If you think that the color of the napkins or the kinds of flowers you choose are the most important decisions in planning a wedding, let’s talk. The decisions you make about whom to include in the ceremony are. These are the choices with the most enduring consequences. If you’re a Bridezilla and Groomzilla and assume that you’re queen or king for the day, you may get your way on your wedding, but pay for it in the months and years to come. Those willing to think beyond the big day will earn a much better start to building their new family.
Weddings bring out the best and worst in everyone in the family. You’ve heard this common place many times, but have you thought about how exactly?
Every person close to the couple, experiences the wedding as a test of their importance. The bride and groom may not think so. They may think they’re engaging in a beautiful celebration of their love – between two people. But out in the wings the siblings, cousins, new in-laws scrutinize the smallest decision according to how it affects them. Every slight or kind act is remembered longer and in greater detail than a mere daily occurrence. The sibs are not immune. Sibs may watch the wedding planning with a careful, comparative eye. They may want to be sure that this couple is treated just as they were. Siblings may feel like they are losing a best friend, or are being pushed to a new place in the family pecking order. The sibling’s own hope and dreams, fulfilled and unfulfilled, come to the fore at this ceremony. They may be very sensitive to any inconsideration from the fiancé and feel no reluctance about creating a scene.
Every bride and groom must consider the emotional cost of including or not including a sibling in their wedding or the events leading up to the big event. Giving family members a place of honor in the wedding ceremony is one way of acknowledging that they, too, are entering a new family unit. After all, weddings mark the beginnings of new relationships for more than just the bride and groom. The whole family constellation is changed.
In writing my book Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-laws into Family, I heard the story of sibling hurts many times. Let’s examine a typical scenario. The names are fictitious but a version of the story was oft repeated.
Doris thought bridesmaids were silly, so asked only her sister to be the maid of honor at her marriage to Milton. Milton, like so many grooms, left the details of the wedding to the bride. He neglected to mention that his unmarried, older sister Renate was upset. Renate never voiced to Doris how important being a bridesmaid was to her. At the wedding, Renate blamed Doris for all that seemed wrong. She did not like her table. She commented that the service was too slow and that her food was cold. For Renate, Doris could do nothing right after overlooking her as a bridesmaid. Five years later, Doris had two children under two and broke her leg. Renate had just been laid off and could have helped out but she still held on to her anger and hurt from the wedding and refused to do so.
Perhaps Renate is making a mountain out of a mole hill. But weddings are symbolic and symbols have meaning. To Renate, not being included in the wedding procession, felt as if she was being pushed out of her brother’s life. This early slight, no matter how unintentional, led to long-term ill will. When Renate was not included in her brother’s wedding precession she felt she was no longer important to him. Doris focused only on her own desires, which would be a problem in any group. Her fiancé, Milton, neglected to clue her in on the family sensitivities. Milton abdicated his responsibility as an interpreter of his sister’s history. Both missed the opportunity to connect with the sister to learn about her thoughts and her feelings. Since every family has its own culture, both bride and groom must act as interpreters for newcomers. It is easy for brides and grooms to ask others to celebrate them. It is harder for them to realize that with celebration comes the obligation to consider the feelings of others. Weddings are an opportunity to create shared experiences for all members of the extended family. Good memories are the foundation on which to build the support system you will need to weather life’s twists and turns.
None of us can accommodate all the pushes and pulls of our various family members, but we can express to them our caring, our reasoning for making our decisions and try to accommodate their needs, but only if we understand that the wedding is more than just a party celebrating the bride and groom. Weddings are group activities, not individual or couple ceremonies. If you want the wedding to be all about you go off on your own, but then don’t be surprised if your family is hurt. The wedding is not only a chance to put your aesthetic and theatrical stamp on your union, but also chance to show taste and sensitivity to others.
Remember, when you put the top of the wedding cake in the freezer, you don’t freeze all the nasty feelings you may have created in designing your perfect day. A picture perfect wedding includes all family members not just the couple.