I've been a clinical psychologist and an advice-giver for a very long time. People often say that I give good advice because I'm a psychologist. I think I became a psychologist because I was helping people so often in my personal life that I decided it would be good to do it professionally. Either way, I hope you will find this column to be useful, funny, comforting or just interesting to read. Send any questions you would like me to answer in this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My soon to be mother-in-law wants to have more input into my wedding plans than I want her to have. This has caused some arguments with my fiancé and me. I think he should ask her to back off. He thinks I should accommodate her wishes. What should I do?
Wedding planning can be a stressful event and the last thing you want is one of the best days of your life turning into one of the worst because of simmering tensions or outright conflict. In most disagreements between people who care about each other, there is a middle line to find that gives everyone a little bit of want they want or need. It is your special day, of course, and you want it to be perfect. You may have had fantasies and dreams about it for a long time. But when we are young girls or boys thinking about our dream wedding day, there is almost never a mother-in-law-to-be in that fantasy!
But, the reality is that there is one in yours (and for others, it could be a mother, father, sister or other relative or friend who wants to control things). The first thing to do is to join forces with your fiancé. The two of you need to make sure you are partners in the decisions that are being made. This is great practice for the difficult decisions you'll need to make together throughout your marriage. Sit down with him or her and explain that you are feeling stressed about the situation and you want the two of you to work out the solution together. Let him know that his feelings are important to you and that you need his support. In most difficult moments, finding the place of connection is the first step in finding the solution.
The second step is working out a plan that the two of you agree on for including his mother in the decision-making. People become controlling for a variety of reasons: They may feel left out; they may be anxious that things will not turn out well; they may be perfectionists; they may have been responsible for planning things in their own relationships; they may just like running the show. Typically, assigning tasks to people who want to control things gives them a sense of involvement and accomplishment. They feel included, they get to exert a little leadership, they have something to focus on. You and your fiancé should identify a project or two that your mother-in-law can work on and approach her together about taking on the responsibilities. For example, you might ask her to look for a poem or a reading on a certain subject. You could ask her to talk with some florists in the area to get pricing and ideas for floral arrangements. You could ask her to check out several hotels to see what deals can be had to accommodate out of town guests. Only you know what your tasks are and what you could ask her to do.
For this to work, you have to really let her have the responsibility, without hovering. If you design the task correctly, she'll be doing the legwork, but the final decision will be yours and your fiancé's. Take her advice seriously and use it if you can, because she'll know if you sent her off on a wild goose chase just to keep her busy, without any intention of using the information she discovered. You're laying important groundwork here - in working cooperatively with your fiancé on difficult issues, including dealing with your respective parents; in respecting your mother-in-law and giving her a way to be part of your life; and, in finding ways to compromise when the greater good requires it. There will be many other points in your life when well-intentioned family members step over their boundaries, and every experience of dealing well with it makes it that much easier the next time.