Wedding Ideas

How to Set Boundaries With Family Members While Wedding Planning

Posted on January 11, 2024 by Natalli Amato

setting boundaries with family
Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

Anyone from a big, opinionated family knows it’s a blessing that comes with some baggage. On the one hand, having people you can confide in and share ideas with as you plan your wedding is essential. However, for every helpful opinion given, there is likely to be advice that is unwanted or crosses your boundaries.

Sometimes, seemingly simple questions are loaded with latent conflict. Whether you have family members requesting a plus-one or questioning your decision to have a non-religious ceremony, extra input can feel overwhelming. A bride’s to-do list is already long. Who needs to add manage family drama to it?

Photo: Unsplash/Marius Muresan

That’s why we enlisted the help of Terri DiMatteo, the Princeton-based founder of Open Door Therapy and a marriage counselor who specializes in relationship care.

“Weddings are your public declaration of love,” says DiMatteo. “It is a shared experience. So everyone does have something to say about it, welcomed or not.”

Two families are merging and growing, bringing lifetimes of joys, wishes and pains along with them, DiMatteo reminds us. The question then becomes, how can wedding planning become a vessel for mutual honoring and respect?

The answer lies in establishing healthy boundaries.

Here are tips to help you communicate boundaries while preserving family relationships.

1. Establish a united front with your partner

Get on the same page with your soon-to-be spouse. “You want to make sure you have each other’s back,” says DiMatteo.

You may be put on the spot about topics you haven’t had time to discuss or haven’t come to an agreement on yet.

“Even if privately [you] don’t agree or it’s a little more nuanced, the public presentation of being united is very important,” says DiMatteo.

Preserving this stance may mean not giving an immediate answer to every question that you’re asked. You are not obligated to invite your family into the fold of your planning process.

[RELATED: “I Ended a Friendship with a Bridesmaid After My Wedding. Here’s Why.“]

2. Respond with empathy—and confidence

“When someone says something about the wedding that you find offensive or you don’t want to do, it’s important to try to hear what’s behind that,” says DiMatteo. “What are they really saying?” Usually, suggestions aren’t offered out of disregard or malice but rather represent a bigger feeling or concern.

“Show empathy to the feeling they have, even if you don’t want to do it [their] way,” says DiMatteo. She offers this example response: I can understand why you would want to invite Aunt Jo. Let me give that some thought.

Responding this way will make your relative feel heard and valued. However, when you return to their request, show up with confidence. DiMatteo offers another example: We have made a decision about that, and this is the way it will be.

“It’s firmly standing by your views and being sensitive to people having their own reactions to it,” she says. However, she adds, “there may be some fall out.”

3. Strive to find common ground

Making room for appropriate compromise is important. Taking us back to the Aunt Jo example, DiMatteo shows us how to give-and-take: perhaps you are inflexible about her attending the reception, but you could invite her to the ceremony.

The pressure to compromise can get overwhelming at times. To manage competing demands, couples can create a hierarchy of whose input matters most to them based on their own values.

What’s sometimes more important than common ground? DiMatteo suggests trying to, “[maneuver] the difficulty by assuring the person that you do love them…and [that] you want to encourage room for differences without severing connections.”

4. Honor your non-negotiables

While some confuse boundary setting with aggression or conflict, “you can be unwavering and sensitive simultaneously,” says DiMatteo.

Sometimes, couples will disagree with their families on fundamental issues. Perhaps your parents value having a religious ceremony, but you and your partner want a special person in your life to get ordained and officiate the wedding. This can feel like an impossible impasse.

“Oftentimes, there’s an initial reaction, which is pretty raw,” says DiMatteo. “It can take someone time to adjust to this new way.”

When you return to the conversation, you can show your family that they are important to you, yet so are your own values. DiMatteo suggests telling your family member: I respect you, despite our differences. And ask for the same in return.