How do we keep my divorced parents from spoiling our wedding? I'm engaged, but as the wedding approaches my husband-to-be and I are beginning to fear that our big day may become an occasion for major family strife. My parents haven't been on speaking terms for years. It's a terribly awkward situation, and it's filling my head with visions of embarrassment, disaster and ugly "scenes." What do you think I should do?
You and fiancé are facing a challenging situation. One that not only effects the events of your wedding day, but has big implications for your marriage and how you're going to approach similar challenges in the future.
Here at Focus on the Family we're strong believers in pre-marital and even pre-engagement counseling. We're convinced that young couples are in a much better position to talk over personal conflicts, family issues, and other potential threats to their relationship while they're still relatively uncommitted. In other words, we think they need to tackle these problems prior to exchanging rings and making vows. Once you've taken the plunge, you'll be more inclined to avoid uncomfortable problems. Now is the time to deal with them decisively. The issues you're facing with your parents won't go away if you choose to ignore them or leave them unaddressed.
So here's our first piece of advice. Find a good marriage-and-family therapist and set up a series of counseling sessions. Our Counseling department would be happy to discuss the options with you and provide a list of qualified counselors in your area.
The counseling process should include a personality test such as the PREPARE/ENRICH Premarital Inventory. We also recommend that you pick up a copy Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott's excellent book on premarital issues, Saving Your Marriage Before It Start. This volume is available via Focus on the Family's Online Store.
The purpose of all this is to help you define and establish your identity as a couple. It's part of the process of "leaving and cleaving" described in Genesis 2:24 and Mark 10:6-8. Once you know who you are and where you stand in relation to those around you, you'll be in a better position to set appropriate boundaries with your parents and other people who happen to be struggling with unresolved issues of their own. The last thing you want is to let their problems jeopardize your relationship as husband and wife.
A good way to protect that bond is to write a letter to your parents. Your pre-marital counselor can help you do this. The goal is to set forth your thoughts and feelings in a rational, orderly fashion. You don't necessarily want to send the letter. As a matter of fact, it would be better, if possible, to take it to them in person and read it aloud. That will make the process of communication more immediate and direct.
What should you tell them? Basically, your aim is to call everyone to account. Lay the facts on the table. Bring all the unspoken tensions out into the light. Honesty is essential to good relationships, and it's to your advantage to cultivate healthy connections with everyone within your family circle. Be open about your fears and frustrations. At the same time, make it clear that your wedding day can be a positive experience for everyone involved if all are willing to cooperate and keep the focus on the significance of the occasion. Tell your parents, "We want to maintain healthy ties with both of you, and you can help us do this by opening up the lines of communication." Take pro-active control of the situation. Tell each parent precisely how you'd like him or her to participate in the wedding ceremony (for example, by walking the bride down the aisle, saying a prayer, or reading a scripture). Don't leave this open-ended, or you may open the door to further conflict.
If one or both of your parents are resistant to this approach, get the whole family to sit down and talk things out. Enlist the help of a pastor or professional counselor if it seems appropriate. If Mom and Dad still won't cooperate, you may need to invite them not to participate in the wedding. But you'll have to do it as politely and respectfully as possible. This can be especially difficult if they're footing the bill for the ceremony. If you decide to take this step, you may need to think about making some drastic changes in your plans. Harsh as that sounds, it may be best in the long run if it helps you preserve your integrity as a couple. As mentioned above, Focus's Counseling staff would be happy to discuss all of the implications with you if you care to give us a call.