I am a recovering compulsive people-pleaser. I found out very early on in my engagement that making everyone happy is not only exhausting, it’s impossible. The engagement period is rife with the tension that comes from a messy, awkward transfer of family loyalty. Because before you are married, your parents and siblings are your core relationships; but after you become a married man or woman, your primary allegiance changes over to your spouse. For these reasons and more, the engagement, and especially wedding planning, can be a minefield of mistakes. If you are currently engaged, you know what I am talking about:
- You find yourself caught in the middle between your husband and your family, the people who mean the most to you in your life.
- Your mother has taken a notion about reception centerpieces that neither you nor your fiancé are pleased about.
- Both your parents and in-laws have expectations about holidays and visits, and you just want it to be “fair” for everyone.
- You are fighting with your fiancée because she confided in her dad about your finances without asking you first; she gets defensive and you feel disrespected.
Transitions are Painful
I can remember when this switch first became uncomfortably evident in my family. My fiancé had been looking for a job for months; we were hoping to settle in Pennsylvania but were also open to moving elsewhere if necessary. Then one day Zach called me with the news that he finally had an offer. But the job was in New York, and they wanted him to start the very next week. We had a decision to make.
I was living at home at the time, planning the wedding and working part-time, enjoying these last few months living day-to-day life with my family before we got married and everything changed. So I was in the house I grew up in, my family elsewhere downstairs, while Zach and I talked it through and prayed about it together. The hiring company wanted an answer, and we decided we would accept.
I won’t easily forget the response of my parents when I informed them of his job offer, our decision, and our new plans. I wanted them to be happy for us, but instead they were shell-shocked. Even hurt. Not so much because we wouldn’t be living in Pennsylvania after all, but because for the first time in their life and mine, I had made a life-altering decision without consulting them on it. Until that point, I had always consulted their guidance on everything from high school drama to college applications. And now I would be consulting my husband, making life’s decisions primarily with him. This was a turning point in our relationship, and it was painful.
But time and honest discussions have helped us make the transition together, and I think that’s because this is how God intended it to be.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” –Genesis 2:23-24
“Leaving” is an essential, although not painless, part of marriage. It’s part of God’s original design for a man and woman committed for life. It’s difficult to rearrange your relationship priorities and to establish new boundaries with your family, but it’s necessary to protect the oneness you have with your spouse.
This is not to say that you have to “choose sides” between your parents and your spouse, and that marriage somehow positions them at odds with each other. “Leaving” does not mean excommunicating your family or viewing them as a threat to a strong marriage, rather it means making the willful decision to respect and honor your spouse and marriage above all over relationships. It means transferring the respect owed to your parents while living under their roof (Exodus 20:12) to your husband or wife (Ephesians 5:33).
Making the switch probably won’t be without its bumps in the road, but there are a few things that I’ve learned that help ease the transition.
First of all, realize that you will not be able to make everyone happy. You will occasionally disappoint people. You have your limits because your spouse has to come first, and now you have not one but two families to visit and call. Guess what? It’s okay! Learn to graciously explain your limitations and not feel too bad saying no.
Time solidifies the transition for everyone. Family tension rises during the wedding planning for most people, but after the wedding, people tend to forget any conflicts they might have had over linen and guest lists. Once you have been married for a few months, your families will start to get used to the “new normal.”
Set boundaries that keep your marriage the #1 priority. Choose to talk to your mom when your husband isn’t home, so that you can protect that time with him. Ask your friends to call before they stop by. If you have a big decision to make, make sure that your spouse is the first person you discuss it with before you take it to other people. You are in control of your boundaries.