Q: My fiancé and I have been engaged for three years and we finally get to wed this upcoming November. It will be my second marriage and my partner’s first.
His older brother has been married to his elementary school sweetheart for nearly two decades. This morning, his brother told the two of us that he was leaving his wife. We knew there were issues—there have been about three years of strife after infidelity and total communication breakdowns. So, while our heart breaks, this isn’t a total surprise. And while caring for my brother-in-law and our nephews is the primary concern right now, we have some questions about how this affects our wedding in the fall.
My fiancé’s brother is my fiancé’s best man, and his (soon to be) ex-wife is one of my bridesmaids. My fiancé’s brother has already been pretty absent as a best man, and wholly consumed by his marital problems, and we are both worried that the actual end of his marriage will mean he will further check out. What’s more, we don’t know if we should still have his ex as a bridesmaid. We’d both love for that to happen, but since the narrative my brother-in-law shared with his family is that the only problem has been his wife’s infidelity (which is not the whole story), we’re not sure if this will be a “choose sides” kind of situation.
And finally, my fiancé has already felt like his family isn’t that excited for his wedding to begin with. While we’ve bypassed things like showers and engagement parties—and we’ve been engaged for-freaking-ever—he’s been put off by his family not remembering details about the wedding they’ve known long in advance, his mom not wanting to buy a new dress, etc. And so, another concern I have is that my fiancé’s parents and older sister will Mama Bear so hard on my fiancé’s brother over the next several months that there will be no more emotional energy left to be excited for our wedding and to give my partner the response he’s craving for from his family.
We’re lucky that we have a lot of friends and other family that are more excited than we could ever hope, but I am worried about the dark cloud of divorce getting in the way of some of our wedding joy. And that makes me feel SO GROSS to even say out loud—I’m a divorcée myself, and even without kids and property it was, and remains, one of the hardest experiences of my life. It’s important for my fiancé’s brother to have the space and support he needs, but I also want his family to show up for my fiancé, too.
Is there a non-bitchy way to find solutions to all these problems—probable and potential?
A: Dear Anonymous,
Bad stuff coexists with the good stuff all the time. Folks manage to plan weddings amidst illness and tragedy and all sorts of heartbreaking things. The few months leading up to your wedding aren’t going to be entirely about your wedding, but they never were. You’re right that your brother-in-law and his family will probably check out of planning completely, but that was an eventuality just because of established family dynamics. The divorce will just be an easy excuse for what was bound to happen anyway. You can’t force them out of those old habits with one big, special day.
I’d give your bridesmaid a call and suggest that maybe it’s not a great time for her to have the role. Not because you’re choosing sides, not because you love her any less or judge her for whatever is going on. But because things are probably busy and complicated and tense for her, and being at an obligatory family event is likely to be uncomfortable. Especially if she’s standing up front across an aisle from the guy she’s divorcing, and everyone knows it.
I know you’d like your partner’s family to focus on him just this once. But, divorce or no divorce, bridesmaid or no bridesmaid, family dynamics don’t tend to change that much. Lucky for him, you’re becoming his family now. Your enthusiasm and support won’t be a substitute his family’s, but it sure won’t hurt.