Q:  I am engaged to be married to wonderful man this summer. We feel we are planning this wedding as much for family as for us, since we are the first to get married in our generation, and Fiancé and I are not really party-oriented people to begin with. All sides of the family are stoked and super excited. My mom offered to host in her beautiful backyard. After making sure she knew what to expect, we agreed to use the backyard and felt it really complemented our wedding vision.

During the last eight months, my mom added many hoops and conditions to her use of the backyard, which we jumped in good faith since it is her place of residence and definitely an imposition. She wanted security, I hired bouncers; she was worried about day-of, we added another day-of coordinator; she wanted to meet “everyone” before inviting them to her place, and we organized meet-the-families gatherings in the week preceding the wedding; she didn’t want people in the house, so we made sure to have more tents in case of rain and outside bathrooms. She wanted the “first and longest speech-toast” since she was “hosting,” which we didn’t mind.

And then, I received a pretty cavalier email a few weeks back telling me she couldn’t have the wedding in her backyard after all. Her stated reasons were that we have too big a guest list (which we actually cut down compared to what we had agreed on this summer). My main sense is that it’s something to do with her ten-year-old messy divorce with my dad (she made weird comments about my dad hosting the rehearsal dinner, his family being invited to the wedding, and him meeting fiancé’s parents before her) and/or a lack of trust on her part that Fiancé and I can pull this off.

Anyway, I am trying to put my big girl’s pants on and graciously scramble to rearrange the whole thing. However, emotions are emotions, and even if I’m trying hard not to be petty, I have had trouble integrating my mom in the reorganization of my wedding, discussing decorations and such, or even really spending much time with her. This led to her withdrawing funding she had promised for the wedding. Now, Fiancé and I we’ll make it work, but it’s quite another sting since we already lost a lot of deposits for tents/food/security, and we are planning on offering to switch the hotels for his side of the family ourselves since they are out-of-towners and are quite low on funds.

Other than a frayed relationship with my mother, which I don’t even know how to start to mend, and a wedding-vision to mourn, I am worried about Fiancé’s and his family’s reaction. He is very hurt and angry, and I’m having trouble being there for him without defending my mom (which I’m finding hard to do) or encouraging his negative feelings toward her (I hope we’ll be able to have some kind of relationship with her after this, family being family). And how, how do I explain this to people without creating a horrible inter-family feud while making sure Fiancé and I get the emotional support we feel we need? Finally, how do I tell my mom that it might not be appropriate for her to go on and make a long speech with other guests that might be glaring daggers at her?


A:  Dear Anonymous,

Whatever her reason, your mom is behaving terribly. She’s not allowed a speech. She’s hurt the people around her over and over, and whoops, it turns out this new venue has a really tight schedule and there’s no room for her super-long-first-speech, wouldn’t you know it.

Your last part, though, is all too relatable. It’s really, really tough to be irritated with your family, and to witness your partner experiencing that same irritation, but without the foundation of affection for them that you have. It’s difficult not to take it personally when our partners are upset with our families of origin, even if it’s warranted.

The only solution is, ugh, so much talking. Tell him that you understand why he’s upset (you’re upset too!), but that you ultimately really don’t want him to hate your mom. Tell him that your feelings are complex and multifaceted, and that you need to vent the negative ones without worrying that it sounds like you love her any less. Ask him to partner with you in tackling this together, with a unanimous goal of getting over it so you can have some semblance of a relationship with your mom moving forward. And ask him to support you. Of course he’s hurt, but you’re feeling all of that same hurt and anger, only more deeply and more personally. This is something that’s more directly happening to you. He needs to dump out. He’s going to witness a lot of that outward processing and will need to take for granted the unspoken truth that you still love her, and then try to help you work through that without piling on.

What you’re asking of him is tough. Trying to be supportive and objective as your partner goes through something that’s hurting them, but also hurting you? He’s not going to get it right all the time. Be patient with each other.

And then you, yourself, try to remember that he might have some objectivity here that you’re lacking. The way your mom is acting right now is so outrageous, I have to assume there’s an unhealthy dynamic going even further back. There might be more to this that you’re so used to, you’re not even aware. One of the benefits of marriage is having a second set of eyes to navigate tricky stuff (caring, loving eyes that want what’s best for you). He’ll be so much better at that if he isn’t blinded by his own (completely justified) anger, so what I said above is super important. But it’s also important that you open yourself to the idea that maybe there are some unhealthy habits in your relationship with your mom that extend beyond just pulling the rug out from under your wedding.

All that aside, I wouldn’t rely on anyone else in the family for your emotional support. Not because you need to worry about protecting your mom from fallout. She made choices; they’ll have consequences that you can’t control. But, instead because of that “dump out” method I mentioned above. Your family is impacted by your mom’s selfishness, too. Turning to them won’t help as much as, say, a really close friend who doesn’t have her own stake in things, or an objective professional (go to a therapist!).

Your husband’s relationship with your mom is almost entirely for your benefit. Ask him to help you process all this garbage she’s doing and work toward a healthy relationship with her. But, realize a healthy relationship with your mom might mean adding some distance.

—Liz Moorhead


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