I’m pre-engaged, so right now I’m just daydreaming and thinking about big-picture stuff. One such big-picture thing to me has always been the type of location we’ll get married in: I don’t have my heart set on a million little details, I’ve just always pictured myself getting married outdoors. However, since we started discussing the theoretical probability of us getting married, the only thing my beau has said would be important is that we get married in a church, because, “Everyone in my family has held the ceremony in a church.” He only attends religious services when he’s visiting his parents, but he still considers himself to be a Catholic, and that is perfectly fine with me (I was raised Protestant myself, but am no longer practicing; I don’t respect anybody any less because of their faith). If he were more than “mildly religious” and a church were important for himself to be happy, then I would respect that and not argue with him about it, but if it’s just to maintain the precedent set by his cousins because he thinks his parents would be upset otherwise… is this worth potentially starting a fight? I would be totally willing to suck it up and walk down an unfamiliar aisle of a denomination I’ve never associated myself with for him, but for his family, when they haven’t even explicitly said that it’s necessary? My mother, a very religious woman, sucked it up for my older sister’s fantastically hippie outdoors wedding, and while I know it’s not fair to expect the same cooperation from his parents as my sister was lucky to get from ours, they’re reasonable people. Is it unfair for me to ask him to have that conversation with them, or might he be underestimating them?
-Trying Not to Infuriate Future In-laws
This isn’t exactly cut and dried. There are a bunch of things here to untangle. First, the difference between religion and tradition. Second, the difference between general cultural tradition and family tradition. Lastly, the difference between doing something to please your family, and doing something in line with your family to please yourself.
That first part is what sticks out to me most. You mention how much (or little) your partner participates in his religion, but I’m not sure that’s really a factor here. Sometimes things with religious roots become meaningful to us for other reasons. Tradition reasons. I mean, how many of our readers will cop to listening to “Away in a Manger” around Christmastime, despite not really considering themselves religious? I’m guessing the church isn’t important to your partner because of his faith, so much as because of meaning lent by tradition.
And like I said, when it comes to tradition, there’s a difference between broad cultural expectations and just stuff that’s a tradition within your family—with that second one being more important, to me. “My family has always done it this way,” is powerful and personal. And by marrying this guy, you’re marrying those personally important family legacies. There are times when it’ll be a bit of a tug of war determining whose family tradition gets carried on, or, in some cases, if a new tradition is formed. But, in these moments when (as it sounds here) you don’t really care, it’s important to encourage your partner to continue preserving that stuff.
I hear your concern that he’s choosing a church wedding, not for himself, but to avoid making Mom and Dad mad. To be honest, I don’t get that vibe about him from your email. Carrying on a family tradition is often just personally satisfying and helps you feel connected to your roots, and to a long line of your family before you.
But, assuming I’m reading this wrong, and there is an aspect of, “Mom and Dad would like this,” behind the decision, let me assure you—that’s valid, too. Sometimes wedding decisions aren’t about religion and aren’t about tradition. Sometimes, they’re about knowing yourself and your family enough to figure out when it’s important to respect what would make your family happy. There are even times when respecting what your family would want is personally fulfilling. This goes double when you consider that the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize marriages performed outside of the Church (as some of the more knowledgeable staff clued me in). Something like that could be hugely important to family, and as a result, really important to your partner.
This answer would be wildly different if you had strong feelings about being married in a church. I mean, we already talked about that sort of scenario just a few weeks back (and, spoiler: I urged them to nix the religious stuff). But the fact that you’re verging on indifferent, means instead we talk about preserving familial ties and respecting family traditions. There will be plenty of times when, “This is important to my spouse,” butts against “This is important to my parents” (and the majority of those times, “spouse” trumps). Because of that, when you sort of don’t have strong feelings and you have the opportunity, it’s really important to be supportive of one another respecting and preserving ties to family.
Team Practical, how do you determine when and how to preserve family traditions? How do you encourage your partner to do the same?
Photo 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!