My partner’s parents aren’t supportive: how can I help?

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My partner's parents aren't supportive: how can I help?
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My wonderful fiancée (let's call her N) and I are getting married in just under a year, and we're thrilled about it! My family is also super excited for us to get married, and my parents consider her to be another daughter. I'm really not trying to brag, but for a lesbian couple, having even one set of supportive parents is amazing. I'm incredibly close with my parents (and siblings), and both my mom and dad have been involved with our planning process. But this is not the problem.

The problem, and something which causes both of us agony, is that N's parents, and especially her mom, have been the complete opposite of my parents. Her mother has been incredibly controlling and emotionally abusive for the majority of N's life, and reacted horribly when N came out. N actually hasn't spoken to her parents since last December, when her mother snubbed an invitation from my parents for our engagement party.

As we've been planning our wedding, a few questions have come up for us: should we invite N's parents? If we do and if they come, will they walk her down the aisle? (Mine will, for me) If they don't walk her down the aisle, will that be awkward? If they come, will she and her dad do a father/daughter dance?

However, my biggest source of worry in this regard is that my mom and I always have lots of fun talking about wedding details, and I can tell N is hurting that she can't share that with her mom/parents for what is going to be the most important day of her life to this point. How can I support my fiancée during our wedding planning when she sees/hears how excited my parents are, and her parents either ignore her, or (when she does try to share bits of our life with them) make her feel horrible?

– Manonofthemountains

This is a rough one and one we've seen a lot before. Families who aren't supportive and/or are abusive can make an otherwise pleasant wedding planning adventure into territory that triggers past issues and cause major emotions to emerge. The major point I'm going to hone in on is that your parents now consider N to be another daughter. She's marrying you to create a new family and will be getting a new extended family as a bonus. It also seems like your parents have enough love to go around and hopefully N can start to feel that love from both you and them. While you have very little control over reforging any bonds with N's family, you do have control over your own and how they interact with her. Here are some things you can do…

When it comes to your side vs. her side, whether it be seating, walking down the aisle, family-specific dances, etc., consider de-segregating them and making them communal. Maybe you all walk down the aisle together, someone from your side walks her down the aisle, you have a communal family dance, that kind of thing. You may need to be a little strategic when it comes to organizing them, but it'll be worth it to make sure N feels like a part of your family. None of these traditions are set in stone and can be shaken up without much drama.

Speaking of drama, when it comes to inviting N's family, that's not something we can answer definitively, but it may come down to whatever decision causes the least amount of regret or conflict on the day. Maybe you're extending the olive branch one last time with an invite to see if they step up to the plate and do the right thing. And if not, at least you both tried and that's nothing to regret. Ultimately, a wedding isn't the one place where families MUST come together. It's one day, and if amends are to be made, it absolutely can be made another day. Not inviting them doesn't mean it's the end of the relationship. But only you both can know that answer.

In terms of supporting N, keep the first point in mind: involve her in any way you can with planning and your family. Weddings don't need to have “sides” at all when it comes down to it. Bring her to your side of the events and parties and have your parents involved in helping with her outfit choices. Reaching out can make all the difference.

Loads of related advice:

Fellow readers, can you help us out with any advice for dealing with non-supportive family members or friends?

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Comments on My partner’s parents aren’t supportive: how can I help?

  1. The major point I’m going to hone in on is that your parents now consider N to be another daughter. She’s marrying you to create a new family and will be getting a new extended family as a bonus.

    My one thought on this is though they may see her as a daughter, she may not see them as another set of parents, especially considering the relationship with her own. Part of supporting a person can mean giving them space: she needs a build a relationship with your parents are part of your new family that looks different to your relationship with them, and to her relationship with her birth parents. This can be complicated and involve a lot of negotiation – maybe she’d like a father-daughter-in-law dance with your dad, or maybe that would be too painful – but make sure you manage your parents’ expectations about the relationship as well.

  2. If I could go back in time and uninvite my parents to my wedding/elopement, I would. (And sort of am – my wife and I are planning an actual wedding for the future.) It’s really worth talking to your fiancée about what she would regret more – having her parents there, or not seeing them that day. And the choice she makes now may not be the choice that she would have made five years from now.
    If she decides that she doesn’t want to have her parents there, or if her parents refuse the invitation, or if they show up and are so abusive that someone needs to escort them out, make a backup plan! Does she have a close friend or two that would walk the aisle with her? Is there a beloved aunt, godfather, pastor, or academic advisor in her social sphere that she could ask to join her for the father/daughter dance? Or you could skip that dance and have an “all our queer friends are taking the dance floor” moment if you want to highlight your community. It’s up to both of you to decide what’s important here and now.
    MinaKelly makes a good point that relationships are different between people that have a long history and those that don’t. While I love my mother-in-law, she will never be my mom – but I also have a hard time thinking of my mother as my mom, so that’s really an unfulfilled role in my life. I believe that the important place to start in all this is in talking to your fiancée about what she’s hopeful for and what she’s nervous about in this wedding, and going from there.

  3. It’s funny about weddings .. not only do they highlight deficiencies and problems within our families but they also set a deadline for their resolution. Everybody has to be happy and congenial by this date!
    That’s not unrealistic, right? 🙂
    It sounds like N’s conflict with her parents stretches back a long way and involves things other than her sexual orientation. If I were her, I would want all of that resolved waaay before any wedding preparation began, much less the actual wedding. I wouldn’t want all my wedding interactions tinged with anger or resentment or guilt. Also, for me, experiencing those kind of problems against the backdrop of your happy family would be too much. Salt in the wound. I would have to take a pass and just take the pain over their absence. Maybe it would set the groundwork for communication so that future life events wouldn’t be missed.
    So my advice to you is to sit down with N and figure out which is less painful : having them there or having them gone. And while you’re doing that, spend a little time to grieve over what you’ve lost because surely there is pain coming from either path. Sometimes the only thing we can do to help our partners is just be there for them.
    One final thought : in my experience all the big happy life events that are supposed to be episodes of unqualified joy for everybody involved, rarely are. I try to keep this in mind when I’m beating myself up for my imperfect life. It doesn’t assuage the pain but it does keep the guilt at bay. Everybody else is fucking it up right alongside you!

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