My In-Laws Really Hurt Me—Do I Have to Pretend Everything Is Fine?


It feels wrong

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

woman sitting alone outside

Q: We both have enormous families (Irish Catholic, divorce, remarriage, babies everywhere), and although we both would have greatly preferred a smaller wedding, our families got involved and now we are having a huge wedding. We are excited to have even more of our friends and family around, but since we are both just starting out in our careers, the idea of a huge wedding was financially terrifying for us. Luckily, our generous parents anticipated this, and insisted on giving us a lot of financial help with the wedding. A budget was drawn up, agreed on, and divided up three ways between my parents, his mom and stepdad, and his dad and stepmom. All of this happened more than a year ago, and everyone seemed happy with the arrangement.

A few weeks ago, I get an incredibly hurtful email seemingly out of the blue from my fiancé’s stepmom. She apparently has “just found out” about the financial contributions being made from the parents, and she hit us with a lot of guilt and accusations. She questioned our character and morals, said we should be ashamed of ourselves, and asked us to explain ourselves to her. Most hurtfully, she accused me of using the family as a piggy bank to fund a glamorous “destination wedding.” We are getting married in New England, where every member of my family and most of my friends live, and it’s an hour by plane for most of her family to travel there.

Obviously this was upsetting, especially since my fiancé remembers having a conversation with her about the budget and her reacting normally. He was furious, other family members were furious, and suddenly my fiancé was insisting that we give back every penny we’ve ever received from them. However, a few days after the incident, she called us both up to say sorry. She was careful to apologize for upsetting us and for not discussing her opinions with us in person, but she never apologized for any of her remarks. She also kept insisting that she was offended because “she had been raised in a different way.” Overall, she took the tone that her outburst had been intended to do us a favor by helping us be more financially independent. When I pointed out to her that a lot of my friends were still in school or living at home, she brushed it off by saying that we needed to learn to “save for things that we wanted.” We’re currently saving for the down payment on a house, paying back my student loans, and investing for our retirement. Meanwhile, she hasn’t needed to work in fifteen years and relies on my fiancé’s dad for income. Now, in an effort to mend fences, she’s insisting that we all spend more as a family and “grow closer,” including taking a vacation together next weekend.

I’m still deeply hurt because money has always been a sore subject for me. My fiancé and I are both relatively young and we both have full-time, full-benefits jobs that we feel incredibly fortunate to have (and also worked our assess off to get). We live independently and pay all our own bills, and we would be paying for more of the wedding if it were a small affair. I was already harboring intense feelings of guilt about taking money for the wedding, but I had just started to really love the idea of a big, inclusive wedding with more money for lots of food, good music, and a well-stocked bar. The email sent me back to square one, and I started wondering if I really was being selfish for accepting more than I could afford.

Ultimately, my question doesn’t have to do with the finances of our wedding—we are able to handle the additional cost if my fiancé’s dad and stepmom do withdraw from the budget. I’m really just wondering how to move forward in my relationship with my future stepmother-in-law. My fiancé’s family has a very “forgive and forget” vibe, with an emphasis on the forgetting. My family has never been like that, and I have a very hard time pretending that everything is fine when I know that my stepmother-in-law has had such terrible thoughts about my upbringing and morals. I feel that just moving on like nothing happened would be painful for me in the long run, and might cause even more issues down the line. I also don’t know how to have a conversation with her about how she made me feel without causing another huge argument. Is learning to bury these feelings just part of the whole in-law experience, or is there something else I could be doing to fix things?

—Not Forgetful

A: Dear NF,

You do your damnedest to forget.

I know, it goes against all of your instincts. I totally get it! I’m a lot like you. I want to hash things out until they’re completely resolved. I’m not good at hiding how I really feel. But it’s to your benefit to squeeze yourself into the established family culture (even if it strikes you as unhealthy). The way they handle conflict probably won’t change, and if it shifts at all, it’ll be super gradual. If you just bust in there talking about things honestly, that won’t settle the issue, it won’t change the family culture. It’ll just make you into the bad guy.

So bottle it up, baby. Do whatever you can for your sanity within those confines. That might mean you can’t make the next couple of family events while your rage is still simmering, or it might mean going, and then finding a good friend to “WTF?” over it after. Notice, I’m not telling you to lie. But I wouldn’t anticipate some wonderful processing, apologies, reconciliation, closure. That’s not going to happen no matter what you say, so why even say it?

It’s hard, I know. She said something hurtful, and ignoring it is hard! If you really, really can’t see a way around saying something, I get it. I can’t fault you for honesty. So if you do decide to bring it up, just be sure to really think long and hard about your end goal. Like I said above, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a satisfying closure, brace yourself for that. And then figure out what you would settle for (with some awareness that it might not go well at all).

I understand your concerns about the long run. But consider, is the goal a close relationship or just pleasant coexistence? Probably the latter (as lovely as the former would be). If this were any other relationship—a partner, a close friend—I would encourage you toward honesty so that you can root out any issues, resolve them, and create a healthy relationship, or conversely move on if it turns out you can’t be honest. But this is your stepmom-in-law. You can’t just move on if things don’t work out. You’re stuck with her. Just as likely, you’re also stuck with this odd way of handling conflict, too.

With that in mind, I’d advise that you keep those feelings under wraps. Your stepmom-in-law was rude and then gave a half-assed apology to smooth it over. That’s tough to swallow. But, she’s not yours by choice. She’s yours because you care about her stepson. Do what you can to keep things nice, if only on the surface, if only for his benefit.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO 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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Photo by Cynthia Magana

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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  • savannnah

    GIRL. I am running a training right now so can’t respond the way I want to but as someone who just got a 6 page hand written letter from her future mother-in-law about our wedding budget being ‘immoral’ all I can say is #solidarity and this too shall pass…

    • H

      God, fuck these people. What’s wrong with people?!

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      What. The. Fuck.

    • idkmybffjill

      oh. my. god. please report back with more details.

      • savannnah

        Its a pretty similar situation as the LW- Initial approval then met with disbelief and hostility with cultural issues at play. I’m taking her good morally frugal mid-west baby boy and corrupting him with my east coast spendy (Jewish?) ways. However, my fiance’s parents were never contributing to the wedding so there is no money to give back, which is what I would do in the LW’s situation.

        • idkmybffjill

          Well I’m doubly confused in that she isn’t contributing! What in the world! I’m sorry you are having to deal with this.

        • K.

          My SIL was weird about our wedding budget too after she “happened” to see a spreadsheet on my husband’s computer during a visit. Not mid-west vs. east coast, but similar kind of “What are your values now???” kind of moralizing and shaming. We just ignored her and eventually my husband shut her down, because wow, was it was a negative amount of her business.

          But a handwritten letter? Above and beyond. That SUCKS.

          • toomanybooks

            It’s so weird… I’ve never heard anyone suggest that spending a lot on a wedding was a moral failure or something to do with values! I feel like I usually hear the opposite from family – that something we’re doing isn’t good enough for the guests. (Then again, I’m pretty sure parents are capable of having both that viewpoint and the “why are you spending so much money” viewpoint)

          • z

            I definitely have heard that, and I do think our financial choices have a moral dimension, in general. My mom was quite judgey of how much we spent, but also wanted to invite more people, and kept rambling on about how much things cost for her wedding which was in 1970, ffs.

            Let’s have a thread on generational differences in cost of living and social norms. Maybe that’s what’s going on here, and if this is the stepmom’s first time helping to plan a modern wedding she’s having culture/inflation shock.

          • toomanybooks

            Oh yeah, I absolutely think part of the problem here is the generational differences in weddings/wedding costs. (Because it sounds like the stepmom/family expects LW to host a million family members at the wedding, and that’s probably going to cost a lot.)

          • Laura C

            I was the one citing morals in discussions of the cost of our wedding. As in “there are only so many full-time minimum-wage workers whose annual income I am morally comfortable spending on my wedding.” And the answer turned out to be, like, four of them. But I wasn’t going to push it close to seven.

          • toomanybooks

            Ahhhh that makes sense. I was thinking of it in terms of parent criticisms, not something that was part of the engaged couple’s decision making.

          • Laura C

            The engaged couple’s decision making, in this case, having been shaped by what their parents wanted.

            I just wanted to give an example of how morals entered my thinking about it, since it was a discussion we repeatedly had.

          • AtHomeInWA

            I love the idea of talking about budgets in the currency of “annual income of full time minimum-wage workers.” Nicely puts things in perspective.

        • cml

          As a morally frugal mid-westerner myself, (lol) I assumed she missed the memo about not being a super B and actually having manners and kindness and grace for others. Oof.

        • Katharine Parker

          Are you reading this as somewhat anti-semitic? Because I would be. It’s the same kind of coding as “east coast liberal values” = Jewish.

          In any case, I’m sorry. Your in-laws sound terrible.

          • savannnah

            It’s in the back of my mind…but only as a unconscious bias on their part- I’m just out of their normative framework in many ways and the hard part is that they are terrible but only in these ways. Their worst quality is that they are inconsistent, in approval, enthusiasm and support.

        • Akes

          I’m so sorry you’re going through this :( I think the hardest part about planning a wedding is dealing with the myriad of expectations of what a wedding “should” be… and having family not really understand the complexity that goes into making all those decisions (also, weddings are just freaking expensive!!!!). Also, that letter just sounds NASTY. I hope things get better, and I hope you are taking care of yourself! It sounds like you are doing the best you can.

        • Danielle

          Hey, I’m another somewhat spendy Jew married to my frugal Midwestern sweetheart. We don’t have those parental issues necessarily but am here to share solidarity around cultural differences. The struggle is real. Best of luck and stay strong ???

          • Same here with the spendy Jews and the thrifty Midwesterners. We don’t have big family struggles, just little ones.

            It took my husband a little bit before he was comfortable not looking for the cheapest thing on the menu at a nice restaurant because he knew my dad was gonna pay and wanted to be a cheap date. On the other hand, it really weirded me out the first time we went to dinner with his parents and his dad said “you get this one, I’ll get tomorrow night” because I was so conditioned for my parents picking up the tab.
            You get used to it.

    • wut.

    • Jess

      6 page hand written letter!?!?

      This is so much worse than an e-mail. Like, she had to get paper, write, get an envelope, put everything in, address, stamp, and put it into a mail drop.

      That’s so many steps to stop and think to herself, “What am I doing? This is not appropriate.” I am flabbergasted.

      • savannnah

        I kinda think she saw it as a brave last stand. She sees her son actively choosing a life that’s very different than hers and I think it makes her question a lot of herself and her parenting and it must feel like rejection in some ways- and yes, that’s my most generous self right there which is getting harder to conjure between the letter and fiance’s father telling him twice now that I’m wife material but not mom material. I just hope the LW lives as far away from her in-laws as I do.

        • NolaJael

          It’s very generous of you to phrase it this way. I think that with most weddings there is some level of emotional incongruity — no infant will ever grow up to live exactly the life their parents imagine. It’s kind of you to see her perspective and not write her off completely.

        • sage

          That’s such a horrible thing your fiance’s father said. I’m sorry :(

          My mom too takes every personal decision I make that’s different from hers as if it’s a condemnation or judgement on how she chooses to live her life. Of course it’s not (different doesn’t mean one is better or worse) but she just can’t wrap her mind around it, and that’s so frustrating. Best of luck, and glad you live far away!

        • PeaceIsTheWay

          Sounds like your in-laws are not in-law material.

        • AP

          Oh gosh, that’s a lot to be dealing with.

        • Jess

          “I’m wife material but not mom material” ugh……..

    • penguin

      Your future mother-in-law sounds like my mother unfortunately. We’re not close (at all).

    • Kay

      If your wedding budget doesn’t have a line item for “immoral items”, now is the time to add it!

  • anon

    I totally feel you! My MIL is prone to outbursts (generally every 3-6 months) where she erupts over something seemingly innocuous and often something that has been previously discussed, and then says pretty horrible things to us (we don’t care about our family, we are selfish, etc.) Then, a few days later, we are supposed to forget that everything happened and go back to normal.

    While I agree that you can’t change the family dynamics, I would caution against bottling up your feelings. I did this over one particular thing many years ago with my MIL, and over time it ate away at me and led me to be occasionally rude around the family (like rolling me eyes, etc.). While I was obviously wrong, it also was just a bad situation because the feelings were like a pressure cooker and amplified over time until there was an explosive fight.

    I’m not sure what the answer is, but be aware of your feelings, speak openly with your fiance and make sure you tackle everything with a united front (which it sounds like you are doing!). Good luck! This is not an easy situation and I don’t know that there’s a “good” answer here.

  • Essssss

    I’m so sorry this happened! What a complicated situation. My experience with inlaws is that boundaries can be built gradually and with time in terms of how you talk to each other. But in the near term my advice would be to dump out to friends, fiance, your trusted family members, while avoiding a head on collision with the step mom in law. Something that really helps me is making sure I have plenty of my own time/space/routines when I’m traveling with the in-laws. Eat what you want for breakfast. Make time for a run. Do errands that are helpful but give you space. Curl up in bed early with the book. Carve out a dinner date just with your fiance. Just find ways not to be immersed in that relationship the whole visit to give yourself some emotional space. Because its REAL LEGIT to be mad and hurt about that behavior.

  • Anon because UGH

    “The way they handle conflict probably won’t change, and if it shifts at all, it’ll be super gradual. If you just bust in there talking about things honestly, that won’t settle the issue, it won’t change the family culture. It’ll just make you into the bad guy.”

    Truer words were never uttered. My MIL and I “get along” for all practical purposes because I never question or confront her frequently hurtful comments and attitude. My husband’s family’s culture is to yell and say mean things to each other, then immediately move on as if nothing happened (thankfully, he is not like this at all with me, but when he gets around his family they do start to bring it out of him.) A recent example: my MIL is a Trump supporter, and the day after the women’s march she sent me a nasty FB article basically calling all of us who marched sheep and paid operatives of George Soros. I had been an organizer of our local march, which she knew. I talked with my husband about how/whether to respond, and he basically told me there was no point in responding because she “doesn’t have feelings like normal people.” Meaning that it would just cause me heartache to confront her, and she wouldn’t change her attitude or reconsider her actions. So in the end it’s just not worth it. And this is just a small example- she was also horrible during and after our wedding.

    He’s completely aware that she makes it hard for me to have a relationship with her, and he doesn’t expect me to put forth any more energy than is emotionally healthy for me. But I do have to show up for family gatherings and holidays and put on a happy face. I do it for him because I love him. “Is the goal a close relationship or just pleasant coexistence?” I’ve had to grieve the former, especially because my family straight-up loves my husband and fawns all over him, but I’m ok with the latter in the long run. Better than open animosity anyway.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      It sounds like you have a really healthy approach to an impossibly unhealthy situation.

      • Anon because UGH

        TBH, growing a thicker skin has been good for me anyway ;p

    • AtHomeInWA

      I think this is the right approach because, like I said previously, my parents have been been dealing with unacceptable behavior from my grandparents for over 35 years. It hurts my mother to be treated that way and it hurts my father to watch his wife be treated that way. In-laws are a marathon, not a sprint, and sometimes limping to the finish line is enough.

  • K.

    How close is your fiance to his stepmom? Is this someone who’s actually been a parental figure or does he have more of an arms-length relationship with her?

    If one of my (both bio) parents reacted this way to my husband, I would have a very serious talk with them about how they can’t expect to have the same relationship with me if they say such terrible things about my life partner, even if “forgive and forget” is the family credo. I would tell them that they’re welcome not to contribute to the wedding if they don’t feel comfortable, but they can’t both contribute to the wedding AND insult my fiance (i.e. like how she accused you of treating the family like a piggybank?! WTF, no). Not okay, not happening, I won’t stand for it and they can’t just rug sweep it either. My husband would respond the same way with his family, since the two of us being a united front that consistently has each others’ backs is a cornerstone of our bond. But a big part of it? We’re diplomats to our own family’s of origin. I handle mine, he handles his. I wouldn’t ever be the one to confront my own MIL.

    However, I’m also not sure if having that same conversation with a step-parent would go down the same way, since there are often a lot more variables of closeness and expectation. He could maybe talk to his dad, but again…with stepparents, that can have a lot more implications than a direct conversation with a bio-parent you grew up with. He may not feel as empowered as a lot of adult children would feel with their actual bio parents.

    But overall, if anyone is going to lead the charge here (which I think would be reasonable as a way to set boundaries for how to actually treat you), I personally think it really should be your husband.

    • sofar

      We’re diplomats to our own family’s of origin. I handle mine, he handles his. I wouldn’t ever be the one to confront my own MIL.

      Exactly. If a member of my family every pulled this shit with MY fiance, I’d be throwing down and reveling in every minute of it.

      • AP

        YES.

      • Kara

        Hells yes! And I’ve had to shut my parents down because of shit they’ve done.
        They quickly got on board after that.

    • Abs

      Yeah I think there is potentially a big difference between parent and step-parent here. I will totally call my crazy parents on their crazy, and have a showdown about it, but for most of my relationship with my stepmother, all communication has gone through my dad. Like my dad would tell me that she was upset, or I would tell him that I was, and we would never, ever talk about anything genuine face to face. Now that my dad is dead, we try a bit, but mostly just…don’t disagree, because it would be too weird.

      Now, she would never have gone and sent an email like this, but if she had, I wouldn’t have been able to call her on it, and my partner certainly wouldn’t have been able to.

      There’s this weird thing with both in-laws and step-family, where you often can’t really have any say in the relationship, except in how close it is or isn’t.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Call it a personality flaw, but I am incapable of forgetting. I can recall just about every shitty thing people have said and done to me. If I do manage to forget for a while, something will trigger the memory, it all comes flooding back, and I’m angry all over again. Yeah, it’s a problem. It also means that sometimes I withdraw from relationships and/or remove people from my life.My first step in this situation would be to make sure I and my partner were on the same page about things, and functioning as a team. If nothing else, have a conversation with him where you acknowledge the sweep-it-under-the-rug thing his family does, that you can’t change how they handle things, and the degree to which you believe you’re capable of doing — or not doing — that thing. And then ask for his support in stepping as far back from your SMIL as you need to, for as long as you need to.

    • PeaceIsTheWay

      Totally agree that Step 1 should be making sure LW and fiancé are on the same page as a team – great point.

    • cml

      I’m here for the the “never forget” club. I wish I could.

    • Laura C

      And the thing here is, I might be able to forget something done by someone I had a longstanding good relationship with. But when someone does something like this earlyish in your relationship with them, it’s not a thing they did, it’s who they are. Even if LW is good at forgetting, what image of this person is LW putting in place of the stuff described in the letter?

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        Absolutely. This is the LW’s primary impression of this lady. I don’t know how you come back from that.

  • Jane

    Also – just on the “other family members were furious” line, since this is a step-mom, and it seems like blended families have been cooperating somewhat well, you don’t want to be the source of any drama between your fiancé’s mom and dad, if you can avoid it. Not that it would be your fault for creating the drama, but less drama between them = less drama for you and your fiancé.

    • Jess

      I have really mixed feelings on this, because in the real world where we operate? Yes, this is something to keep in mind because Less Drama is Less Drama, and that is a good thing most of the time.

      But holding families together should *never* be the job of children, adult or otherwise. I have lived that life and it is awful.

      • Jane

        Completely agree! Especially when it’s your own family. But I think there’s a difference between holding families together and not giving people another reason to fight. And, in my opinion, LW falls into the second category.

        Say this were from the LW after the complaint about the money but before the half-assed apology? I’d say bring it up. Not your job to swallow a bunch of hurtful things to make other people feel better. But, here, the issue has been brought up, sort of dealt with, and the LW, understandably, isn’t 100% satisfied with the resolution. But it sounds like most of the family is on her side and doesn’t think the step-mom’s behavior was ok. They just don’t want to talk about it anymore.

        For me, that’s a level of discomfort I’d be comfortable accepting* in order to avoid being the source of drama in my fiancé’s family.

        *I’d definitely still vent about it to my own family and friends as Liz suggests.

        • Fushigidane

          In both my family and FH’s family there are certain people that everyone, including their spouses and children, agree are ridiculous and everyone mutually agrees to ignore most of what they say. While not as close in relationship as a sMIL, my uncle has said some very hurtful things to me. I vent about it with my family and we agree that he’s a pompous idiot for lack of a better term. We ignore each other most of the time and life goes on.

        • Amy March

          I keep coming back to this. Yes. Exactly. Liz’s advice wasn’t to do nothing, it was to do nothing more. Beyond what has already happened: you told her the problem; she apologized; she is trying to make amends. She doesn’t have to be perfect at it or do everything just the way DIL wants

  • PeaceIsTheWay

    Sticky situation and much sympathy to the LW. Solid advice, as usual, from Liz. Best to be realistic about the possible outcomes, here. I’d also assume and prepare for this to not be the last time money becomes a source of conflict between stepmom and various family members, unfortunately. On a side note: the comment about stepmom not having to work for 15 years tugs at something defensive in me. I obviously don’t know stepmom’s deal, and maybe she actually has been lazing around while her husband supports her. But I just want to stress that there’s a significant amount of hard work that is too often undervalued because it’s ‘not paid’. Does LW truly know what arrangement has been made by fiance’s dad and stepmom? NOT that this justifies stepmom’s outrageous rudeness, of course!!

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      Ehhhh, it’s really hard to hear my mom’s criticism of how my fiancé and I should just both take vacation time to make the holidays work on her schedule when she hasn’t had the financial need to work in over 3 decades. You’re right that women’s work is often discredited and undervalued, but it’s also a really hard pill to swallow when someone in a financially more privileged situation wants to judge your choices and make assumptions about your completely different financial situation.

      • PeaceIsTheWay

        That’s totally fair. I think it depends on the situation, and I don’t want to sound like I’m assuming anything specific about the fiance’s stepmom here. I grew up with a stereotypical ‘breadwinner’ dad and stay at home mom, and both parents made it clear to us kids that they were a team, consisting of two equal and mutually contributing partners. My father might have brought home the paycheck, but my mother managed the day-to-day specifics of how to sustain a family of five with that income. I would never give less credit to my mom’s financial advice than my dad’s, simply because she didn’t ‘have to work’. … At the same time, I recognize there’s a difference between financial advice and criticism stemming from blind privilege. I agree this fiancé’s stepmom is just judging!

  • Sara

    I would say, chalk this up to a learning experience. You know what she’s like now. It sounds like your fiance is just as mad and outraged as you are, so vent to them if you need to but try to let it go. Don’t let her ruin your wedding day by letting her words fester within you. I have an aunt that flipped out at me a few times with similar half-assed apologies, and while she’s family and I deal with her, I don’t let her into my life all the way. Polite, respectful but not really bonded. Good luck :) Easier said than done I know!

    edit to add – does this seem completely out of character for her or has she acted this way before? I would honestly be worried if she legitimately didn’t remember a conversation about money and had an outburst regarding it.

    • Lluviata

      I agree. This was, unfortunately, a chance for you to see what she does. Now that you know, you can maintain a friendly distance from her unless you get a real apology. You don’t have to bottle it up! You just won’t get closure from her. So politely say no to next weekend’s trip (you both unfortunately won’t be able to make it…) and hopefully the next time you see her, you’ll be ready to kindly maintain those boundaries of social distance.

      On the money – your & your fiance’s parents want to give you a gift! Please don’t let the stepmom’s totally offbase letter get to you. Because she is completely in the wrong here.

      • Lluviata

        Edit to add: some of the parents want to give you a gift. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that.

        On the stepmom, it sounds like you are prepared for dads and stepmom to back out so just go forward with that in mind.

  • NolaJael

    Only thing I would add to Liz’s (great) advice is to make a mental note not to get tricked into any wedding finance discussions with this woman. Don’t give her any opportunities to reopen the idea and “justify” her standpoint (or for you to fall into the trap of trying to justify yours). Don’t let her rewrite history, just keep it as the last thing that happened is that she (half-assedly) apologized. If she says *anything* regarding the quality/price of an item just divert the conversation with something innocuous like “we chose that together” without mentioning comparison shopping or other options.

    • sofar

      If she says *anything* regarding the quality/price of an item just divert the conversation with something innocuous like “we chose that together” without mentioning comparison shopping or other options.

      My favorite line during wedding planning was “[Fiance] owns that project.” If the inquiring person then chose to speak with my fiance about it, he’d just ignore the question (as this is how he usually deals with his family).

      • cml

        Hahaha we are marrying similar people.

        • sofar

          OMG.

          Me before getting to know my husband’s family: “I can’t believe you just ignored your mother’s question / haven’t returned your parents’ text / haven’t talked through that issue. You need to answer/talk it through so it’s SETTLED. It’s not fair to just ignore it!”

          Me after getting to know his family: “I totally get why you ignore their questions.”

          • lamarsh

            This is verbatim my relationship with fiance’s family. When you come from a fairly functional family, it can be a weird adjustment to make.

          • MrsRalphWaldo

            Ohmygoodness. Same.

  • Antonia

    I’d give the money back and limit contact as much as humanly possible with this horrible woman for as long as possible. I’m not saying that’s what the LW should do, especially if she endeavors to “squeeze [her]self into the established family culture.” But it’s what I’d do.

    • BSM

      Same.

  • Meghan

    Not a really substantive comment, but something I definitely bumped on in the letter was that it sounds like the future-stepmom-in-law sent this email just to Not Forgetful, rather than to her fiance or both of them (“A few weeks ago, *I* get an incredibly hurtful email seemingly out of the blue from my fiancé’s stepmom.”) Aside from everything else that’s wrong and hurtful about this situation, the casual sexism of it infuriates me.

    • Omg this has started to happen to me with my fiance’s family: emails/texts/calls that come only to me when they’re about stuff related to us as a couple (or even stuff that’s mostly related to my fiancé). He’s been very good about telling me to just not respond and have him respond, or to say “Hey please ask him about that” but it’s setting off some sexism alarm bells and definitely is something he and I need to shut down now, lest it become a pattern for the rest of our life as a married couple.

      • ANNon

        This happens to me too, but it’s a little complicated because I (mostly) don’t think my MIL is sexist, I think she actually wants to have a relationship with me and she is just looking for an excuse to text me. I haven’t found a good way to balance saying “Omg, just ask your son, he knows about the wedding plans too” with being respectful to the fact that she wants to have an independent relationship with me. I want to have a relationship with her as well, I just don’t want one that only involves me as a family social secretary.

        • cml

          This is definitely a thing – people trying to form a relationship. Good point.

        • Greta

          Maybe reach out to her about other things, if you’re comfortable! When she texts you about wedding topic A, respond with “Fiance is in charge of that, so you should ask him”, but then follow up with more questions or an actual discussion about your lives, current events, what have you. I think you can signal that you’re open to building a relationship, and demonstrate what that might look like in a way that doesn’t mean you are only the social secretary.

          On a separate note: My mom really struggled with my brother’s wedding. She really wanted to build a relationship with the bride and wanted to know what was happening with wedding planning, but my brother is pretty non-communicative. She would reach out to him and he either wouldn’t respond, or would respond super minimally. Reaching out to the bride was the only way to get any sort of actual information.

          • AtHomeInWA

            My brother is not even engaged yet and we already know that if we need an answer about whether they’re going to be at [whereever] that weekend, we have to text the girlfriend. If I have a couple of days to wait to be responded to, I’ll ask him. But if I need a response right now, I have to ask her. It isn’t that I expect her to manage their social calendar, it’s just that my (wonderful, loving, gentle, respectful, kind) brother is a turd.

        • NolaJael

          This is a consideration. We had some awkward conversations with family members where they probably just wanted to reach out and have a fun planning conversation but my husband and I had already hammered out all the details for basically everything. We’re not super controlling, but we’d made most of the decisions together taking both families into consideration. For instance my mother was hurt because we declined her suggestion to upgrade to salmon (at her expense) because husband’s family are just not fish eaters. Since we’d had all those convos before, I think some family members felt left out of the type of planning that we’d usually do together if this were another event (like a holiday break or family reunion).

      • idkmybffjill

        The having him respond is a really really good way to address it! We did this a couple of times to my husbands family – someone would text me, I would just not answer and he’d respond with the answer – worked like a charm!

        • This almost never happens with either of our families anymore, because yay group messages! Whenever there’s any sort of plan happening, we use a group message that includes both of us. and basically everyone else potentially involved. Nobody has to get second hand information, and anyone can respond to the messages. I typically do most of the talking with my parents, and he with his.

          (I am also not above texting a question or answer from my husband’s phone that I think would be better coming from him to his family. with his permission, of course.)

          • idkmybffjill

            ooh yes! Great advice!

          • Lisa

            Similarly, we set up a joint email address for all wedding related information. We still often have to forward emails from our own addresses to the joint account, but it makes things a little more equal and ensures we both have access to all wedding information. But we’re still constantly reminding my MIL that her son is in charge of certain wedding projects and she needs to talk to him about them. For whatever reason, she cannot break this old habit.

        • Laura C

          When my husband is home and his mother calls me, I just hand him the phone.

    • emilyg25

      Ugh, my whole husband’s family does this. I just forward the emails to him or don’t respond at all. I refuse to be our family’s social secretary.

      • jammers

        They actually CALL me his social secretary. To my face. It drives us both nuts.

        • Fushigidane

          When I tell people I have to check with him, they tell me straight out that I should already know/dictate his schedule.

        • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

          FLAMES. ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE.

    • MDBethann

      In my case, my MIL either calls the house or my cell. If my husband answers, the convo is brief and he hands me the phone. He isn’t a talker on the phone or with small talk in general (she knows that about her son). He is also not a planner – I am. While we make decisions together, usually he weighs in on options. It gets tiring some times, but for us, it is a personality thing. So because I’m the planner, I end up talking to his mom more. I’m also the one more likely to tell her what she might find interesting about her granddaughter. DH is very introverted; his mom and I are not. Now, when it comes to conveying bad news, like “we can’t visit this weekend because…” the decision is joint and I have him convey it. To me, unpleasant news should always come from the immediate family member, not the in-law.

  • sofar

    I have a contentious relationship with a few family/family friends on my side and my husband’s.

    What I do: Take the high road. The polite, yet icy high road.

    Until and unless she gives you a heartfelt apology (or for as long as you’re angry at her), in her presence, you are impeccably polite, but coldly formal with her. Continue being warm and friendly with his other family, but, to her it’s the bare minimum. She is basically a co-worker you dislike at this point.

    When she greets you, you say, “Hello” with a quick smile and quickly greet someone else.

    When she asks you a question, you give the shortest answer possible with the same polite, formal tone you’d use for a boss you dislike.

    If she tries to have a conversation with you, you say, “Well that’s very interesting about cousin Maxine. I hadn’t heard. Thank you for telling me.” Smile, and then excuse yourself.

    If she texts you, wait two days and give the minimal response required. If that text is more bitching about you/your wedding/upbringing, you ignore it. If she asks about your lack of response, say, “This is a conversation probably better suited for in-person.” And then, if she tries to have it in person,” you listen and simply say, “Your concerns have been noted.”

    If you are caught alone with her at a party, you smile and quickly excuse yourself to “refill the napkins” or “Oh, Uncle Jim has arrived I better say hi.”

    You’re “busy” and cannot attend her birthday.

    You cannot go on vacation with her, so sorry, you have “a previous commitment.”

    Her emails must have “gone into your spam folder, so sorry!”

    She obviously likes drama, but your behavior will be impeccable. So she can’t exactly bitch about you to other family without seeming crazy herself. Whereas, if you try to have An Official Talk with her, she’ll exaggerate everything you said and blast it out to everyone.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      I want “Take the high road. The polite, yet icy high road.” embroidered on a pillow.

      • penguin

        Please someone make this. Or else I may need to learn how to embroider…

    • Jess

      I 100% cosign everything above. You may never get a better apology than the one she’s already given. She may never change how she acts towards you.

      All you can do is determine how much you personally involve her moving forward.

    • cml

      Omg, I love you. This is what I do, but you put it so much more eloquently than I would. The polite, yet icy, high road. YES.

    • Jessica

      This is good, but if there is a heartfelt apology and a commitment to do better, warm up a little bit. My brother’s wife has been doing this to my mom, and every time my mom tries to mend the relationship or apologize for her behavior (which should have been directed at my brother and she knows what she wrong), my SIL still ices her out. It’s straining family ties quite a bit.

      • sofar

        Oh absolutely. This is strictly pre-apology protocol!

        • Bad DIL

          Can we caveat with GENUINE apology followed by REAL behavioral change? My ILs have a habit of routinely behaving badly and apologizing but never changing their behavior.

          • Jessica

            Well, my mom hasn’t had a reason to blow up at my brother for treating the family like they don’t matter in comparison to her family, so there has not been a way to demonstrate the change she has committed to. So, there has been a heartfelt apology at least twice, and SIL accepted said apology, but still ices my mother out (including blatantly ignoring her at a wedding they were all at, and walking away while my mom was talking to her and my brother).

            So, you know, use your judgement on that.

    • Ha, I love this. Polite + Stonewall is such an effective method for dealing with unrepentant rudelings.

    • Danielle

      Thank you for this. I need to set really sturdy boundaries with a family member and this is a great code of conduct for that.

  • JC

    I’m really intrigued by the stepmom’s blow up AFTER all interested parties had sat down and discussed the priorities and budget, and how to make them both fit. Two possibilities: One, she doesn’t remember that it happened (this is like my MIL), in which case the LW may also be feeling what I feel when I deal with my MIL, frustration that I carefully crafted a message to appeal to all parties. Two, she does remember and something else has triggered this really hurtful message (this is like my FIL) in which case the LW has to deal both with the hurtful message and whatever secretly triggered it, which may or may not be related. I agree that joining the family means consenting to a certain extent to how they deal with conflict and letting this one go, but it might be helpful once the ground has settled a bit to think back on what this says about Stepmom beyond the hurtful message itself.

    • Amy March

      Three- she really wasn’t involved and didn’t know what the breakdown or contributions were until now.

      • JC

        Yeah you’re right. I was focusing on the fact that a conversation had happened, but the hurtful message says she “just found out,” so there’s a lot more going on here.

  • Kara

    Am I the only one that thinks the fiance should do more to shut his stepmom down? Like he should be the one to call her or visit her and say this behavior is not only hurtful, but inappropriate. He should start by making it very clear that her remarks were damaging and will influence his relationship with her going forward.

    My 2 cents…return their damn money. It’s not worth it.

    • sofar

      I agree. I once told my husband, “Certain members of my family are insane. If they say ANYTHING inappropriate to you, let me know, and I will single-handedly ruin every Christmas for them.”

      • Kara

        Solidarity! I have and will take care of sh*tty family members in the future.

      • NolaJael

        A+ wife-ing, right there.

      • sage

        I have a feeling I need to tell my fiance something along these lines too… Certain family members will totally say shitty things and try to be all “forgive and forget” about it. It’s easy enough for me to deal with since I’m used to it, but I wouldn’t want them to hurt him and not have consequences.

      • NolaJael

        Also, even in reasonable families there’s that aunt / uncle / cousin that nobody listens to. We’ve had to have a couple conversations that are like “Wait, who said that horrible thing to you? Oh, Aunt Mimi? Ha! Don’t lose sleep over it. Everybody knows she’s a miserable harpy.”

        • sage

          Yes, I totally have this aunt…. will make every inappropriate and disparaging comment in the book. It’s almost comical for us who know her, but could throw an unsuspecting newcomer for a loop.

          • Ros

            I have that aunt too. When I tell stories about her, she is known as “auntie dreadful”.

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    • JC

      Agreed, although I think he should actually speak to his dad first. LW says that all of the parents agreed to this financial plan, so there’s also the relationship between fiance’s divorced parents in the mix.

      • z

        +1. Returning the money could stir up even more drama because of the fiance’s parents’ divorce I always feel for people who marry into complicated families– there’s a lot to learn and a lot more people to consider.

      • Kara

        I do wonder if his dad is aware of the situation. It sounds like stepmom only emailed the bride, so the fiance’s dad my not have a clue. Sure the fiance should talk to his dad, but more importantly, he should handle the stepmom situation.

        • JC

          If dad’s not aware of the situation, that seems like all the more reason to loop him in.

    • Courtney

      I was thinking the same thing. It’s probably in the LW’s best interest not to say anything, but the fiance definitely should step in.

    • jammers

      Well but arguably this is a really emotionally difficult thing for fiancé. He said got the frustration/hurt of LW and probably an additional layer of embarrassment re: his family’s misbehavior. Yeah, he should be the liaison with this family, but he’s probably really upset about this, too.

      • AP

        Yeah, my husband would totally make a mess of confronting his family over something they did to me. Ideally, my words and communication style would come from his mouth, but that just isn’t how it would go down:)

        • Kara

          If you had to encounter this with his family, could you both sit down and figure out a script that works. This way the message will delivered appropriately, but he’s still the one dealing with his family? And you’re not seen as a potential “bad guy”?

          • AP

            That’s exactly what we’d have to do.

        • MrsRalphWaldo

          I can empathize with this. My husband is super passive and tends to start a conversation defending me and end the conversation giving the other person the impression that he agrees with them. We still handle our own family drama, but it’s frustrating to know that he won’t necessarily get my point across.

          • AP

            Exactly. My husband’s intentions would be great, but in his family their confrontations are either passive or yelling, with not much in between, so he either gives in or yells back. Not ideal. I’d much prefer a direct, even-tempered conversation, but I’m not sure that’s even possible with them.

      • z

        Is this a new behavior for the stepmom, or just the LW’s first time encountering it? That may affect the fiance’s approach.

      • Kara

        Like K. said below in the discussion: “We’re diplomats to our own family’s of origin. I handle mine, he handles his. I wouldn’t ever be the one to confront my own MIL.”

        Even if this is something “difficult” for the the fiance…he should do it. It sucks. I’ve had to do it, but he should be supportive of his future wife and deal with the tough stuff stuff that he’s got to face.

        • jammers

          Yeah, I totally agree he should be the diplomat. I just think she’s got to remember to support him, too! He’s probably absolutely mortified. Even if it’s his responsibility to do this shitty job, we can have a little compassion for him! I would be so embarrassed if my family did this.

          • Kara

            I have compassion for the fiance. I’ve had to shut my own family down for sh*tty things they’ve said/done. For me, it was less embarrassing and more just pure rage.

    • Annie

      Yes! I personally found Liz’s advice to be a bit too passive. It felt a little bit like, “Welp, this is what you’re marrying into, gotta suck it up!” (but put much more nicely and with nuance – I still think Liz is great!) But actually, there’s a lot of actions that can be taken between that and the nuclear “never see or speak to her again.” And it should ABSOLUTELY be from the fiance.

      • Kara

        I understand Liz’s response of this is the family “culture”, but that won’t ever change (even gradually) without correction. So, Annie, I agree with you! There are many options still available, and the fiance talking to the stepmom should be #1 and sooner rather than later.

    • emilyg25

      I’m really curious how the fiance feels about this, and how close he is to his stepmom. My in-laws remarried when my husband is an adult, so he’s not very close to his stepparents and they don’t do much parenting. If this was his family, he’d just talk to his dad and we’d ignore the stepmom.

      • Kara

        Fair point about the fiance’s relationship with his stepmom. I wonder if his dad is even aware of the whole situation.

        No matter what, I still wholeheartedly believe that the fiance should be handling the response to this behavior since it’s coming from his “family”.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I’m with you. I would be so livid after receiving an email like that. I hate confrontation and sometimes suck at standing up for myself, and I think even I would struggle to let this go. I do see Liz’s point that you’re not going to single-handedly change the family dynamic in one interaction. But damn, I hope fiancé gives step-mom or dad a piece of his mind over this.

    • toomanybooks

      Yup, I think when you have in-law drama, the spouse who is actually from that person’s family has to be the one to deal with it. Sometimes this means they confront habits they haven’t noticed because it’s something that was just part of their family dynamic so it feels normal until the spouse who didn’t grow up that way points it out.

      • AP

        “it feels normal until the spouse who didn’t grow up that way points it out”

        This is key for me. I didn’t realize how gossipy my family is (and my contribution to it) until an ex boyfriend pointed it out to me. My husband didn’t realize how much he and his family complain and nag until I pointed it out. He works on the things he has control over, like his own attitude and complaining, but there are limits to how much we can expect to control his family’s behavior.

    • Laura

      I returned money to my parents during our wedding planning process. My normally-sane mother became fixated on us getting blue hydrangeas for the ceremony space. The church was lovely on its own, we were on a budget, blue hydrangeas weren’t in season, and I got sick of calling florists only to be told that they didn’t have any hydrangeas. It devolved into a huge fight in which she accused me of trying to profit off of our wedding. I wrote a check and sent it in the mail that day. Absolutely no regrets.

      • sofar

        The hill my mother wanted to die on was chair covers.

        Oh, wedding-planning memories.

        • Every time someone came at me with a hill to die on, I told them that if they wanted to find the vendor, organize everything, and tell me where to send the check, that was fine. After that, nobody followed through on a SINGLE thing that had previously been the most important, it would be a wedding without X thing. (Including: a babysitter, a desserts table in addition to the cake, and a makeup artist…)
          But I was lucky– I had a big budget and ran out of energy to procure goods and services long before I ran out of budget, so I could afford to play chicken.

          • sofar

            You are a genius.

        • Lizzie

          Oh my good lord, the hills! My mom: bouquet. My in-laws: hot food. OF ALL THINGS TO PICK. Gawd I’ll never understand what went thru their heads with those!!

    • Liz

      If anyone says anything, should totally be the partner, agree.

  • z

    It sounds like maybe the “blended family” is not so blended. Perhaps the stepmom went along with the financial decisionmaking to keep the peace or because she isn’t financially empowered in her own marriage, but she clearly doesn’t agree with what was decided. Tread carefully, LW, lest you stumble upon that kind of land mine.

  • Kelly

    I think I saw something about MIL wanting to now go on vacation..yeah that’s a big NO lol. You are in no way obligated to use your vacation days/money to hang out with them if this is how she treats you

    • z

      It’s a power play, she’s demanding time and money as a show of (unearned) forgiveness. Do not reward this behavior with attention!

      • Kelly

        Preach!

      • z

        Actually, maybe not. It sounds like the dad made a big financial decision without even informing his wife. She’s undertsandably upset, but she isn’t going to get results from her husband so she went at it from the other side of the transaction. Now, having gotten a lot of blowback from others, the vacation idea is to smooth things over with everyone and reassure themselves of their “blended”-ness.

        • idkmybffjill

          Except she was informed!

          “Obviously this was upsetting, especially since my fiancé remembers having a conversation with her about the budget and her reacting normally.”

          • z

            Yeah, I saw that, I dunno… She feels she wasn”t, maybe there’s something more going on that she wasn’t informed of? Like not informed of where the money was coming from? It sounds like a problem in theor marriage.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes, I agree – which… gosh even more reason she shouldn’t have reached out to LW about it!

  • Rachael

    I am completely shocked by this advice. I actually double checked the date to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently stumbled onto an April Fool’s post.
    Why do the sMIL’s feelings and opinions matter more than the LW? Why must LW be polite to a person who has no sense of decorum? We teach people how to treat us. By ignoring this behavior and never addressing it, LW is teaching sMIL that she can get away with this kind of horrid behavior with no consequences. That isn’t how I would want to live my life- squashing feelings and never being myself. That sounds awful.
    That said, I would take the fiance’s lead here in how he wants to deal with it. He wants to return the money? Let him. I admire a partner who doesn’t tolerate someone shit talking the person they’ve chosen for life, no matter who it is. I fundamentally disagree that we are “stuck” with toxic people. I don’t keep hurtful people in my life.

    • emilyg25

      Oh, but there is a consequence: a chilly, distant relationship with the minimum of civility. That’s a pretty big deal when the alternative is a close bond with lots of visits and love.

      • Rachael

        If the LW isn’t saying anything, what’s the difference? It’s not a consequence if sMIL never knows about it. Unless the LW is openly rude or something every time they see each other (which is obviously wrong), the sMIL will never know of this consequence, and her behavior is rewarded.

    • Amy March

      I think there just so much room between “sent a hurtful email” and “toxic person bye.”

    • Liz

      I don’t totally disagree with your full takeaway, but I do disagree with three points:

      1. “Why do the sMIL’s feelings and opinions matter more than the LW?” I think I’m actually arguing the opposite- sMIL’s feelings don’t matter at all (whoops). If they mattered, it would be worth sorting things out, reaching some kind of resolution. But they sort of… don’t. LW shouldn’t be worried about what she thinks (easier said than done, I know).

      2. “By ignoring this behavior and never addressing it, LW is teaching sMIL that she can get away with this kind of horrid behavior with no consequences.” I agree when you say “we teach people how to treat us,” but I don’t think that “teaching” needs to involve intentioned consequences, the way it does when I’m parenting my kid.

      3. “That isn’t how I would want to live my life- squashing feelings and never being myself. That sounds awful.” I think it’s safe to say they’re not going to interact much. This feelings-squashing isn’t like a lifestyle choice here.

  • Courtkay

    My first reaction to this was, Oh HELL no, you cannot keep quiet about this. And then I realized that’s exactly the reaction I always have whenever my MIL says or does something outrageous, and after 8 years I’ve finally started reluctantly agreeing with my husband to let it blow over. My MIL responds to these kinds of confrontations by turning the whole thing around so that she’s the victim, and my husband always ends up being painted as the bad guy for upsetting his mother. It has never resulted in her seeing our point of view, expressing any sincere remorse, or changing her behavior in the future. It always ends up being a dramatic and ultimately unsatisfying confrontation. And after all these years, I’ve finally learned – when he says it isn’t worth it, he’s usually right. Something tells me this stepmom is this type of person, and it likely wouldn’t be worth it to try to hash it out further.

    That being said, I do think this might be a situation where both the fiance and the father should step in. If the father agreed to contribute this money without his wife’s agreement, that’s between them. And there’s really no reason for stepmom to have emailed the LW about this – if she was unhappy with the situation, she should have confronted her husband and then maybe, MAYBE, her stepson. For her to go after the LW suggests that there’s possibly more to her objection than just money; after all, this is ultimately a financial transaction between the father and son, and can’t see how it has anything to do with how the stepmom or the LW were raised. Confronting stepmom-in-law might just be asking for more trouble, but it seems like a conversation between the fiance and his father is in order to figure out where communication broke down on this issue that was seemingly already settled.

    • Al

      Your first paragraph sounds a LOT like my MIL & SIL situation…but I’m only 3 years in and still fighting their family culture with all my might. Except, I just end up mad at my husband, instead of accomplishing anything with my in-laws.

      How did you learn to start letting things blow over?!

      • Courtkay

        Step 1. Get super annoyed at my husband because she’s never going to change if no one ever confronts her about this behavior, and gosh darnit, you all made her this way!
        Step 2. Reluctantly admit that husband is right that she is never going to change regardless of whether he confronts her or not.
        Step 3. Vent to my own mother and/or best friend.
        Step 4. Avoid seeing his family long enough that bringing up the incident would seem weird.

        BUT if it were a big issue like the one in this letter, this process might not work at all. I’d probably stew about it forever, and truthfully, there are still a few arguments from our wedding planning days that still aggravate me when I think about it. So, yeah.

    • rg223

      Yes to your last sentence! Where the hell are finace but mostly and especially his dad in all this?!

  • cml

    Oooooooh! I don’t normally come in too hot on people, especially people I don’t know, but what. A. Raging. Asshole.
    I feel for you, LW, because while I can (normally) forgive, I can not forget. Ugh, I’m so angry on your behalf, and I’m seriously questioning *her* morals and *her* upbringing. She wants to make you feel like a bad person for agreeing to the wishes of your families and accepting their generosity? HELL NO.
    That being said, you’re getting some solid advice. Unless this is a family dynamic where you can confront the issue head on, I wouldn’t, for the reasons Liz gives. And I hate that. I want to burn it down for you. (Can you tell I really hate bad manners? Haha)
    My goal, if it were me, would be to take the highest of the high roads and be soooo sweet and kind. She can do what she does and show her ass all she wants, but she won’t have anything bad to say about you.
    Not to say I’d be faking a relationship, because I can’t do that. But I’d be getting along and playing nice – and that’s where it would end for me.
    So sorry for your hurt. Sounds like you didn’t do anything wrong. I hope you can move past your money guilt and get back to being excited!

    • cml

      PS don’t go on the vacation! Lol

  • Bad DIL

    I’m going to strongly advocate here for the friendly, arm’s length relationship with any difficult ILs. You don’t have to be best friends. You don’t have to do things that go against your values. You just have to show up with your spouse at exactly 50% of the family gatherings they will attend and buy them a book and a scarf for any holidays.

    • Bad DIL

      Oh, and you CERTAINLY don’t have to go on vacation with them!

  • Kay

    I think this is the first time I haven’t agreed with Liz’s advice! The fiance needs to take this over, now. If he wants to let it drop in the name of family “forgive and forget” culture, then he also needs to be running wicked interference so the situation doesn’t become open season on insulting the LW’s morals and upbringing. I think there’s a difference between advocating for strategic ignoring (especially if the stepmom is known for this kind of behavior) and forcing your future wife to become a doormat. I think the LW is going to have to find real middle ground between her style of hashing it out and the fiance’s family’s “never mention this again” attitude, but I don’t think she has to concede entirely.

    Needless to say, I’m on Team No Vacay With The Mean Lady. If both the LW and fiance feel they need to get together with the dad and stepmom in order to move forward, start with, like, coffee. Or drinks. Many drinks…

  • Amy March

    I completely agree with Liz. The other factor I see? She’s not his parent. Four parents agreed to split the cost of this wedding, she’s just along for the ride. Maybe she totally had input and veto power. Maybe she had no idea, and yes was not great with her reaction, but in future? Why does this need to be repeated to the rest of the family and turned into a huge deal with threats of returning money? She’s obviously someone without the power to actually change things sharing her reaction. “Sheila, I’m sorry you feel that way. I discussed this with my father at length a year ago and am very thankful for his generosity. Bye, your step-son.”

    This isn’t really about the future step daughter in law at all. You’re just collateral damage.

    • PeaceIsTheWay

      I think it’s up to the fiancé’s dad and stepmom to decide how to manage their finances. If their arrangement is to make big purchases jointly, that’s really not for their children or anyone else to second guess. To me, the problem here is that stepmom initially agreed to contribute generously to the wedding, and then a year later attacks her stepson and future DIL for having a too expensive wedding. That’s completely unfair and out of line, and reflects a tremendous lack of judgment, tact, and awareness. But I don’t see why the stepmom is ‘just along for the ride’. As the dad’s spouse, she is financially contributing to this wedding.

      • Amy March

        If she did agree. And since she’s saying she didn’t even know about it, maybe not. She shouldn’t be attacking anyone, of course, but I think it’s at least worth considering that maybe she’s upset because she didn’t know what was going on

        • PeaceIsTheWay

          I guess I assumed she had agreed. If she really didn’t know about it, I still think she reacted very badly, but my sympathy for her would go up somewhat. I bet many people would be pretty upset to learn their spouses were giving tens of thousands of dollars to other family members in secret.

    • Nell

      So, what we don’t know from the letter above is whether she has parent status or not. From the letter, we know she has been in Fiance’s dad’s life for at least 15 years. Since the LW says that she and her partner are relatively young, that means that she’s probably been around since Fiance was a teenager, or even younger. Not to detract from how hurtful her behavior was – but to remember that she may only be “not his parent” in name only.

  • Katharine Parker

    Does the dad know what is going on? Is he aware his wife is sending these emails or objecting to giving money? It’s possible that the money is coming directly from the father, not from anything shared between him and stepmom. This whole outburst seems to be overladen with tension stemming from first/second marriage conflict.

    The fiance should talk to his dad, not in a way expecting to get any apology, but to be sure the dad knows what’s up, and after that fiance and LW move forward like it never happened. For the LW, the nice part about having a partner is you always have someone to commiserate over stuff like this.

  • Anon For This

    It’s difficult to know the full story between your fiance, his father, and his step-mother, and this definitely affects what sort of response is needed. I’m in a situation where my father’s wife makes our relationship all-but-impossible, and the rest of us try our hardest not to rock the boat. My husband and I don’t care about her at all, but how we respond to her outbursts and hellish behavior is solely dictated by how it will affect my relationship with my father. As long as she’s in the picture, that’s just the reality of the situation. We definitely don’t forgive & forget her behavior and we are careful to keep our business private, not accept large gifts from them, etc, but when she makes baseless accusations, blows up in public, or asks inappropriately personal questions we just remind ourselves that she’s cray-cray, vent at home, and move on as best we can. It’s infuriating to know that she doesn’t view us as adults (we’re in our late 30s) and to listen to her when she is so ill-informed about our lives, but it’s become clear over the years that there really is nothing we can do because we aren’t going to become whatever she wants us to be. This might not be applicable to your situation, LW, but if it is, you have my sympathies.

    • AtHomeInWA

      My parents are in their early 60s and still dealing with exactly this crap from my dad’s parents. In-laws are a marathon, not a sprint.

  • Nell

    I actually disagree – I’d say “forgive, and never every forget.”

    As people have said down thread – now you know what this woman is like. You know that her reaction to disappointment/frustration was to berate you and your fiance. So don’t forget that. If she or her husband offer you financial assistance in the future, you can say no!

    In terms of forgiveness. . . you said that she kept saying she was “raised a different way.” My answer to her would be, “That’s true. You and I grew up with different hardships, different families. . . we’re going to be different. And sometimes that’s going to be awkward. But I hope we can make the best of it.” You’re an adult. You were raised with values. You have developed your own values. Don’t let her shame who you are.

    • Abs

      Yes to this!

  • JenC

    During our engagement and just after we got married, my father in law made some really hurtful comments to me and my husband. My husband’s family is also keen on moving on rather than bringing everything out into the open. I would love nothing more than to confront my father in law about his comments and tell him how much he hurt us and how much he has damaged the relationship (mainly with me). However, he isn’t my y de smiley and I believe that role should lay with my husband.

    Except my husband isn’t confrontational. His family are of the mind set of knuckle under when it comes to my father in law and his dick ways. It caused arguements between me and my husband for a while. I was hurt and I wanted my husband to stand up for me. But as much as we say we should deal with our own family stuff, it’s not always that easy. It’s hard to break the cast that you’ve lived in your entire life. It’s hard to realise you need to parent your parents (and even harder when it’s not your parent but just married to your parent). We had to realise that for our relationship, ignoring the comments was the best course of action.

    Don’t get me wrong, the comments still hurt any time I think of them. I still feel incredibly sad about that the whole situation and my relationship with my husband’s father has gone from really good to just hanging on. I’ve managed his input into my life. I’ve blocked him from my Facebook, any time we call his parents I keep attention half diverted with something else and if we end up in an area that I don’t see ending well, I change the subject really directly.

    Take your partner’s lead with his family. Don’t be too hard on him if he can’t stand up the way you want him to. Don’t let it come between you and your partner. Share the hurt together but don’t let it divide you. Manage the step mothers input in your life. If that means minimising your time with her (not going on holiday), blocking her on Facebook, not spending any time alone with her then do it. When you feel the hurt (and it will keep coming back) talk to your bff, rant on an internet platform, drunk buckets full of wine, whatever.

  • Laura

    I’m also on the forgive, but never forget, side. Leading up to our wedding, my now-MIL expressed a lot of concern that my husband’s family was smaller, would have fewer people at the wedding, and thus would look “ridiculous” next to my much larger family. We told her that, in fact, many people from my extended family couldn’t attend and that the number of people from each of our sides was equal (actually, more of my husband’s people were able to make it than mine). We had this conversation repeatedly during the months leading up to the wedding and figured once the RSVPs were in that she actually believed us and had moved on.

    While walking down the aisle, I recall being confused about why my family wasn’t on one side and his on the other. Seeing “my” people on one side of the aisle and “his” people on the other, all there to support us, was actually one of the things I was looking forward to most. We later found out that my MIL had approached my sister-in-law, who was ushering, on the morning of the wedding to tell her to seat people from both families on both sides of the aisle.

    Is this a huge deal in the scheme of things? Yes and no. Not having “sides” didn’t ruin the joy of the day, but irritation did eat at me after our wedding. Because it showed that my MIL was willing to go behind our backs to do something she knew expressly contradicted our wishes, all to alleviate her own worry/shame/whatever. Despite having had clear, logical conversations about it.

    Do you think that behavior ended on our wedding day? Absolutely not. She has continued to be manipulative and sneaky in her approach to getting her way for the five years we’ve been married. I’m sure it will continue for many more. Having clear, direct conversations about her worries/other feelings does nothing to change her manipulativeness. Setting clear boundaries and rigorously enforcing them does.

    If someone shows you who they truly are, believe them.

    • Leah

      Ok so it’s not the biggest deal but holy crap that is so infuriating that she did that. You shouldn’t have to be distracted and confused while you’re walking down the bloody aisle because you’re trying to find the faces of “your” people and they aren’t where you’d expect them to be. That’s such a warning sign for shitty future behaviour from her.

      • Laura

        I think what makes it even harder is that it’s the type of thing that we couldn’t even bring up afterward without looking like totally crazy people (I mean, who gets in an argument about sides of the aisle after the wedding without being called the dreaded ‘bridezilla’ word). The larger point about the underhandedness of her actions would have been lost. Ah, well. I think the hardest thing is that my husband had a really great relationship with his mom growing up, but she is completely unable to be the supportive parent of an adult child.

  • Totch

    It’s probably too late to get a lot of feedback, but I can’t tell you how much I needed this letter today.

    My future sister in law started in the wedding planning process offering to help however she could, even asking if she could throw me a bridal shower. Since then, she’s slowly backed down on every commitment she made. Last night she messaged asking permission not to give a toast at the wedding because she ‘just wants to enjoy the night.’

    It’s not a stage fright thing, she’s emceed 2 different (larger) weddings. And all of the other things she agreed to do are either significantly reduced or reassigned to my family, so the toast isn’t one of a million other responsibilities.

    It’s totally not as big as the personal attacks LW endured, but I’m really having trouble with it. She didn’t tell us no toast, she asked if it was OK and then kept pushing for absolution by saying things like “you get it, right?” No, honestly, I don’t get it. He’s your only brother and you can’t take a minute to say a few nice words for us?

    We’re having trouble figuring out how to move forward. The wedding is still a month and a half away and we see her at least once a week, and I just don’t know how to act around her. I agree with Liz about letting it go, but I’ve got no poker face so I think I’m gonna be skipping some family dinners.

    • S

      That’s frustrating, I’m sorry! Could it be that the act of writing the toast feels stressful and chore-like to her and that’s the problem, versus the actual public speaking? Lots of people get overwhelmed to the point of just not wanting to do it when they have to write things like vows, toasts, and eulogies. This does sound like it’s part of a larger problem though. Maybe it’s just be her desire to be involved and have some control/attention and being super unrealistic about what she can actually manage/what she really wants when push comes to shove, and then when it becomes reality, running scared. If that’s her personality, please don’t take it personally – just try to shrug it off. No harm done, right? You’ll still have a beautiful wedding, even more beautiful because nobody is doing anything they don’t want to do. Chances are there’s no reason to worry about how to act around her – she just doesn’t want to be involved because she wants to drink, or not worry about where she has to be at any point in time, or whatever. Her prerogative, she hasn’t done anything mean or wrong, just annoying, and she’s given you plenty of notice. Her not wanting to be involved doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you guys. But if you think it’s not just her being flighty and might have something to do with how she feels about you or her brother, or you as a couple – maybe have your partner check in with her? I know I’d like to be reassured there wasn’t any bad blood there I didn’t know about.

      • Totch

        She says that the problem with the toast and other responsibilities is that she just wants to be a guest and hang out with her out of town family at the wedding, and she doesn’t want to have to ‘keep it together’ (stay sober) for the toast.

        I’m a little too frustrated right now to accept the “you’ll have a beautiful wedding anyway” concept, because if we have a beautiful wedding it’ll be because I, my fiance, and my siblings did a disproportionate amount of work to make it beautiful. The jobs she has rejected don’t just disappear.

        And honestly, I do have to worry about how to act around her. I’d been taking other things in stride, but her and her brother are close in that “us against the world” kind of way. They’re partners. And I can’t handle the idea that she’s prioritizing herself over toasting her brother on his wedding night.

        • S

          I mean, it’s shitty, sure, and you’re perfectly entitled to feel annoyed about it! How does he feel about it? If they’re close in that kind of way, maybe he just doesn’t need a toast to know how she feels and she’s more interested in showing that love in other ways. (If he’s not hurt by this, definitely don’t take on the position of the hurt party – it’s his and his alone to occupy!) At the end of the day it isn’t her wedding so she doesn’t have any obligation to help you make it a beautiful one if she doesn’t want to, you know? It’s incredibly frustrating that she agreed to jobs that now you have to figure out how to get done without her, and I would be right there with you being cross about that – as long as you keep in mind that people aren’t bad people or unloving siblings for just not wanting to do things for your wedding. Why should she (or your siblings, or anyone else) be responsible for any part of your beautiful wedding? The truth is showing up and helping out is a gift, and you don’t get to dictate what gifts people give you. Maybe try and reframe the toast in that way for yourself. She’s not giving her love in the way you want her to, but that doesn’t mean she’s not giving her love at all. (I don’t want to minimise how frustrating it must be to have someone bail on tasks they’ve clearly agreed to do and in fact SUGGESTED they do in the first place. That really sucks.)

          • Totch

            He’s upset too, I just prefer focusing on my stuff on APW instead of giving details about him.

            As for the sibling help thing, I’d say that falls under know your people. I’ve offered the same amount of help at all my siblings weddings that we’re asking for (and we’re only asking siblings who offered to help, like her). Weddings are primarily family events for us so this kind of help would be seen as totally natural/commonplace in my community.

            You’re right that it’s also a gift, but the question “Why should she (or your siblings, or anyone else) be responsible for any part of your beautiful wedding?” seems like it probably has many answers depending on region.

          • S

            I absolutely agree with you that weddings are a community affair, definitely more so depending on where you live and who your people are. But it’s still people choosing to help rather than having to, even if you come from a “but of COURSE we’ll do XYZ, as if we wouldn’t!” type family. I just think from the sounds of it, it’s clear that’s not how your future sister-in-law is, and maybe the best thing to do is just accept that her way is as fine as your way. Sure, “helpful and considerate” always trumps the opposite, but she’s not doing anything wrong here. If you’re from a family who is of the band together and get things done persuasion I can see how it would be incredibly hurtful that she’s not like that. I just think it’s always easier to try and manage yourself than other people, so right or wrong I just personally think the easiest thing to do here is just remind yourself that she’s not like your siblings, doesn’t have to be like your siblings, doesn’t have to show her love in the way you think love should be shown, etc – especially if you’re feeling like you don’t know how to act around her now! Just act like she’s a sibling who annoyed you and stuffed you around, which all siblings do heaps of the time, but who you ultimately love, because that’s what she is. And if I were her brother and was that close to her, I’d definitely be (sort of jokingly but also not) just telling her off. “Yo, do you have any idea how inconsiderate it is to offer to do all these things and then bail? It’s pretty shitty, okay? So no, we don’t “get it”. Learn to stick to your word. I love you, just don’t muck as around again!” Siblings can yell at each other like that and it’s forgotten the next day.

          • Totch

            Yep, I don’t think we’re saying anything different. I made clear from the get go that I agree with Liz’s advice not to make it an issue with the in-law and just move forward.

            On here, though, I’m going to go ahead and be upset and try to figure out how to emotionally make it through my next family dinner.

    • Eenie

      You (or your partner) could talk to her about it. That’s not out of the question – in fact since she keeps asking if you get it, it seems disingenuous to pretend you do? I could see a lot of reasons to not want to give a toast at a wedding even if I regularly did public speaking: worried certain family members would judge it as not good enough , not actually being excited about the marriage and worrying about what to say, rocky history with a sibling, the reasons are endless!

      • Totch

        Answered below, but in her case we don’t think it’s deeper than just wanting to be able to drink and cut loose with out of town family. Having lived in the same city as fiance’s family for 5 years now, they’re wonderful if they’re interested in the task at hand and *puff of smoke… gone* if not.

        I don’t get how she could make this call, but I get that she’s a person who would (and I don’t want a toast from someone not excited to give one). In my case, Liz is totally right that it’s better just to leave it be.

        • Eenie

          Aw then boo on her!

        • Amy March

          Drinking and cutting loose with extended family seems like a pretty solid wedding game plan. And good on her for not being wasted giving a toast. Could she give a toast at the rehearsal dinner instead?

          • Totch

            I think we’re at the stage where it’s better to disengage and not expect more around the wedding, rather than try to bargain and risk being disappointed again (or push her too hard). That’s why Liz’s advice today felt so spot-on.

          • Amy March

            Full support on that plan.

        • AP

          Solidarity on the in-laws being “wonderful if they’re interested in the task at hand and *puff of smoke… gone* if not.” That’s my husband’s family, and unfortunately, like you, my inlaws were not too interested in our wedding either. They were physically present on the day of, but that’s about it. It hurts and sucks so much, and I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that.

    • Sarah

      I get this. My own brother has decided he is leaving 1 hour into our reception because he doesn’t want to stay in a hotel for the night -it’s not the cost of it, he just doesn’t care enough. This is after he had promised to help tons with all wedding things to help save costs- but then hasn’t done anything.

      Honestly, my advice is think about your fiance. It’s his own sister- vs. a sister-in-law letting him down. I wish I could talk more to my fiance about how hurt I am about my brother, but he keeps bringing up his own hurt and anger, and I keep comforting him and at the same time feel like I have to defend my brother.

      It sucks on both sides.

      • Totch

        Thanks for the perspective, and sorry about your brother being a butt!

        Yeah, fiance’s upset about it. As a first step we’ve asked my brother not to give a toast anymore (it was going to be the two of them). It’d just be a hurtful reminder to have someone from my side celebrating us in that way but no one from his.

        I try not to speak for my fiance in my APW comments, so I tend to focus on my own feelings. But within our relationship, I’m definitely aware that this is more about him than me. It’s possible your fiance feels like he’s empathizing with you by talking about being upset with your brother, and doesn’t realize that he’s talking over you/making it about him? It might be good to approach it with him from that perspective, it’s definitely something I’ve had to work on.

      • Lisa

        I’m sorry about your brother being ridiculous. I was at my best friend’s wedding over New Year’s, and the groom’s brother called during the rehearsal dinner to say he hadn’t been able to get off work and wouldn’t be coming after all. (He does not work a job that requires crazy hours or coverage. It’s most likely that he didn’t think to request off for the wedding and made an excuse instead of owning his mistake and asking his boss.) My friend was really upset for her husband, but it wasn’t worth it to them to argue with it. It was easier to disengage at that point and let it inform the relationship they have with the brother going forward.

  • Sarah

    So I’m the one with the crazy parents- specifically my mother- and fiance is the one who just can’t leave it alone. Fiance suffers from “small family syndrome”- having grown up as an only child, one of his parents already passing away, and not really knowing much of his extended family. My family looks so Norman Rockwell from the outside, but are pretty dysfunctional from the inside. My fiance has grand dreams of getting a big beach house, and I know what kind of terrible drama would ensue. I limit my time and contact as much as I can.

    My fiance and I were going to have a small wedding because that is all we felt comfortable spending. When my mom learned that we weren’t planning on inviting my entire extended family, she threw a temper tantrum- told me my wedding dress was ugly, that I was a spoiled princess, and finally that she wasn’t coming to my wedding. My reaction was “Ok, that’s your decision.” But my fiance decided we should go ahead and double our budget and throw the big wedding to save the family relationship. My mom now acts like she never demanded we have a big wedding- gaslighting.

    The advice is spot on. If my mother had sent my fiance an email like this, I wouldn’t address it with her. I would have told my fiance to delete it. Don’t poke the bear- leave it alone. This is how it’s been for 32 years- it’s not going to change. Addressing it with my mom will not change it- it will only make it worse. That doesn’t mean I expect my fiance to deal with the situation. It’s mine to manage- and the best way to manage it is to limit our time with my family.

  • Cay

    I believe that at the end of the day you have to think about what the goal of any retaliation/interaction will be, and if you’re willing to live with the consequences wherever the chips may fall.

    Like it was mentioned numerous times before, it sounds like a lot of money exchanged hands without her directly knowing, “A budget was drawn up, agreed on, and divided up three ways between my parents, his mom and stepdad, and his dad and stepmom. All of this happened more than a year ago, and everyone seemed happy with the arrangement. A few weeks ago, I get an incredibly hurtful email seemingly out of the blue from my fiancé’s stepmom. She apparently has “just found out” about the financial contributions being made from the parents, and she hit us with a lot of guilt and accusations.”

    So it’s safe to assume that you thought that she knew (because I don’t think we’d assume that one half of a couple would spend thousands of dollars without the other’s knowledge/approval) but in reality she didn’t. She probably assumed that you went behind her back intentionally.

    In other words, there seems to be a lot of assuming that went on before the emotional email/outburst. She definitely went about everything the wrong way, because an accusatory tone doesn’t get anybody anywhere, and she definitely misdirected her anger (obviously she should be more frustrated with her husband than with you all). Upon realizing her mistake, (or maybe being chastised by the other relatives that you say were furious with her response) she wants to “clean it up” with a vacation to look peaceable to everyone else. Or she actually wants to fix it and (mistakenly) thinks this is the best way.

    I’ve never been afraid of confrontation, so I would probably do the above steps just to try to settle things amicably before any real resentment or anymore damage can be done. I think confrontation gets a bad rep because most people believe it to mean arguing, aggression, kicking and screaming, but honestly I take it to mean just going up to the person and trying to talk things out. If you and your fiance don’t value or care to improve the relationship with his step mother, then by all means, be polite and arms distance. But if you want to try to possibly salvage something, it may be worth you, your fiance, your FFIL and SMIL sitting down and discussing what happened and figuring out where the miscommunication was. If she’s a truly unreasonable person, then at least you did the best that you could and you can feel better knowing you put in the effort, and the chips shall fall where they may, but no one can say you all didn’t try.

    I know that some people aren’t confrontational by nature and you can’t necesarily change a whole family’s way of doing things, but the way that you and your fiance handle this will set the tone for how your future in-laws will interact with you. Just because they’re used to doing things their way doesn’t mean you have to accept them disrespecting you and just moving on like it didn’t happen.

  • Aubry

    I had a similar but different issue with my wedding, where the owner of the house we were getting married at (Basically a MIL situation with close connection but not my actual MIL) forgot she agreed to have the reception at their house (she was remembering just the ceremony) and freaked. I almost had to re-do literally half my wedding 2.5 months out. That, combined with a few other things that happened greatly damaged my relationship with that family. I have basically just not said anything and avoided going over there as much because I don’t want to make waves or affect my husband’s relationship with them. So, LW, know that I freaking feel you. Just solidarity really. I simmered for a while and then tried to get over it. It’s improving for sure, and I’ve accepted a bit how people just are who they are.

    For the record you are totally in the right accepting money from family (I did! Lots of people do!) and you are not immoral or whatever else you are feeling you are. You are doing what is right for your exact situation and if she “forgot” she agreed to something that is her problem. Sorry you have to deal with this.

    • Totch

      Sorry that happened! Glad you were able to make adjustments, and I’m glad it seems like you’re finding some kind of way forward with the not-in-laws.

      And seconding for the LW, there is nothing wrong with accepting money. Especially when you were as careful to budget it out and talk through it as you were.

  • Lmba

    Agree with Liz on this one. Do not engage. Freeze her out a bit, return the money, decline the vacation, state that you appreciate stepmom’s perspective and that you will be managing the financial arrangements between yourselves, your parents, and fiance’s mother going forward. Stepmom forced that line, so stick to it. And then move on and pretend in every other way that it didn’t happen.

    Of course, between yourself and fiance, take this dynamic into consideration before entering into joint plans with dad and stepmom in the future.

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  • Abby

    I’m so sorry because I can just imagine how excited you FINALLY were about the large family oriented wedding you are having. It takes a lot of mental work for someone who is self-sufficient to take money to finance something and I’m sure you spent a lot of time feeling guilty, indebted, etc before you got to be excited . (And now your Step MIL has stolen some of the excitement BOO) You’re not selfish and you deserve a beautiful day. Sending positive wedding energy.

  • Quinn Luestner

    This sounds so manipulative. And disrespectful. And like it’s not going to go away or get better when the wedding rolls around. And then there’s kids. People like that, who randomly just want to throw a wrench in the works over your wedding, will also find something to complain about when you have kids.

    Having your fiancé say something and also returning their money sound like great ideas. At least you found out they didn’t really want to contribute before the wedding beforehand. If you stay the course and try not to offend anyone, his stepmother will just talk about what a rotten, spoiled couple you are behind your backs, before, during and after the wedding. It will be sad to look at pictures after that and feel like someone felt taken advantage of financially, or that you were emotionally taken advantage of. It’s bullying, it’s unacceptable, be as civil as possible, but don’t let it go.

    And if she’s not interested in paying, her family shouldn’t be invited unless you feel very close to them. That solves the problem of your “destination wedding” and also cuts down costs a bit, if you should decide to go with a smaller budget.

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