones to find a way to procure and then clean all those glasses. That’ll learn ’em.

**************

There are many aspects of the traditional wedding that the man and I’ve gotten rid of, such as the long dress and anything with tulle, but one thing that I always wanted in my wedding was for my maid of honor to be present. I wanted the cheesy speech, I wanted the crazy bachelorette party, and I wanted someone that would be genuinely involved with the engagement-and-marriage process. And let’s just say, my maid of honor flat out sucks in that aspect. She made no effort to help with the bridal shower, rarely communicates with me, doesn’t know if her boyfriend is coming but still expects me to provide accommodation for him (i.e. rehearsal dinner deposit, seat at the head table, etc) and made such a huge deal out of the fact that I was upset that my wedding is four weeks away and she and her boyfriend had not made their hotel or plane ticket plans yet, and let’s just say, I planned my own bachelorette party.

Adding even more depth to this difficult situation, she is dealing with some intense mental health issues, and she is my sister, so I can’t do the usual “get excited or forget about it” that I would do with a friend because that’d cause a lot of hurt and rift in my family, as everyone is trying to baby her and protect her from the world.

I get it—I know that my wedding isn’t the Center of the Universe and that people have lives, thankyouverymuch. I am incredibly fortunate to have some very close friends that have taken over the emotional aspect of maid-of-honorness, my bridal brigade as you all call them, but in a way their generosity and excitement about my wedding makes this situation with my maid of honor hurt even more. My maid of honor is not only my best friend that I’m losing over this, but I’m losing her over a situation that is beyond my control and a circumstance that I did not choose, and any time I express how upset I am about this to my family, they immediately defend her and tell me to just suck it up. I’ve been sucking it up, and hating her in the process.

I know that APW has covered this before—when people in your bridal party just flat out sucks—and I don’t know if it’s too late to just have a re-shuffle, but in the end, all I want is for my maid of honor to be more excited and present. Any “getting over it” advice? I don’t want to be upset the day of the wedding that my maid of honor is more consumed with herself (and, therefore, my family is more concerned about her) than celebrating my marriage- BUT I am not good at compartmentalizing in situations like that.

Love,
The Bride that is an afterthought

Bride, honey, I don’t think that you are an after-thought. However, I’m afraid your sister might be.

We have definitely covered this before, here and here. We’ve also talked about what happens when you feel like a lonely bride. However, I want you to go back and read them again. And then I want you think about what you’re saying. You’re losing your best friend (who is also your sister) over her duties as a maid of honor? Was the bachelorette party and her squealing over invites with you so important that you’re willing to elevate them above her role as your family member? You don’t pick your wedding party based on who’s going to do what the best for you, you pick them because that is the person you want standing with you on an important day in your life. You have every right to want the experience of having an emotionally and physically present sister AND maid of honor. But the reality is that you don’t have that, and I’m so sorry for you. However, you’ve got some great friends who’ve been stepping in on the standard  maid of honor duties, so you’ve lucky in that regard. But even if you weren’t, is the experience of having a more emotionally present maid of honor more important than having your sister in your life?

Maybe it is. Depending on your relationship with your sister, it’s possible that you weren’t than close to begin with and now this is just proving how distant you truly are. However, you bring up the fact that your sister has some “intense mental health issues.” Someone with “mild” mental health issues might have a hard time being perky, excited maid of honor, much less someone dealing with more pronounced issues. Even someone without any mental health issues might find it difficult to be the MOH you want, depending on their personality.

Because you only mention her mental health issues, I’m going to assume that this is not a new thing that you and your family have to deal with. And I’m also going to assume that this isn’t the first time that your sister’s needs have trumped your own. You’ve been sucking it up for a long time and I know that’s been terrible for you. But just the fact that your sister has someone serious going on with her health trumps any other complaints.

Does this mean your wedding is any less important? NO.

But does that mean that your sister’s health and well-being is MORE important? I’m sorry, honey, but hell to the yes.

My “getting over it” advice is to focus on what you do have. If it makes you feel better, ask a good friend to help you with all the duties that your sister is failing on. Plan for her boyfriend to be there and let them worry about their hotel and flight. Focus on the other aspects of your wedding and making those the experiences you want them to be. Talk to your family about getting your sister some help, if she hasn’t already. There’s nothing wrong with wanting support at this time, nothing at all. The wrong part is in holding someone else accountable for not giving you the experience that you want. Own your own experience and control what you can and stop letting what you can’t control completely affect your experience and your relationship with your sister.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh). Seriously. We love sign-offs. Make your editors happy.

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