Set Healthy Boundaries With your Family (Whatever Family Looks Like to You)

Cait Fletcher Photography

May 28, 2020

Before we get started, I want to caveat this piece by saying I’m going to be using some of the traditional family names such as mum, dad, grandparent and sibling, but please feel free to input whatever caregiver is relevant in your world. These rules for good boundaries apply to anyone if your life including the families we make ourselves. Essentially, whatever ‘family’ looks like in your world, these rules will help you feel happy and sane before, during and after your ‘I Do’s’.

Oh families… Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em! There can be few more challenging times to manage family relationships than when you find yourself planning a wedding.

There’s not only the trickiness of the guest list and the sudden wishes of your dad to invite his important work clients see his little girl get married (this actually happened to someone I know) but there might also a bit of parental money put into the pot, and that can mean a fine balancing act of their wishes being granted and your wishes, full stop.

It’s tough getting a group of (let’s be honest, often awkward) people to wear what you would like them to, eat what you would like them to and listen to whatever music you would like them to! So, here’s some advice on how to put in healthy boundaries:

Learn to feel when a boundary has been crossed

We’re very conditioned, especially with any parental figures, to go along with things. If you’ve been told as a child not to question a parent’s authority (i.e. ‘because I say so’) then, even as an adult it can be very hard to stand up for your needs. If you’re not sure when it’s time to set a boundary, take note of when something trips your emotions into play. You might feel uneasy, angry, sad or anxious. Physical sensations might be your belly dropping, heart increasing and dry throat. Give yourself permission (and space) to feel your feelings and these sensations because they’re trying to tell you something. Important side note: Anything too much for you to deal with on your own, then please seek out professional support.

Be clear about your needs

Before having any sort of conversation with your family, work out what your needs are and write them down. Would you prefer your sibling not be in the bridal party because you’d rather just have friends? (They’ll get over it). Do you need your dad to not walk you down the aisle because you don’t believe in that tradition? (He’ll get over it) Would you prefer your mum to not see your outfit before the big day? (A biggie, but she’ll also get over it).

All of these needs, and whatever list you come up with, are worthy of respect. Boundaries are there to make us feel safe and comfortable. Without them, we feel unsafe and uncomfortable. Having the courage to communicate our needs and set a boundary is more loving than pretending something is okay when it isn’t. Not communicating how you feel can lead to resentment and even pulling away from the relationship entirely. Don’t let that happen. Regardless of whether it’s a family member or not – no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable (in any situation, not just planning a wedding, ya feel me babe?)

Be brave

That being said, THIS STUFF IS HARD! When your mum has her heart set on a swing band and two tables of ‘her girls’ coming to see you get hitched, it’s very hard to stand up for the vision of the day you want (which you want filled with your friends!) You’re not alone in finding this stuff really scary and potentially confrontational. We get scared that the person will be hurt or angry (they probably will, more on that in a mo’) and we get scared they won’t like us or worse, that the relationship will end.

Intrusiveness and judgement are both characteristics of family communication. It takes balls to put a line in the sand and say no more. Show yourself some kindness, take some deep breaths then look at your list of needs. Say it with me: MY NEEDS ARE VALID.

Use ‘I statements’

Choose a good time to have an honest conversation. Don’t do it in front of the telly and put all your phones away. Avoid booze and during the day is often less stressful than nighttime (that’s my personal experience anyway). When getting into the nitty gritty of why you need to set a boundary with someone, here’s my top tip. Use ‘I language’ and talk about how they make you feel.

Instead of saying “You are so imposing” or “You are taking over this wedding” (these are full of blame and it’s unlikely you’ll get a good response), speak about things from how they make you feel. You can still be assertive, but it’s a way of expressing yourself in a less hostile, more compassionate way. For example, “I feel upset/ uncomfortable /unhappy when you do or say this thing.” When you say it in this way, you’re not assuming anything about the other person, which could cause them to become defensive.

Here are some more examples:

“I get anxious when you plan things without telling me”
” I feel like my wishes aren’t important when you push my ideas aside.”
“I feel upset when you insist on inviting people I don’t know to the wedding.”

It can be tricky at first so practice saying what you want to say before the conversation and if in doubt, Google this way of speaking. There are lots of scripts and phrases you can find online and adapt.

Set consequences

There’s no point in putting in a boundary and asking someone to respect it, if you don’t have any consequences. So, think about what you’ll do if this boundary gets crossed and stick to it. This is how your family will know you’re serious. Make sure to set out these consequences when you put in the boundary.

Don’t take their reaction personally

Anger and upset will likely be caused when you start having these serious types of conversations, try not to take it personally and know that you haven’t done anything wrong. Assume the reason people are shaming, blaming and criticising you is because they don’t know what to do with their own feelings. Its not necessarily about you either, people are always dealing with their own stuff inside their heads.

Know your triggers and anticipate them

Have a game plan and think about the times when grandma is likely to test you. Imagine hearing the trigger and responding in a calm, compassionate way. Even if that means stepping away. You don’t have to stay in a space that’s upsetting you.

No is a complete sentence

Saying no can be difficult. By nature, we humans (often women in particular) want to be helpful and kind, but ultimately, you need to be helpful and kind to yourself before anyone else. When it comes to your big day, you and your partner deserve to have it as you want, regardless of what other people think.

If you grew up learning that saying “no” isn’t polite or safe, start reprogramming your brain to know that it’s completely fine to say, “I feel uncomfortable”, “no, this is inappropriate”, “no, I’m not having that” or “I don’t want to have this conversation”.

Here are some strategies to help you say no:

● Practice saying it in a mirror.
● Have some polite, pre-scripted text messages and emails on hand so you’re not stuck trying to find the words to say “no.”
● You can also try saying “not right now” instead of a flat out “no” (often, the request will disappear)
● Know that saying “no” does get easier with practice, I promise.

Family or no family, if you don’t want them there, you don’t have to have them there

If you have a tricky relationship with someone in your family, then don’t feel pressured to have them see you get married if you really don’t want them there. There’s a misconception that at a wedding (like having a baby), suddenly you have to make peace with all the pesky people in your life. You don’t. This also goes for people who drink too much and embarrass you or people who make no effort in the rest of your life.

It’s your day

Regardless of what the rest of your family think, it’s YOUR day. This doesn’t mean you have to go full Bridezilla on everyone, but it does mean you have the right to craft the wedding of your dreams, fuck anyone else. If money is involved, then it can be hard to feel your voice is valid, but even if you’re not paying for everything, you deserve to have your wishes listened to and respected. Your boundaries will get tested, especially by family members but have courage and conviction.

I believe in you bridal beauties.

This article originally appeared in Rock n Roll Bride magazine, issue 31. Subscribe to the magazine here.