Beloved & beleaguered
We interviewed SN&R’s “Ask Joey” columnist about the serious relationship dilemmas that can surface during wedding planning
Planning a wedding can be one of the most fun and exciting times in a person’s life. It can also be one of the most stressful, especially when disputes with loved ones erupt at every turn. Weddings seem to intensify the emotions—and emotional baggage—that people possess, often straining the relationships that matter most as the wedding draws near.
So how can brides and grooms cope with wedding-related conflicts that threaten their relationships? We turned to Joey Garcia, who for 10 years has advised SN&R readers about relationships, spirituality and inner strength in her column “Ask Joey,” with some of the relationship quandaries that brides and grooms have told us about. A spiritual adviser and high school theology teacher, Joey is revered for her succinct, matter-of-fact advice, and we could think of no better person to offer words of wisdom about the sticky situations that can arise when people are planning what is supposed to be the most important day of their lives.
Q: My parents divorced acrimoniously when I was young and I didn’t see my father for many years. Recently, we mended fences and he is becoming part of my life again. He wants to come to the wedding and I want him to be there. My mother says she will not come to the wedding if I invite him. What can I do?
A: She can consider herself warned. You can’t control people’s feelings. She can let her mother know that her presence is important, but so is her father’s. And if her mother changes her mind, even minutes before the wedding, she is welcome there. She can’t let herself become a pawn in her mother’s power play. It’s not disloyal to want the presence of both people who brought you into the world. Her mother is giving her a loyalty test, and she can’t play into it. Her mom has the right to pull herself out of the event, and it’s possible she will. But the bride is an adult and she needs to act like an adult—which means not buckling under and being obedient to her mother in a situation where obedience is not the appropriate response.
Q. My fiancé and I DO NOT want children at our wedding or reception. One of my bridesmaids, who is also one of my closest friends, laughs this off and says she is going to bring her infant son anyway. How can I tell her that the no-kids rule applies to her, too, without ruining our friendship—or the wedding?
A. First, make certain that your friend was serious—it’s possible that she was poking fun. If she was serious, reiterate your preference. Then decide what is more important—sticking to the rule and losing a friend, or letting your friend show up with her son and risking the wrath of other guests who hired a sitter.
Unless you intend to hire a bouncer for the wedding, you can’t do anything if she shows up with her son. I would suggest asking a teenage cousin to baby-sit, just in case.
Q. My fiancé is from a very strict Catholic family. I am not religious and am pretty much an atheist, though his family does not know this. It is very important to him, and his family, that we marry in the Catholic church, yet I would prefer to have a secular wedding. How can I stay true to my own beliefs without alienating his family or depriving him of the wedding he says he wants?
A. You can’t marry in a Catholic church unless you’ve completed a special course called Pre-Cana. In the pre-interview for the course, you are asked if you are going to raise your children Catholic. If maintaining an atheistic belief system is important to her, then I don’t see how they could get married in a Catholic church. But since she is going to encounter religion at family gatherings, I think she should rethink this marriage before moving ahead. It’s not like she is agnostic. If she is an atheist, it is always going to be a pebble in the shoe.
Q. I’ve asked my best friend to be my maid of honor, and she’s become very bossy. She thinks she knows what is best for me, and she wants to plan everything down to the last detail. How can I tell her that this is MY day, not hers, but I still want her by my side (on my terms, of course).
A. My advice is to give the bossy friend some part of the wedding to plan, a piece that the bride can let go of. Brides are so over-involved in executing every aspect of the wedding that they don’t get to enjoy the experience. Give it over. Both of them don’t have to be so controlling. If I have a friend who wants to help me plan the party, isn’t that a good thing? This is not just her big day; it is also for the community. If it weren’t, then the community wouldn’t be a part of it. She needs to open her mind and heart to the fact that her friend is trying to make this a beautiful experience for her.
Q. My parents are divorced and both are remarried. I’m closer to my stepmother than my natural mother, with whom I’ve always had a strained relationship. My stepmother is helping me with most of the wedding planning, and my mother is hurt. How can I make my mother feel better without forcing myself into a relationship with her that I neither want nor genuinely feel?
A. It’s interesting how we are always trying to protect people from our honesty. She can’t make her mother feel better—she doesn’t have that power. It’s a choice her mother enters into or doesn’t. The bride is not doing anything wrong by being involved with her stepmother. Her mother’s hurt may have mixed in with it some fear that she was not a good enough mother or self-loathing—issues that have nothing to do with the relationship between the stepmother and the bride. Past resentments, concerns and fears are definitely imbedded in the mother’s feeling of feeling hurt. So, the bride has to tell her mom how pleased she is that she is going to be attending and how much she enjoys sharing the wedding planning process verbally with her, but she doesn’t have to take any action different from what she is already doing. She has to let her mother have the feelings. If her mother is actually allowed to feel the hurt and process it, perhaps she will grow and become someone with whom the bride can have a less strained relationship.
Q. I’m getting married in a few months, but recently I met a woman at work whom I am very attracted to, both physically and emotionally. Should I call the wedding off? Something must be wrong, right?
A. It’s very natural to be attracted to people. There are attractive people in the world, and people with whom we might feel like we have a connection. But if we are in a committed relationship of any kind and want to maintain our integrity, we don’t act on those attractions. No, the wedding should not be called off. But the fact that the person is asking this question means there is more going on. He may be fearing the longevity of the marriage, or his own capacity to be a partner. I think it would be helpful to go to therapy and process that before the wedding takes place.