Ask Team Practical: Dad’s Grudges

Avoiding family drama during the wedding


Q:We’re planning our wedding and everyone seems to be thrilled. With one exception. Enter my father-in-law. He’s divorced from my partner’s mother and although it was over twenty years ago and they’ve both remarried, continues to harbour lots of resentment and anger towards her. He seems to have issues with a lot of people, actually. He’s almost sabotaged his own relationship with his daughter and her children, his sister and her husband, his mother and stepfather, his brother-in-law, and the list goes on. There’s almost no one in my partner’s family he is on normal speaking terms with.

We met him for lunch and announced that we were indeed planning on getting married and having a big family reception with everyone invited. The conversation continued with FIL listing off every person he currently has issues with and asking with concern whether they were invited or not, and us replying, “Yes, everyone is invited. Everyone. Including that person.” We half-jokingly noted that because they’d all be there, he’d need to be on his best behaviour. And he responded that he couldn’t promise that, because he’s, apparently, not willing to just “sit back and take it” any more. So what could—and should—have been an adorable, happy moment for him and my other half to get excited and talk about well, any of the fun or interesting aspects of the plans, turned into us scrabbling to find ways to reassure him that he wouldn’t be forced to interact with people he doesn’t like and him complaining about how much it costs to come visit us, so we’d need to give him plenty of notice. I don’t think he even once said congratulations. Compared to my parents and my partner’s mother, who all wanted to know about our fun, wacky reception plans, offered unprompted to help towards the costs and expressed nothing but joy and excitement for us.

My partner says he “doesn’t care,” that if his father acts up he can just leave and he’ll have to deal with it… but I know him. He’s a sensitive sort, and he gets a little wet around the eyes just contemplating what could go wrong, although he’s vetoed me enlisting a couple members of my own family to subtly keep an eye on and distract FIL if need be. I can see how much this hurts him and it makes me so angry. I’ve given the FIL a rather stern telling off in the past when he’s upset my other half and, while that worked the one time I did it, it was about a very specific behaviour and not something I want to make a habit of doing. I’ve taken to concocting fantasy scenarios in my head where the FIL causes a ruckus and gets thrown out of the reception, but excuses and creative misdirection are used to make sure my partner never notices and has a wonderful time anyway.

I know we can’t control his behaviour, so what I’d really like are strategies to help us make the best of things, ways to come to terms with the worry that he might cause problems and ways to minimise the fall-out if he does, so if nothing else the party can just carry on. Unless one of you or the commenters is a genius magical wizard unicorn who does in fact know of a secret way to control the FIL’s behaviour, in which case please say so!



A: Dear Anonymous,

No unicorns here, I’m afraid. But you know what I do have? Threats.

I know, I say it all the time (and you even repeated it!). You can’t control the way your loved ones behave. They don’t change for your wedding day. Step back and let adults be adults.

Well it’s still true, but gets an addendum when someone flat out lets you know that he’s not going to be adult. See, when I say all of that, I say it with the assumption that grown ass people know that a fancy happy weddingtime isn’t the time or place to drudge up family dirt. Most adults know to smile and be civil and mutter cuss words to themselves as they sip champagne. You father-in-law basically just promised you he’s leaving the champagne civility at home and instead bringing a second set of crazypants.

So what do you do? You threaten him. You tell him, “Dad, this wedding day isn’t about all your sh*t. If you can’t just leave it at the door, sit on the other side of the room, and chat with the two solitary adults you don’t hate, then you’re not invited.” Period. Tell him that he’s not allowed to come unless he keeps it together for the five or six hours it takes to get married. Well, don’t you tell him, but your partner should. It’s his dad, after all.

The other red flag for me (other than his outright saying, “I will fight with people on your wedding day”) is that he’s already missing the whole point. You said it yourself. He’s already making this all about himself, instead of recognizing the day is bigger than just his petty drama. He couldn’t even step outside of himself to eek out a, “Yay you guys!” before jumping into embittered tirades. That, for starters, reeks of immaturity but also tells of the kind of personality who will further make things all about himself when he should know better. Tell him to behave, or he isn’t invited.

Here’s the thing about this threat. It’s really up to you two whether or not it’s a bluff. Which is more heart wrenching? The idea of not having dear old dad-in-law present on this momentous occasion, or the idea of him picking fights with one half of the guest list? I can’t give you that answer. It’s one you need to sort out with your partner and decide with some healthy realism. There is a good chance that one of these things will happen on your wedding day, and there’s also a pretty healthy chance that you’ll still survive anyway. So many of us have. Oh, so many of us. But, right now, you understandably want to minimize damage. And letting dad know that his antics will cost him an invite may be just enough to keep him in line (for the wedding, at least. You’re on your own for the holidays).

So, if you do invite him? Rest in the (admittedly, uneasy) comfort that other folks have uncomfortable family issues spring up at their weddings, and they survive. Then also realize that even if your father-in-law acts like a child, it’s not your responsibility to intercede in his adult decisions. If he causes some ruckus with family at your wedding, the party will probably still carry on. And his outburst bears no reflection on you. None. Step back and let adults be adults. (But, you know. Threaten them first.)

Team Practical, what steps do you take to avoid family drama at the wedding? How do you recover when conflict unavoidably bubbles up anyway?

Photo by Gabriel Harber

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: 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!

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  • Laura C

    I’d say one thing to look out for in this situation is that he’s kind of setting you guys up to be the next target of one of his grudges. Because what will you do, aside from threats? You’ll seat him someplace he isn’t with the rest of the family and can’t make trouble. Which will, in his eyes, give him the excuse to sit there grumbling about how you shoved him in a corner, didn’t include him like others were included, etc.

    The thing is, if people are going to be like that, you can’t change them, only get them to behave for a short period of time or else exclude them. We had a situation like that in my family when I was a kid — my mother’s cousin didn’t ask her brother’s wife to be a bridesmaid because the SIL was going to be very pregnant at the time of the wedding, only SIL had a miscarriage and decided to be angry she wasn’t asked to replace one of the existing bridesmaids. The bride’s brother and SIL as a result attended the ceremony but not the reception and basically didn’t talk to anyone else in the immediate family for years and years, until my great aunt was dying, at which point they swept in and staged a big reconciliation. Which … great, except you wouldn’t even let her meet her grandchildren until that point.

  • js

    My sister didn’t come to my wedding. Plane tickets were paid for, numbers turned into our caterer. She text me two weeks before to say she wasn’t coming. We have never been close, but this cemented the relationship her and I will have from now on. She acted like a jerk and that’s not ok, but the thing that bothers me most is I didn’t let her know. I think too often we let people hurt us and they don’t even know their behavior is a problem. I don’t want to spend my life thinking about what I wish I would’ve said. I’d rather put my foot in my mouth more often than not because it means I’m out there, expressing my opinion, feeling passionate and fired up about something, instead of keeping my feelings to myself, good or bad. I also don’t subscribe to the whole your family/my family thing. If I married you, then your family is mine and I will tell them how I feel, especially when my partner is hurting because of them. I think you should tell your FIL that what he’s doing is hurting his son. He probably already knows and it won’t change anything, but it would make me feel better and that’s important, too. I also agree that his behavior is not a reflection of you. Everyone in your partners family who has distanced themselves from your FIL knows that, too.

    • One More Sara

      While I don’t normally feel obligated to go through my partner for Every Little Thing about my in-laws, I think for sensitive matters like this, it is up to the blood-related-partner to talk to the troublemaking family member. NOT because (in this case) the son is responsible for his dad’s behavior, but because the son has known his dad presumably for his whole life, he is probably a bit better equipped to avoid sensitive issues. After Son talks to Dad, and Dad is still not complying with reasonable requests, then yeah, I think it’s appropriate for Partner to step in and protect Son’s feelings/help him stand up to dear old dad.

      But SO MUCH YES to letting people know that they hurt you. It is so important to do, yet we are so willing to skip it to avoid confrontation or whatever.

      • js

        This is…fresh for me. My partner has an older brother who heaps on SOMUCHGUILT because he moved out of state for a great job and me. It’s pointless to go into specifics, but he knows what he does hurts his little brother. He does it because miserable people like to create more misery.

        I take loyalty to my partner as his friend very seriously. I am a very loyal person and expect the same from others. I think it’s my job as his friend to stand up for him, in the same way you stand up to a bully, which is what the FIL is. I have a seven year history with my partner so it’s nothing new for me to be outspoken and stick up for him. I believe you should be respectful, tactful and not purposely hurt people. I don’t owe people who don’t show me or my partner respect any polite courtesy or tip-toeing around feelings. The FIL already had his first strike when they got together and he announced he was going to be an asshat.

        Older brother gets a free pass for his actions all the time. Somebody has to call him on his bs and I’m ok with that being me. It’s not arrogant to say everyone is relieved it’s me and not them. The letter writer said her partner is sensitive and won’t stand up for himself so I can’t agree in this case, he should be the one to initiate.When someone can’t speak up, and you love them, it’s your right and your job to be their voice. I feel strongly about this, though it may seem dramatic to some. Letter writer seems to also, as she has already called him out once before.

        • One More Sara

          This question seems to have hit pretty close to home for you… But Anon also said that she doesn’t want it to always be her job to deal with her FIL. It’s a fine line between supporting your partner and becoming their spokesperson. It sounds like you and your partner have found a balance that works for you, but I think Anon is having trouble finding that middle ground where everyone is mostly comfortable.

          • js

            It does. I am, for sure, too close to this topic to be objective, I fully admit that. But I wonder, if this were a situation where it was a best friend or a child, etc., and not a husband, would others still feel it is “not their place” to interfere? I am curious (while realizing that, yes, my husband is a grown ass man and can speak up for himself) why this is sometimes different for a spouse?

          • Laura C

            A child is different because it’s a child. But it is a difficult balance — you want to be on your partner’s side and stand up for them when they’re hurting, but at the same time, they are the native speaker of their family’s language and relationships, so may be able to better interpret what’s going on and make themselves understood. (Though they may also not see some of the deeply ingrained patterns as clearly as an outsider.) Additionally, if it’s always you, the family may come to see you as standing between them and your partner rather than understanding that your partner has problems with their behavior himself. Finally, it’s not fair to you to be responsible not just for your own relationships with your own family but for his relationships with his family.

          • One More Sara

            And with children, the end goal is still to teach them to be their own advocate. I don’t really plan on attending my son’s college classes to make sure everyone is treating him with respect…

          • Liz

            I think I sort of answered this below, but the difference between this and the situations you listed is not that we’re talking about a spouse, but that we’re talking about his FAMILY. You have the potential to cause some serious irreparable damage to his relationship to his family. If my best friend was having an issue with a bully, I’d step in. If that bully was her sister… well, probably not.

        • JC

          I don’t know Anon’s situation, but I know that in my relationship with the in-laws, that wouldn’t fly, which is SUPER frustrating for me because I feel very similarly to you about letting them know when they’re asshats. One of the big issues for us is that they think I am a terrible influence (the girl who will be a doctor in May, right…) pulling their son away from them, and as a result, if I ever try to stick up for him against them I’m obviously putting words in his mouth because their golden boy would never disagree with them. So as frustrating as it for me (I’m usually in the background of their phone conversations going “let me at ’em, let me at ’em!”) I have to let him try to figure out how to do the communicating for himself, even if he is terrified of making them mad and thus usually skates around the issue and doesn’t really fix anything. It is part of the process for him to learn to stand up to his own parents for things that he believes in, and so I will continue to sit in the background of their conversations and stew because I don’t ever get the chance to tell them off.

        • Liz

          My take on it is:

          The in-laws are more important to your partner than they are to you. Yes, you’re all one big family now. But my husband will never feel for my parents what I do. That treasured relationship is irreplaceable and difficult to understand.

          So, while I’d do everything in my power to protect my husband and care for him, bolster his courage to defend himself against bullies, etc. I’d respect his wishes and follow his lead in dealing with his family. And I think that’s key, too. The dynamic does evolve and change, but at the outset at the very least, couple communication over hard stuff is best communicated by whoever is related to the offending family. So maybe eventually you’re the one to speak up, but still doing so in following his lead and not speaking out of turn.

          In sum: any tip-toeing I do around the in-laws is not for their benefit. It’s out of respect for my husband and acknowledgment that his relationship to them is something irreplaceable.

        • Class of 1980

          I think if you are very tactful and wise, and you truly understand the history and personalities involved, and you have an EXISTING BOND with your partner’s family, you can speak up … once in a while.

          But it’s a minefield without all that.

          My parents are divorced. Dad is a difficult person to say the least, and he’s been remarried for ages now. Of course, we are not comfortable detailing to dad’s wife his immense failings as a husband and parent.

          Unfortunately, dad’s wife takes pride in her input into our family dynamics. She seems to believe that she is a peacemaker … and it’s highly offensive to us. Everything she “knows” about us, is filtered through him. We get tired of her taking his side whenever he does something awful to us. She knows little of our family history, won’t address his behavior or emotional problems, and is dismissive of the impact on us.

          There’s nothing more infuriating than a relative-by-marriage revising your family’s history. Needless to say, her input never helps at all. It tends to create even more anger than was already there.

          So, I’d say that if you haven’t already established a trusting relationship with your partner’s family, you shouldn’t even attempt to speak on behalf of your partner unless it’s some kind of emergency. Not even when you’re 100% in the right.

          It’s all about baby steps. You have to truly learn about your partner’s family. This requires humility and an open mind. They will not accept your opinion if you come in like a wrecking ball (sorry Miley Cyrus). Until you have achieved a high level of trust, anything negative you say is going to prevent your partner’s family from bonding with you in the early years.

          You don’t want to work against your own future self-interests.

      • Kathleen

        I usually (ok, always) let my husband handle things with his family, but I’m not always sure it’s the right thing to do. Because, while he has known his family his whole life, and MAY be better equipped to handle sensitive issues, he’s also got a long history of interacting with them in certain patterns that aren’t always helpful. I often think I might be able to get through to his mother more effectively than he can, but am also far less comfortable with her and so it’s easy to step back and let him handle it. I’m not sure how it would go over with any of us if I were to take the lead role, as I’ve never tried and don’t particularly want to, but I’ve frequently observed interactions that might go better if there were someone involved who wasn’t prone to falling back into the relationship they had when he was a teenager.

      • Laura

        I agree with this. Just because I think that if you confront your significant other’s family member and it creates more strife, he or she will definitely feel caught in the middle. Maybe even betrayed. At one point my MIL did something that infuriated me and I was about to march down there and call her out on it. My husband pretty much had to beg me not to do it, I was so irate. But later he went and dealt with it himself. I realized then that my family has a dynamic where we can just call each other out on stuff, but his family dynamic is different. If I had confronted my MIL, I really could have done a lot of damage. We get along fine now so it worked out. Eventually I just realized that my husband knows her better and he’s better at handling her when she’s difficult. it’s hard but for sensitive matters, it’s best to leave it to them.

    • Kats

      My husband’s mother didn’t come to our wedding. She didn’t respond to our invite, she didn’t return calls asking her about it, and finally she texted us to say she just didn’t think she could make it. Two days before our wedding, without any further communication from her, she was posting on FB that she “wished she could’ve been there” and that she was “heartbroken that no ticket had arrived in the mail for her.” Rather than attend, she booked a commute on the crazy train.

      But you know what? I think had she come to the wedding, it might have been less fun, though I doubt she would’ve have “ruined it” – any of her poor behavior would have reflected on her, not on us. But end of the day, it was her choice not to come, and her decision to do the damage to our relationship with her. Not much you can control of another adult’s behavior, end of the day, and we had to let her be who she was. It makes me sad that she made the choices she did.

      • js

        I’m sorry that happened to you, genuinely, because I know how it feels. My sister would’ve also tried to ruin things, if she had been there.

  • I think Liz’s advice is spot on here. If someone is telling you flat out they are going to be a huge child, then you treat them like one. As someone who didn’t handle all the family issues that arose during wedding planning, let me tell you they do not disappear. Its up to you how much time and energy you want to put into this now, but this is the kind of issue that can potentially be a strain on a marriage. A parent who can not act as an adult regarding your wedding, will not be able to do so when or if you have a child, if one of you gets sick or injured badly, they are no real support and can be burdens in the long run. Hashing this out with your partner and making him have the tough talks (like the, “babe, your dad is tough to deal with. let’s come up with a game plan together on how to manage him), is in my mind a good thing you can do for him and your future marriage.

  • Liz is at it again!

    I’d also add, to her last bit of advice, that depending upon the FIL “performance” at the wedding, there will be one of two results at the end of the day: either he will behave and all will be well, or he will disappoint you and it could serve as a “natural” ending of a relationship.

    My husband’s BAT-SHIT-CRAZY aunt was an absolute mess at our wedding. She certainly didn’t ruin it by any means, but her behavior cemented my resolve to disassociate ourselves with her going forward. I feel absolutely no obligation to see her or entertain her at my own home. I certainly won’t make life difficult for other people (ie. she’s invited to his mother’s family Christmas party), but come baby time and my own house, well she’s out.

  • Amy March

    Can’t figure out how to reply on this yet . . . For me, I don’t view my guy as needing me to step in and stand up for him. I’m better at it, but he’s an adult too. If he isn’t going to speak up to his parents, I won’t do it for him because I’d feel bossy and interfering. I’m loyal to him, but that also means accepting that he may chose not to assert himself, and my interfering with that is being just as domineering as his parents. I’m not here to keep him from pain or hurt feelings, I’m here to love him through those emotions.

    • One aspect no one has mentioned, and I”m curious to know your thoughts,
      is when there is dysfunction in your partners family, your partner
      probably has some level of that same dysfunction too. While I expect my
      husband to deal with his parents as they are his problem, I also
      acknowledge that his unhealthy reaction to his mothers guilt trips for
      instance, means he can’t always be a reliable resource for dealing with
      them alone. That’s why I think being on the same page and as a team
      when dealing with this stuff together is a good idea. While he may be
      the one communicating things to them, its stuff he and I have discussed
      together as our own family.

      • Eh

        I think the important thing is to be supportive and on the same page, but it is also important that he is the one that is communicating with them.

        My husband’s SIL is verbally and emotionally abusive to my husband (and she calls him a bully). I understand why he does not want to “deal” with her and why he avoids her. This gets in the middle of his relationship with his brother and makes family gatherings awkward. When he gets upset about how his SIL treats him we talk things out, and the next time he needs to interact with her I help him prepare.

  • BD

    Oh boy. I really thought we could avoid the ol’ family conflict at our wedding, but no. Like Liz says, we survived it, and thankfully most of the people had already gone home by the time things got really bad (and wow, did it get bad, as in someone got escorted off the premises by our 6′ 3″ best man kinda bad), but it also showed us who in our family we no longer wanted to associate with. So in a way it was a blessing, because we finally got to see just how screwed up these people were, and that being around them, even for the sake of maintaining a strong family front, was unhealthy and wasn’t worth the emotional effort. A hard lesson to learn, though…

  • Eh

    We had a similar situation with my BIL and his wife (she couldn’t guarantee that she would be on her best behaviour since she doesn’t get along with us or my husband’s aunts/uncles/cousins – my in-laws were pretty upset about her childish behaviour). Three days before our wedding they told us they were not coming so we could enjoy our day. In the end my BIL showed up at our ceremony without her (actually his parents brought him). We had plans for if she did show up. She was going to be sitting with my husband’s parents and grandparents because she is on her best behaviour in their presence. And we had family members who would have removed her if she was acting badly. No one asked about her since everyone in the family knows how she is but her behaviour has caused a bigger rift between my BIL/his wife and the rest family.

    Don’t let this take over your wedding planning experience. In the month before our wedding I was wishing that our wedding would come quicker because I wouldn’t be putting energy into dealing with my BIL and his wife. Those last few weeks are stressful enough without having to deal with family crap. Also don’t let whatever he does in the end ruin your memory of your wedding. I have lots of awesome memories from my wedding and the fact that she didn’t show up (or he didn’t stay for the reception) doesn’t even register when I think about our wedding. Unfortunately, since the issue wasn’t resolved before our wedding we still have to deal with it after our wedding (hopefully sometime before Christmas).

    I second the person that said that the blood-related-partner should deal with the person. In our case she’s not blood-related to either of us but since she’s married to my husband’s brother he was the one that dealt with it (since I didn’t want to harm my husband’s relationship with his brother’s). It was hard but I stay out of it and supported him in his decisions.

  • KTMarie

    First of all – *hugs* and good luck since I imagine the wedding will not be the last time you have to deal with your FIL and an emotionally charged situation. We had a similar, but not nearly as bad, situation with our wedding since his parents have been divorced many years, don’t talk, etc etc. and one side in particular can be extremely self centered/immature. I think Liz is spot on, although our threat was not being un-invited, but the fall out of their relationship after the wedding.

    His ‘threat’ (sounds harsh calling it that) was that if either party felt the need to be immature, cause a scene, or in general cause heartache for us or an uncomfortable situation for our guests, we would reconsider being involved with them in the future. It wasn’t a specific thing (like ‘we won’t visit for Christmas’ or ‘I won’t call you every week’) but a more general talk he had with them prior to the wedding. He emphasized that their relationship would be hurt and he would not soon forget their actions. He has set these boundaries before and made good on them (not talking to them as frequently, not having them involved in our lives for about a year after a previous incident) so he does have that working for him that it is not a bluff. I definitely think you should consider what you are actually willing to do if he crosses the line.

    • KTMarie

      (PS – They were extremely well behaved at our wedding for what it’s worth!)

  • Amy March

    Is it just me, or does disqus just suck on a phone? I can’t reply, can’t set all comments to display at once, can’t scroll through quickly. Am I missing the magic make it work button? (serious question. I have the black thumb of tech death and am often missing the obvious magic button). I don’t want to whine about the (awesome) redesign, but it’s sad to not be able to interact.

    • noelle

      no, I’ve had that problem with disqus before – and pointing out glitches in the beta is not whining, its letting the hard working APW know how to make a better site.

    • Meg Keene

      We’re going to have a responsive site up and running soon. This is NOT the responsive site, so we’ll be dealing with these problems soon enough :)

  • Class of 1980

    “So what do you do? You threaten him. You tell him, “Dad, this wedding
    day isn’t about all your sh*t. If you can’t just leave it at the door,
    sit on the other side of the room, and chat with the two solitary adults
    you don’t hate, then you’re not invited.” Period. Tell him that he’s
    not allowed to come unless he keeps it together for the five or six
    hours it takes to get married.”

    Bravo for this advice.

    Some people are limited souls, due to mental/emotional issues that stand in the way of ever growing up. You have to be very explicit with them about social expectations that are taken for granted by people who are emotionally mature.

    If you told FIL that his behavior might be the thing that ruins your memories of your wedding day, he’d probably be somewhat surprised. It’s doubtful he considers his impact on others. He’s still at the infant stage of thinking he’s the center of the universe.

    You have to actually teach him that his bad behavior ruins events for others.

  • hydrapole

    Threaten him. This. YES.

    I had to do this with my mother, not a week before our recent wedding. She was completely non-present for the entire wedding planning process (all 16 months of it), and two weeks before our wedding she still hadn’t RSVP’ed for the day. We had a total of 16 people, including my husband and I at our wedding, and I knew she would be going into it fists up – either battling me, or her brother (who walked me down the aisle), my younger sister, or someone else. (I am very close with my husband’s family, and my mother is insanely jealous of this fact)

    Needless to say, I called her out and told her that I wanted her to be there, but only if she left her crappy, passive aggressive attitude at home. I’m pretty sure at one point I used the phrase, “leave the drama at the door”. It turned out that she really needed the wake up call and to be reminded that the day was not about her. I just had to be a bit more forceful and blunt about telling her this than I was comfortable with.. but that is what it took.

    She attended our wedding, and although it was a little weird (not having spoken with her in nearly a year), the day went off mostly without incident. I am so glad that I worked up the courage and called her out on her behavior, because it really meant a lot to have my mom there in the end (even though I swore up and down that it wouldn’t matter if she came or not).

    Sometimes you have to just tell people up front that it isn’t about them – and that their behavior can ruin this day that you’ve put so much time, energy, money and love into. If they can’t get it together for the half day that is the wedding, perhaps it is in your best interest to keep them at more of an arms length

  • Mandy Budhram

    I had a very similar situation arise.. but with my mom. She and my step dad broke up nearly 10 years ago and both are remarried but she harbors this hatred for him that no one really understands. About half way through planning our wedding, she and I got into a huge argument because I told her my dad and my step dad would both walk me down the aisle and she took it as me ‘taking his side,’ and forcing her to be around someone she hated.. We didn’t speak for months and she threatened not to come at all. After many tears, soul searching and talks with my fiance, I took two steps. First, and hardest, I let my mom know that I wanted her at the wedding with all my heart, but I would not sacrifice that moment with BOTH my dads to appease her. I told her that if she couldn’t handle it and chose not to come that I would try my best to understand. And I told her that if she did come, it was with the understanding that she would hold it together, talk to the family and friends she loved and avoid those she didn’t. Second, I let her know that not only was her being there important but she was built into the ceremony and reception itself. I tried to find ways to honor her and the role that she played for me as my mom (moms are notoriously overlooked in weddings, in my opinion). I had a reading for the ceremony I wanted her to read and I did a mother daughter dance in addition to the dances with my dads. These things took the focus off of her drama and highlighted me and her and our relationship and it really touched her.

    We had a hard way finding our way back to each other, but she showed up, she did her reading, we danced and had a wonderful time. And she blew us all away with how well she handled it.

    I think in the end, at least for us and hopefully for you and your partner as well, the idea of the situation is much more frightening for people than the actual situation. They’ll push back to try and get their way but if you hold your ground and be firm about your expectations but also let them know how important they are to you and your guys’ day, when push comes to shove they’ll set it aside and be there for you.

  • Sara

    When he says “he’s not going to sit back and take it”, is he saying he’s reacting to what he thinks are slights on the other party’s behalf? Because it might help to talk to some of the people you know he’s going to try and instigate a fight with to give them a heads up, and talk through options if the situation arises. Clearly the family is use to his antics, but it could help to say something like “I know Paul is super frustrating and annoys you, but please try to brush off whatever he says. We’re going to talk to him again and ask him to behave, but I wanted to give you a heads up that he seems to be preparing to start something.” Maybe they know of a tactic that they can use to get him to calm down or change topics.

  • octoberBride

    We had this exact same problem, but with my husband’s mother. We tried our best to accomodate everyone, but she turned every event (engagement party, bridal shower, rehearsal dinner) into some drama about herself. Just realize there is nothing you can do. If that person is insistent on being unhappy, nothing you can do will make them happy. Just let it go. It’s your and your fiance’s day, and if other people can’t be mature and adult about their drama, it’s not your problem. Don’t waste your time catering to them. The above is good advice, but a little harsh, becuase after the wedding day, you’ll still have to deal with that person for the rest of your married life. It could leave some tension and awkwardness. I would recommend, however, that you do what I did. I hired a day-of-coordinator to take care of all the drama, and it was worth it! I didnt have to deal with any of it. I asked the DOC to watch her, talk to her, and take care of whatever complaining that woman had. Yes, I threw money at the problem, but it worked! We had a great day, and were both shielded from any of the parental drama. It was worth it.
    Good luck!

  • SDS

    I could have written *exactly* this letter, except about my MIL. We did pretty much “Yes, everyone is invited.” “Oh, that’s too bad if you won’t come if so and so is there, we’ll miss you.” We were fortunate (?) because my FIL and his wife are lovely and deliberately took a step back so my MIL would feel like she’d been given priority. Honestly, it stuck in my craw that the in laws I *liked* were sitting two rows back (I resent pandering to self-serving nastiness), but we coped. And my MIL behaved. Skip forward 3 months and at her granddaughter’s wedding she threw a hissy fit and refused to be in the family photos. Sigh.

    You can’t fix your crazy relatives. They are what they are. If they’ve gotten to this ripe old age without learning that the world doesn’t revolve around them, then it won’t happen in the 6 months or whatever leading up to your wedding. You can set boundaries, but they are still able to do *whatever they want* on the day. So you set clear expectations, build contingency plans, and brace yourself for the worst.

  • JS

    A similar thing happened when my now-husband called his father to tell him we were engaged. Instead of a happy, congratulatory call it turned into a huge guilt trip about how we weren’t planning on visiting them over Christmas. Never mind that we weren’t visiting anyone else over Christmas and were choosing to spend it together–and it would be the first time we were ever together on the actual holiday. The bottom line is that it’s especially terrible when “We have amazing news!” is met with “I’m choosing to be upset over something that affects me and to disregard your happiness.”

    I like the idea of laying out your expectations of his behavior and then letting him choose whether he wants to comply or not. I agree with everyone else that this is likely to be a situation that you face again and again in different ways over the course of your relationship. Still, setting up expectations now to ensure that at least your wedding day goes smoothly is essential.

    If you or your fiance are feeling sad/hurt/angry about this, I would encourage you to let yourself feel that way for awhile before taking action. It’s good for you to let yourself feel rotten over a rotten situation, plus you can present your “case” in a non-emotional way to him when the time comes.

    Wishing you the best!

  • Anon Letter-Writer

    Thank you, all of you, for your advice and kind words. It’s… I don’t want to say it’s good to know we’re not alone in this, because that sounds awful, but it is reassuring to know that others have dealt successfully with similar situations.

    We’re doing everything we can to make it as easy as possible for everyone to behave. There’s no formal seating plan, no separate table for the wedding party and signs will invite people to mingle with the family they don’t know so they can properly meet each other. Which will hopefully give everyone a really simple excuse to avoid anyone they already know they don’t like. I might also do what some have suggested and make quiet noises to the likely targets of the FIL’s ire that we’d be grateful if they could prepare themselves for dealing with him.

    I… will talk to my fiancé about the threat/ultimatum. One complicating factor is that he lives abroad (and you can bet he spent a good bit of time reminding us how expensive and inconvenient it is to visit when we announced the wedding). So an ultimatum could result in him refusing to attend… and my fiancé is currently at the conflict-avoidant survival-instinct stage of trying to maintain good relations with a man who – for all his flaws – he still really loves and used to look up to a lot. But it’s definitely something for us to talk about, I think!

  • Bunny

    Huh. The discus comments appear to have disappeared. Shame, there was quite an interesting discussion going on there

  • Anonymous

    No time to read through the comments, so maybe this already got said, but…

    “…he’s vetoed me enlisting a couple members of my own family to subtly keep an eye on and distract FIL if need be.”

    Would your partner be open to reconsidering that veto? There are some crazies in my family (worse than this, unbelievably enough – substance abuse makes the risks that much more dramatic), and this is just par for the course. Someone is assigned to the particular Crazy, keeps an eye on them throughout the night, and keeps everything in check. Sometimes that doesn’t mean doing anything at all! But other times it means catching Aunt Martini before she falls into a pool or strategically standing somewhere in-between Grandpa Racist and the groom the entire evening or catching Bitter Mom in a hug before she corners the bride.

    If for no other reason than to ensure that you two don’t get caught up in whatever drama inevitably takes place when you should be cake-cutting or champagne-guzzling or dancefloor-cutting, I think this is totally worth it (and possibly even an appropriate bridal party request, depending on the nature of all the relationships involved).

    Miraculously, our wedding day was almost totally free of family drama – at least that I knew about – and I really, really wish the same for you guys.

  • Meg Keene

    Liz. You are so smart. The end.

  • Anne

    I’m a bit late to leave a reply, but I think I avoid the word “threaten.” You’re not taking “hostile action.”

    To me, it sounds like what Liz is recommending is to set “clear boundaries.” In other words, you’re saying “FIL, I expect people to treat me and my guests with respect. In order to be included in this wedding, you need to respect those boundaries. We really hope that you can do this because you’re important to us.” This fellow sounds like he has a hard time understanding other peoples needs and boundaries, so you might have to be pretty explicit.

    Bummer of a situation, though. Sorry you have to go through it!

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  • nic

    wow. i read this article and am sitting here watching the 9ers game and replanning my wedding because of my dad’s grudges. i started planning my wedding thinking that everyone could set their personal emotions aside for one day (like a mature person) would do. boy did i think wrong. i advise that you have the tough conversation with your FIL about him not being invited. if he still acts selfish, let him know that is fine and while it disappoints you that he cant set aside his emotions for the day you will not allow him to take away from your day and that he is no longer invited (as the author mentions above). I would however, advise that you give your FIL some time to cool down and think about the day more broadly and outside of his own emotions. There is still a chance that he could realize how he irrational he is being and may decide to bury the hatchet for your special day. While this isnt exactly what happened in my instance, there definitely was a change in conversation about a week after the invitation was retracted. hang in there, and remember, this day is about the two of you and you both enjoying yourselves 100% and not having to be on edge or worry about the other shoe dropping.