Q: I’ve been engaged for a month or so to my wonderful, spectacular fiancé, after dating for four years. We’re going to have a year and a half engagement before getting our undergraduate degrees next summer and get married shortly after. By then, we’ll be twenty-one and twenty-two respectively. My parents got married very young, so they’ve been excited for our engagement for years, but my fiancé’s parents are a very different story.
They are disapproving of the entire ordeal (to put it mildly), and believe we should wait another five to six years to finish our graduate degrees before marrying. My fiancé has had numerous conversations with them about the subject (both before and after the proposal) and they simply won’t budge. Now, I completely understand the importance of maturity and knowing what you want in your lifetime partner before marriage, but I also don’t believe it is entirely fair to measure maturity solely by how many birthday candles you’ve got or figures on your paycheck. We’ve both given this some big, up-till-2-a.m.-talking consideration, and we know that this is the right decision for us. It’s just one of those deep-down-in-your-gut kind of things. We are both determined to go through with our wedding, regardless of his parents’ emotions on the subject, but I’m struggling on how much to include his parents.
I love his family and want to include them in the planning process, but their negativity tends to stress out the both of us and makes us feel awful about something so wonderful and exciting. I’m not even sure how to approach any conversation about our future at all with them, which makes dinners with his family ever so awkward. I’m struggling between trying to calm them down by including them in the planning more than I would honestly enjoy or just quietly avoid mentioning the wedding so as not to poke the proverbial (semi?)sleeping bear. Should I ask them if they want to be included, or should I wait it out and hope that once some time passes, they’ll come around to the idea?
My own parents have suggested I include my fiancé’s parents in as many decisions as possible, to make them feel their opinion is valued. However, I’m afraid if I let his parents in on too many decisions about our wedding, they will bring lots of drama and judginess with them, two things I definitely don’t need in my wedding. Conversely, I don’t want them to have cause to feel angry or bitter for being left out of their only son’s wedding. Either way, I’m feeling a bit stuck. I want to be inclusive and positive towards his family, but I also want our wedding to be, you know, our wedding. Full of non-drama, non-judginess. Thoughts?
Unfortunately, a drama-free wedding is pretty rare. If these are his parents, and you’re going to keep them as a part of your life moving forward, leaving them out won’t resolve anything.
By marrying this guy, you’re also tying yourself to his family. And as much as you’d like for that life to be drama-free, it will be impacted by them, brushing up against them. In any old family, that means some drama. And it also means opinions, arguments, and legitimately hurt feelings from time to time. Rather than try to scrape through this wedding without any run-ins, shoot to make whatever decision lays the best groundwork for your relationship ahead.
What I’m saying is, your parents are right on the money. It’s important to make sure his parents feel valued. In these situations, it’s all too easy to feel like your kid is ignoring you, doesn’t value what you’re saying, doesn’t care about your feelings or respect your thoughts. I’m sure that’s not the case, so let them know you heard what they’re saying, and you care about it, you’ve just decided you disagree.
Involving them in the planning is a piece of that, sure. But before you even get there, start by addressing the fact that they think you’re “too young.” Let them know you’re hearing what they say and weighing their opinions.
That means you have to actually, you know, hear what they say and weigh their opinions. Don’t just fake that part. It’s true that parents can get some kooky ideas, but occasionally they do have some good insight to offer. Insight rooted in all of those extra years they have on us, and some intense concern for our well-being. I’m just saying, don’t tell my mom, but she’s been right from time to time.
In that weighing and considering, discuss with your partner if this is a place to make a compromise. It could be that his parents just want to hear that you have a game plan. Maybe they don’t actually care about that specific five years number, but will be content if you offer them two. Maybe you can get into some kind of premarital counseling and let them know, or find another way to help these folks feel heard, and also ease their minds that you’re taking the step into marriage very seriously.
Whether you find some means of compromise or not, that process of hearing them out, thinking about it carefully, and then offering a response means you can declare the conversation closed. If they’ve said everything they have to say, there’s no need to rehash all the same arguments over and over. This requires firmness, but finesse, because that part about making them feel heard (and actually hearing them) is key.
Here’s where some good boundary-setting practice comes in. A good boundary doesn’t put a broad sweeping kibosh on things. Chopping his parents out of the entire wedding decision? Not a great boundary. Parsing out that yes, they can help pick out floral arrangements, but no, they can’t continue to argue about things that have already been decided? Good boundary. Yes, we will talk about this now, but no we won’t talk about it any more after that? Good boundary. And boundaries sometimes need to be reiterated again and again, in increasingly firm ways. Maybe eventually, somewhere very far down the line they’re still ignoring what you’ve asked, and you do need to cut them out of the wedding decisions. Fair. It’s just not the place to start.
It’s easy to feel insulted when parents question our decisions. But, let’s be real, nineteen is young to consider marriage. Not necessarily too young, but you have to be fair in recognizing that it’s not crazy for that to raise a red flag to well-intended parents. The best way to prove them wrong is to be serious about their feelings, thoughtfully consider them, and carefully establish boundaries that still allow for their involvement.
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