For many folks, the engagement period is often the time, as they say on MTV’s The Real World, “when people stop being polite and start getting real.” Now that the congratulations have died down and the Champagne has been drunk, it’s time to face the reality of what merging two lives — and sometimes two families — really means… and that’s not always an easy task. If you’re struggling with the differences between you and your affianced, believe us when we say you’re not alone. Sure, you two have been dating for [fill in the blank here], but there will be moments when it feels like you were raised on different planets. To help us mediate, we hit up Prestell Askia, life coach and author of The Couples Cure Book.
“When you make a commitment to become engaged, you not only consent to your intended spouse — you also pledge to blend families,” Askia reminds us. “Long before the actual wedding takes place, there are decisions to be made and resolutions to be agreed upon about family traditions. Some family traditions have been practiced for decades. Others may be newly minted. Either way, there may be the occasion (sometimes more frequently than not) when your future in-laws want to interject their opinions on subjects that really should decided upon by the engaged couple.” For those navigating these tricky waters, she shared some seriously valuable pointers.
1. Adjust your mindset. Possibly, the most important step toward compromise begins with yourself. “Shift your thinking from a single perspective to a collective one,” Askia advises. Practice saying “we,” “us,” and “ours” instead of “I,” “me,” or “mine.”
2. Change your verbal tactics to help resolve conflict. Inclusive verbiage can help you when dealing with your family members as well, especially when broaching tough subjects with your in-laws. Try phrasings like “How can we…?” or “What if we…?”
3. Embrace change in your thinking and your life. “When you change your thought processes, the world and circumstance around you will also begin to change,” says Askia. “Rather than insisting that all major holidays are spent with your family or your partner’s family, get used to the idea of alternating Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and/or years, sharing time with both families.”
4. Think “compromise” — without sacrificing your own wants and beliefs. “As you plan for your wedding, this is an ideal time to begin to blend traditions from both partner’s cultures,” Askia encourages. “Imagine taking on the role of a trendsetter for the family when you initiate a blended ceremony that is performed by/with blessings from both a rabbi and sheik; or pastor and priest.”
5. Pick your battles thoughtfully. We’ve all heard this one before, but it’s a hard pill we all must swallow. “Not everything has to go your way. After all, your wedding is a celebration to share your love and commitment as partners and the blending of families.”
6. Involve your in-laws… but reserve the decisions for you and your partner. This one will require lots of cooperation, but ultimately questions like who’s on the guest list and how many people to invite should fall on you and your beloved’s shoulders. Parents who are footing the bill may hold more sway when it comes to decisions specifically about the wedding, but the couple should still get the final veto.
7. Ask your partner to intervene. “If there is a challenge or disagreement with your in-laws, ask your partner to intervene and attempt to resolve the situation with your best interest in mind,” Askia advises. “Your partner knows their family, their personalities, and their nuances and may be in a better position to resolve the conflict. In doing so, it allows you to maintain that healthy relationship with your in-laws without initiating a long-standing feud.”
8. Own your final decisions. “The topic of children is one that causes much heartburn and stress for engaged couples,” Askia agrees. “Do you want to have children? If so, when? How many? If not, why not? The issue here is how to share your decisions with your families. This decision belongs to the engaged couple — even though parents and families will want to express their desires. The final decision rests with the two of you. There are no right or wrong decisions. However, once you decide, it must be a unified decision so that you and your partner are in total agreement.”
9. Set boundaries early. “Design or reestablish the relationship you want. You’ve heard the horror stories about the passive-aggressive mother-in-law; or the sister-in-law who chooses not to participate in family activities for whatever reason,” Askia says. “These are times when your negotiating skills will be most challenged — and that can also be most rewarding.” If you’re feeling unmoored, she has some tips on how to negotiate your way through conflict while keeping your relationships intact.
10. Negotiate for the relationship you want. The keys to renegotiating and/or redesigning the relationship you desire lie in three key steps. Both must accept responsibility for the issues in the relationship without sarcasm or placing blame, both must want to make the relationship work, and you should start with the desired end in mind and do whatever it takes to make the relationship work.
11. Know when enough is enough. There’s no shame in seeking help when you need it. “Sometimes life situations and family disputes take their toll in spite of every attempt to negotiate to make things right,” admits Askia. “If all else fails, consider professional help.”
Do you have any newlywed advice you’d like to share? Tweet us @BritandCo!
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