The art of the Low-Drama No: developing your bridal boundaries

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Photo by Wild About You Photography

We've talked a lot on Offbeat Bride about how much we hate the word Bridezilla, which seems to imply that if a bride has strong opinions about something, she's automatically a city-destroying monster, exacting her will over her minions and making violently unreasonable demands.

For me, the whole bridezilla issue is less about women being bossy, and more about the challenges of learning to say no without being all high drama about it. It's a delicate line, right? How can you make your needs clear without steamrolling other people's concerns and comfort levels? How can you say no without stomping a high-rise?

Ultimately, it boils down to setting and enforcing personal boundaries. It's about knowing what you want, and taking responsibility for communicating it effectively. It's not about everyone having to do what you say because you're the bride. It's about understanding yourself and being clear with others. Being clear doesn't necessarily mean dominating — you can have excellent boundaries and still not get what you want. But when you've mastered the art of the Low-Drama No, you're taking a big first step toward communicating well and sticking to your guns.

Here are a few tips on learning how to say no with grace and minimal drama, complete with copy ‘n' paste communications to help you with your own Low-Drama Nos…

1. Know yourself aka open your head before you open your mouth

This is the first and most important thing you can do. You can't have a solid sense of yourself if you don't even know who you are or what you want. If you're used to following other people's visions and ideas, it can be hard to even get a sense for what you even WANT — which is only the first step toward getting it. With wedding planning, this can mean knowing when to stop looking at inspiration, and when to start hammering out what you and your partner really want. Feel solid in yourself and the vision you and your partner share before you open yourself up to suggestions from outside parties.

Copy ‘n' paste communications:

  • “Thanks so much for your input about the wedding! I'm still in the information-gathering phase, but I'll keep your ideas in mind and let you know when I'm ready to talk more about it all. Whether I decide to use your ideas or not, it means so much to me that you're as excited about this as we are!”

2. Take responsibility for your own emotional state

If you're in the mode of being a pleaser, saying “Well, ok” or “I guess that will work,” when you really mean “I'm unhappy but don't know how to tell you,” on a certain level you're allowing your emotional state to be controlled by other people. Too often I see brides complain about how they feel forced into doing something, and too often this is a case of someone not knowing when to just say “If I'm going to feel good about this, I need to do it differently.” When you learn to say no, you learn to stop feeling like people are doing things to you, and start feeling like you have the power to control your own wedding planning process.

Copy ‘n' paste communications:

  • “That's a great idea, but I'm just not sure it fits with what we're envisioning for the day. I love you and so appreciate your ideas, and I hope you can respect our decisions even when we choose to go for something different than what you suggested.”
  • “Sometimes I wish we could get married twice so that we could integrate all your great ideas, but since we only have one wedding, we're having to make some hard choices … including not doing some of the things you'd suggested. Thanks in advance for being so understanding — wedding planning is more difficult than I'd expected, and your patience with me as I stumble around trying to figure it all out is super appreciated.”

3. Avoid stomping

When you feel pushed around or pressured, there can be a reflex to push back and push back HARD. Especially if you're not used to saying no at all … and suddenly you're the bride, and what you say goes and YOU MUST HAVE IT YOUR WAY OR THE HIGHWAY! I wrote about this in my book, but I actually think the whole bridezilla thing is just what happens when women who aren't used to being in power suddenly feel like they're in control of something. We'd all be better off if more women felt empowered in all arenas of their lives, but that said — there's no need to stomp. When you've got solid boundaries, you learn to say “No” firmly but respectfully. Sometimes you have to say it over and over again, but there's no need to stomp.

Copy ‘n' paste communications:

  • “Thank you so much for sharing your ideas with me. I think we're going to go for something else, but it means so much to me that you're as excited about this as we are.”
  • “I hear you saying that this is really important to you, and I totally respect that. Unfortunately, we're going to go with this other plan.”

4. Communicate your dealbreakers

When you're wedding planning, you're surrounded by friends and family in varying states of trying to help. You have to be communicative, and let people know when you feel like they've acted inappropriately or disrespected you. Again this doesn't need to be a big stomping freakout.

Copy ‘n' paste communications:

  • “I felt really uncomfortable with your behavior last night. Can I ask that you respect my feelings and not do that at my wedding?”
  • “When you talk to me that way, I feel belittled. Can we find a way to have this conversation in a way that doesn't make me feel like that?”

5. Further resources

Establishing personal boundaries is one of those life skills that goes way, WAY beyond wedding planning. Learning the Low-Drama No can help with career development too! That said, I'd love to hear from commenters: how did you learn to say no? What are your best methods for lovingly turning people down?

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Comments on The art of the Low-Drama No: developing your bridal boundaries

  1. great post!

    I would add – in hindsight after my wedding day – if you have trouble with confrontation of any kind, figure out who you can trust to be your bodyguard! I had people swarming in my room while we were getting ready, and I felt like I would be a bitch if I asked them to leave. (Especially when it was quieter, asking the 1 non-bridal party member to go sit by herself in another room WOULD have been harsh and she wasn’t the problem, but that lead to way too many people feeling right at home in my suite all day long.)

    While it wasn’t a huge deal, I wish I had the presence of mind to ask a bridesmaid to shoo them away for me!

    • Dude, I am ALL about the bridal bodyguard. I had one myself on my wedding day, and she was worth her weight on confrontational gold.

      • Mine bridal bodyguards will consist of several of my bridesmaids. I call them the Bride Squad. And I will summon them with a mightly, “Bride Squad! Unite!”

    • Great advice! I actually took it upon myself to be my best friends lil’ rottweiler on the day of her wedding, I knew she didn’t have the heart to turn anyone away so I handled the all the phone calls ( I could not believe how many people called her when they knew she was getting ready!!!), made sure she had plenty of breathing room while getting her hair and makeup done, and that her champagne glass was always full 😉

  2. For me, “maybe” should always be the first answer. There’s nothing wrong with saying “That’s an interesting idea. Let me think about it.”

    I don’t react well to pressure, perceived or real. I go off, have time to consider it and get other input, then make a decision after the heat of the moment has passed. The goal is not to bite someone’s head off *or* get strong-armed into doing something I don’t want to do.

    “We hadn’t considered that–[Future Spouse’s Name] and I will talk it over and get back to you.” might be the easiest way to keep from getting all aggro in the face of a well-meaning person… or to keep from agreeing to an idea you hate, just to make someone happy!

    Edit: Then, of course, I get back to them. I don’t use “We’ll talk about it later.” as an easy out to avoid hard conversations. The point is that I get to address the issue when I feel more comfortable, less pressured, and have more information.

  3. Love this post. It’s much needed amo for an upcoming conversation with the Future in-laws, which I have been DREADING. But the fact is, for fear of looking like a ‘bridezilla’ I’ve been deliberately watering down all of our conversations to the point where I’m sure I look less than certain about things that I am in fact very certain about. It’s such a difficult line to toe, but I think positivity and passion always go a long way… thanks for the reminder Ariel. Your advice is always sage.

  4. I’ve read and agree with this, but there are also times (a few) when the fallout from saying ‘no’ is Not Worth Itx1000000 and you just have to suck it up.

    • Yep! I agree too! I think what Ariel has written is a fantastic piece, with a lot of great information and I do utilize a lot of those points when dealing with other people but as I was reading I was thinking, this is all fine and good but it won’t wash with my mother. Think I’ll just buy myself a Hoover in preparation and get ready for the $hitfight!

    • I think this is where Knowing Yourself is key. You’ve got to be aware enough of your values and what you want to make good choices on where to draw the line and hold it in the face of a screaming shitstorm of opposition. That line in the sand is going to be different for everyone, but knowing where to draw it is really, really important.

    • True, there are SOME times when this is the case. I think using the “I’ll think about it and get back to you” approach is the way to start. Them take some time to soul search and decide if this is truly one of those times. If so, giving whoever it is whatever it is won’t feel like giving in, but more like a gift you are giving that person. But if you are sucking it up to avoid confrontation, you’ll end up pretty unhappy at your wedding!

  5. I love these tips but I’m still having a hard time dealing with my partner’s mother.

    We’re getting legally married in England (just a very quick signing the papers) and then having a ceremony in my hometown in the Netherlands as my family can’t afford to come to the UK.
    He’s invited the people he wants there and we both don’t want to make a big deal out of the legal thing, just sign the thing and maybe have lunch with just us two.

    She however keeps bringing up that we should invite all of his family and friends (even though he doesn’t get on with them at all and doesn’t want them there) and then go for a big dinner afterwards and made a big pooha about the fact I showed him the dress I will wear to the registry office.
    She’s also already told everyone about this and we think everyone’s expecting an invitation to this now.

    No matter how often we say “We’ll think about it and get back to you” she keeps going on and on.
    I feel like she’s trying to make it impossible for us to politely say no in any way shape or form but she hasn’t listened either when my partner told her in no uncertain terms to stop talking about it.
    She often does this with other things as well and I have no idea how to deal with this!

    He says to just let it go and do as we want but we know she’ll kick up a fuss and go “Whyyyyyyy???”
    How do you deal with people that so blatantly ignore your own wishes?

    • “I hear you saying that you want us to bla bla, and I feel like we’ve already talked about this and told you we’ve made a different decision. I’m sorry that we’re not doing things your way, but I’d like to ask you to respect our choice.”

    • I find that we are also trying to manage other’s disappointment that we’re not doing things “their way” or “the way it’s supposed to go” blah blah.. And I have found by acknowledging their disappointment can also help. “I’m hearing your disappointment that we’re not inviting them.” And then sit with that. “Yeah you’re disappointed.” It goes back on her. Because that what she may be feeling. Folks don’t like feeling bad and it squirts out in many ways like shame, blame, yelling, ignoring, sulking, gossip etc.

      If an “I’m sorry” comes out, make sure it’s what you’re sorry for. I”m sorry your disappointed. (not sorry that they are not invited….)

      I’m sad to say that my sister is not talking to me after my wedding. And although sad I know I made the right choices and have brought my “sister friends” around me for support and guidance when I need it. I”m hoping if I stick to my boundaries and not fall into old “rescuing” patterns that all my shift. Here’s hoping! All the best!

      • GREAT advice, Andrea. I especially like this:

        If an “I’m sorry” comes out, make sure it’s what you’re sorry for. I”m sorry your disappointed. (not sorry that they are not invited…)

    • If you’re paying, it’s *your* wedding and you get to decide what goes and what stays.

      This is crass, but after a certain point family members have to buy their votes.

      Think about a way you could compromise with your future mother-in-law. There’s nothing wrong with offering a happy medium (adding a couple more people to the guest list, having a slightly bigger dinner, whatever) with the caveat that Mom’s going to pay for the additions. If she’s not offering to take care of the additional things she thinks you should have, she has no say, pure and simple.

      You should say it more politely than I just did, but fear not. You’re in the right about this, and you should stick to your guns.

      • We actually had to resort to paying everything ourselves after my mom said that since she (decided she) was paying, her thoughts had to be “obeyed” (I swear she actually said that!) So I sweetly said that since WE were paying SHE was going to have no part in the wedding. She later tried to “buy” herself in again! :O

    • I’m dealing with this same thing right now. We’re writing our own ceremony for the wedding, and at his mother’s insistence, are having a traditional South Indian ceremony as well. She’s insisting that this take place as close to the wedding as possible, even saying that it should happen the evening before or the morning after. We don’t see a reason to have it in the same week at all, since she’s throwing a reception the following weekend in their hometown. Why not have it there? We can’t understand it. She’s a fairly pushy woman, and we spent a while trying to figure out how to convince her to do it our way. Then I realized, we’re only doing this at all for her, so we’re just going to TELL her that it’s going to be later, and that’s that, we’re sorry if that’s not her ideal, but she should be glad we agreed to it in the first place. We’re learning how to be adults within our families. 🙂

  6. This was great. I’m certainly having a lot of issues with my wedding–everyone seems to have an opinion! I’ve noticed, though, that most of their suggestions are often memories or regrets from their own weddings. They’ve been there and they want my day to be just as special–or better! So while most of their ideas don’t line up with what we want, I’ve learned to patiently listen, smile, and thank them sincerely. 90% of the time I don’t really follow through with their suggestions, but they appreciate the listening ear and every once in a while something does spark a great idea!

  7. OMG what a helpful and practical post. I wish that this was out there when *I* got married! Your copy-and-paste suggestions are brilliant.

    Thank you for writing this. I’m guessing that it will do a lot of good.

  8. A friend of mine coined a term over thanksgiving – “to unhelp”… you know when someone means well, and they stand over your shoulder, and tell you how you should be doing things… but it just makes it all the more complicated and you know how you want to do it anyway? We should get the term “unhelp” into general circulation for times just like that… so we can just SAY “Actually, would you mind unhelping me for a while?” (ie., GO AWAY I’M FINE, but oh so politely).

  9. Great post. I’m particularly fond of the “cut & paste” responses. Beyond the useful info, I offer huge kudo’s for a very clevery written article.

  10. I ran into this for the first time yesterday while dress shopping. My 12yr old to-be stepdaughter wanted to do the whole ‘Say Yes To The Dress’ thing. (I don’t care about tradional wedding dresses and was planning on a cocktail dress.). Because I want her to be happy with the marriage and therefor the wedding, I agreed to go shopping with her. At 12, she wants everything traditional. Luckily, I had two very good and very blunt friends with me that reminded me of whats important to ME. I realized we were all tired and hungry, so I put off making a final decision. After sleeping on it, I’ll be telling her that I loved going shopping with her and I’m honored she wants me to be a ‘bride’ but that the traditional dress isn’t right for me.

    All this advice is absolutely spot-on! But it takes guts to actually follow it, knowing you may hurt the feelings of those you care about!

  11. I’m reading this post a little late, but thank you so much! This advice REALLY helps, as I find myself coming up against so many OPINIONS left and right! My absolute favorite line that so many people are giving me about my decisions: “Oh, that’s nice…but not for your WEDDING!!” OMG! But a big smile and one of these diplomatic statements will so help me deflect these well-meant criticisms.

    • My mum does that so much! I’m enthusing about something, and she’ll say “that would be nice at a birthday party, but not for a wedding”. But I know it’ll rock, so EH! *hehe*

  12. Sometimes it’s best to just say, “no, thank you.” It’s polite and firm without risking a delve into false flattery (“I wish we could, but . . .”) or white lies (“It’s an interesting idea . . .”). Obviously, if those sentiments are genuine, it’s fine to use them, but “no, thank you,” is a completely honest and polite way to say “no way, no how, discussion closed.”

    It has the bonus of being the “proper etiquette” way to say no to just about anything, and is therefore drama Teflon. Anyone who gets offended at a properly delivered “no, thank you” was a lost cause, drama-avoidance wise, from the beginning.

  13. I copy and paste (and translated in italian) you post on our blog.
    It can be very usefull for the future!

  14. A dirty but sometimes effective tactic: deflect on the groom. “I’ll have to discuss this with the groom”. “Let me check if the groom likes the idea”. “I’m sorry, but we/the groom have planned something different”. And so on. Always talking about the wedding plans as “we”. Might not work for everyone, but it has saved me some drama.

  15. Really good advice on here, should be helpful in telling my mother in law that the centerpieces i have almost agreed to are not going to go with ANYTHING in our wedding.
    I have also had the ‘nice, but not for a wedding’ or ‘its not very weddingy’ (what does that even mean!!!) from really surprising people. A wedding is a representation of who you two are, how you feel about your relationship and as every couple is different surely there is no such thing as ‘weddingy!’
    Totally going to have a bridal bodyguard too…

  16. This was the perfect time for me to see this! We’re in the midst of finding a venue, and everyone is giving us advice left and right–what we should do, how to do it. My favorite so far is the “It will feel more like a wedding if…”. And the subtle note of disappointment in someone’s voice, when we mention that we’re doing everything on a very limited budget, so they assume that x, y, z will not be happening.

    I’m struggling with knowing what I want, and being firm about it without stomping on anyone. One day at a time!

  17. Thank you for #1 & 2 right now. I just wrote a journal post in the Tribe about the problems I’m having with standing up for what I want for my wedding!

  18. I have found that sometimes people will call you a bridezilla no matter what you do, just realize that them saying that is more about them than you and just let it roll off without it ruining your experience.
    I had a friend call me one because I didn’t call her for a week before my wedding – she assumed that I couldn’t handle the stress. Where if she asked I could’ve told her that I was working longer hours at work to make sure all my stuff would be taken care of while I was gone. And while I know I wasn’t a bridezilla and it was frustrating to be called one, I also know her and know that she was saying this because she needed to say how well she handles stress and that it wasn’t about me, it was about her.
    Hope everyone had or has a great wedding!!

  19. I also like, “That’s a really great idea! I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who thought that would work! We ended up deciding this other idea would work better for us, for reasons you couldn’t possibly have been expected to know. I can’t reveal it all because (we need to respect someone’s privacy) [or] (we are really looking forward to some surprises for our guests) but thank you so much for your input!” and if you really mean it: “Keep the ideas coming and I’ll definitely keep them in mind when we are weighing options!”

    The “for reasons you couldn’t possibly have been expected to know” thing worked on a lot of bosses AND minions in my management days. It tells people “having this information is totally my job, and your idea is not a bad one, just perhaps not fully informed or NOT YOUR JOB.” In the case of bosses, it can lead into a “and this is why I made the decision I made” if they need to know it, or they can leave it at ^^ above because they hired me to deal with these nitty gritty details instead of them. In the case of minions, or people helping with a wedding for instance, it can easily be left at that and if they press further a simple “oh honey, it’s really boring and I don’t want to have to talk through it all again now that the decision has been made. Thank you so much for your concern though, and definitely next time I need a sounding board for talking through something I’ll think of you.” (Bonus if you actually do it, because in both cases it means they will be less likely to question your decision again in the future just to avoid the OMG BORING WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS-ness.)

  20. How can I explain what a Bridal Bodyguard is to the friend I’m hoping to ask to be my bodyguard?

  21. This is a very helpful article! It also works well in other areas of life. For example, I recently bought my own home, and my parents are very involved, or at least they want to be. I’ve had to learn to set boundaries as to where and when I’d like their input, because they tend to steamroll me in pushing their opinions (all from a place of love and concern, of course, but still frustrating at times).

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