Dear Rabbi and Shira,
Hi! I was wondering if you could help me with this issue. I am engaged to a wonderful girl I met over a year ago. Everything was going very smoothly until the engagement. Our parents have very different views on how to make a Covid wedding. My who are influential people in the community want an upscale wedding with over 200 guests. I am their only son and they have waited a long time to see me walk down the aisle. Her parents want a backyard wedding with no more than 50 guests. They do not want to do anything illegal and will never be able to live with themselves if someone gets sick by going to our wedding. We are now caught in between. Many unpleasant words have been exchanged by both sides and at this point the wedding might be postponed. We both think our families are correct and are having a hard time seeing each other’s perspectives. I really care for my Kallah very much and I would hate if this destroyed our relationship.
What should I do?
Conflicted on Coney
We’re sorry to hear that you are under such stress. In general, engagements are a very intense period of time for both families, particularly the bride and groom.
Before we talk about your specific situation, let’s talk about families. Each family is a system. Families have their own dynamics, a history, and a shared culture. Every family makes different rules. They govern either covertly or overtly how decisions are made and how the family functions on day to day basis.
When two families are making a wedding together there will be different priorities, understandings, arguing styles, coping styles and assumptions which clash as they try to make the decisions which guide how the wedding will operate. The current Covid conundrum adds another layer to these discussions as the issues surrounding health, responsibility and trust in authority all come to the forefront as well.
Your families of origin and their systems have a tendency to draw the both of you back in, like a rubber band. Since they are so foundational to your identity and you love them, it’s very comfortable to fall back in, and feel an “us versus them mentality.” It is natural for you to take your parent’s sides.
We strongly believe that to keep your relationship strong, you both should stay out of the wedding politics as much as possible. Each side should sit down with their parents when things aren’t heated and explain the strain that this is causing on your relationship and that you both care for each other very much and want this relationship to last. It is possible that both sets of parents do not realize the pain it is causing each of you. Explain that it is best for your relationship not to be involved in the wedding plans and if it’s brought up, you’ll have to excuse yourself.
We also would like to mention that it is so important to show your future in laws respect and not to go head to head in an argument with them. This will only lead to more conflict and from what we have seen, likely a broken engagement.
We understand that although we are strongly advising you to stay out of these discussions, it might not always be possible. Maintaining a strong relationship with your kallah must be top priority. Based on observing many couples for years, Dr. Jon Gottman, a noted psychologist explained that successful couples will have five positive interactions for every one negative interaction during a disagreement. This means that even during a disagreement, the positive feelings created should overwhelm the negative ones.
One way to do this is empathy- showing your significant other that you respect her, even if you have a different understanding of the situation. For example, “It makes sense that you feel…” Accepting her perspective and finding opportunities to agree can help reduce the polarizing “us against them” feelings. Show interest in what she has to say. Make sure to express affection, tell her you care about her, and how she matters to you. Even small gestures can help relay that message.
While negative feelings are inevitable, try to minimize turning them into negative responses, such as a disagreement by being dismissive, critical or defensive, whether in speech or body language. Instead of responding in a hurtful way because you are upset, explain that you need some time to cool off, or speak with you kallah about how emotionally hard it is to argue with her.
We wish you hatzlacha in these difficult times. It is important to remember that when you get married you will be creating a new household of your own with shared values. Your goal is not the wedding; it’s to build a marriage and B’ezras Hashem a future family together.
We know with the proper mindset, the two of you will weather this storm, and gain skills to have a caring marriage that will carry you into the future.
Rabbi Reuven and Shira Boshnack