Dear Sito,

I really like my future mother-in-law, but things seem to be getting a little out of hand. The other day she randomly brought up the wedding ceremony details by saying, “So-and-so would make the cutest ring bearer,” and I commented that I have already asked my aunt if my little cousin would be the ring bearer. My mother-in-law didn’t seem to like that too much and mentioned again to her son (my fiancé) that I should use so-and-so. To settle the ring bearer debate she mentioned having multiple ring bearers marching down the aisle, which I think will look very silly.

Then she began questioning the details of the wedding. She started questioning the invitations that I had chosen as well as the floral centerpieces that will be on the tables. She suggested that we change the style of invitations and she also wants to get rid of the centerpieces that I chose and use her own florist who is her friend. Then, to top it off, she just gave me her guest list – which had over 200 names – when she was already informed that she needed to limit her guest list to 100 names!

Whenever I try to talk to her, she does not seem to listen or want to hear what I am saying. My fiancé does not want to get involved in planning for the wedding and says, “Don’t worry – things will all work out at the end.” I’m so frustrated I almost want to cancel the whole thing. I don’t know what to do!

In Need of Help

Dear In Need of Help,

Your fiancé is correct.  Things will work out in the end…provided you are able to see past the details and focus on the lovely occasion your wedding will be, and – more importantly – on the home you and your fiancée will build together. Remember, the wedding lasts for just several hours, and within weeks of the event you will likely not remember what the invitations or centerpieces looked like. You will, with Gd’s help, be too busy enjoying life with your new husband.

You are describing a classic power struggle between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The trick to navigating this potentially explosive situation is to put things into perspective and recognize that her suggestions may not necessarily “ruin” the wedding.

Traditionally, the groom’s mother does not play an active role in the wedding plans. Perhaps your future mother-in-law is used to making plans and decisions, and thus has trouble accepting the passive role that is expected of her. This might explain why she is making so many suggestions. It is also possible that she has more experience making weddings and feels she can be helpful.

Either way, you want to ensure not to shut her out completely, which will make her angry and feel powerless, such that she will want to impose her opinions even more. Instead, try to include her in the preparations and accept her input wherever you can. This does mean you have to do what she says.  Rather, make her feel part of the process and show some degree of flexibility so she can satisfy her need to participate. You might, for example, want to respect her desire to have a second ring bearer. I have attended many weddings where there were multiple flower girls and ring bearers, and it was quite adorable. When she makes suggestions about the flowers and the invitations, thank her for her suggestions, think about their merit, and then make your decision. Regarding the number of guests she wants to invite, this is best left to your parents to deal with, as they are (likely) the ones footing the bill and this is something they need to decide.

Most importantly, avoid getting angry at her behavior, which will spoil the excitement for you and your husband-to-be. And if you find yourself becoming angry, ask yourself why you are feeling this way. Are you feeling threatened by her suggestions? Do you feel she is trying to control you? These are destructive thoughts that can be self-fulfilling. Instead of feeling threatened, recognize that there is a good reason why she is acting as she does, and that it will take some time for her to love you as your fiancée does, and vice versa. Approach the situation as you would if a friend offered unsolicited advice. Odds are you wouldn’t see it as a bid for control and you wouldn’t be offended. Take her suggestions for what they are, accept them when you can, and politely demur when you can’t.

I would also urge you to respect your fiancée’s wise decision not to come between the two of you. If he chooses a side, whichever it is, he will be hurting someone he loves.  Don’t expect him to criticize his mother’s behavior or ask him to speak to her on your behalf, but do expect him not to plead his mother’s case to you. Although we all have the need to be validated and supported by our spouses, it is wrong to demand that he take sides in your disagreements with his mother.

Looking ahead to the future, it is important to recognize that some things are not worth the conflict. After you are married it is very possible that your mother-in-law will come into your home and tell you how to stack your dishes and silverware. Do not react with a feeling of, “How dare she tell me what to do in my house!” We cannot control what others choose to say to us, but we can control our reactions. And the wisest reaction is to thank her for her suggestion and respectfully express that you prefer it the way it is. At times, though, open yourself up to her suggestions or request her help. Besides the fact that she has more experience and may have helpful suggestions to make, this will also answer her need to help out, which will reduce the unsolicited advice.

By being patient, respectful and reasonably flexible, you can help ensure a peaceful relationship with your new husband’s family, and many years of joy and fulfillment.

All the best,

Sito