A Family Affair

6 Ways to Include Family in Your Wedding Day

There’s an old saying that goes “you don’t just marry a person, you marry a whole family.” While this might seem outdated in an era where it’s common for women to keep their maiden names and suitors no longer have to request a father’s permission to take his daughter on a date, family is still an important part of any marriage. Although family dynamics might have changed over the years, ultimately, our relatives still play a role in all of our lives, in our DNA, in our ideas, and the values we hold to be true—whether we like it or not. 

So before you tie the knot, it’s important to talk about the families and cultures you both are marrying into. I sat down with Rev. Heidi Gessner, a wedding officiant and life coach, and Rev. Kevin Holland, also a wedding officiant, to hear their perspectives on how to “say ‘I do’ to a new family.” Here are our top six tips.

No. 1: Plan the Marriage, Not Just the Big Day 

It’s easy to get so caught up in the excitement of planning a wedding that couples forget to talk about expectations for the actual marriage. Before the big day, sit down and have a heart to heart about your day-to-day expectations. Different families operate in different ways, and that is perfectly normal, but before you assume your partner’s family works in the same way yours does, talk about what is important to you. Maybe in your family it’s assumed the person who doesn’t cook does the dishes, but that isn’t so in your partner’s household. “Getting married is a natural time to kind of declare or set your intentions of how you want to be now as a new family, as a couple,” Rev. Gessner says. “You can learn to take the best the thing you loved most about your family and add it to your new family and decide what you want to let go of and not take into your marriage.”

The Zekes Six Ways to include Family in Your wedding Heidi Gessner NC Wedding Officiant and Relationship Coach
WEDDING OFFICIANT Weddings by Heidi | PHOTO Joe Payne Photography

No. 2: Advocate for Your Partner

Maybe the groom’s mother is critical, or the bride’s father is overbearing. If tensions are already arising between families, it’s important to talk it out sooner rather than later. Take time to assess how your partner feels about marrying into a new family, and try not to be judgemental of their emotions. It’s hard not to get defensive when we hear someone criticising our families, but if you are marrying your partner, you should respect them enough to value their feelings. You may not agree with your partner’s views, but hearing them out and offering to set boundaries is important. It could be that they will bring up perspectives that you’ve never considered that will help you to gain a more complete understanding of your own family dynamics. Premarital counseling is a great place to have these discussions.

No. 3: Make Smart Seating Decisions

In many cases, the wedding is the first time sides of a couple’s family meet. If this is the case, you’ll want to make introductions as smooth as possible, especially if your families are very different. When it comes to seating at a formal reception, be smart about assignments. It might seem logical throw all the 20-somethings together or put your grandmothers at the same table, but think about how dynamics will work. Is it really smart to pair your free-spirited cousin with your fiance’s uptight sister?  If your families have not already gelled, now is not the time to encourage political debates or try to broaden perspectives. It might be tempting to think “they can get through it for one night,” but one person’s sour experience can impact an entire family’s perspective. If you do the work of carefully considering seating assignments upfront, you’ll thank yourself later. 

No. 4: Learn About Each Other’s Cultures 

What if your partner’s family comes from an entirely different background from yours? It can be overwhelming to throw yourself into a new culture, but making an attempt is so important. Showing a genuine interest in your partner’s culture and family history will show that you are excited about your new life together, and are willing to commit to the things that are important to their family. Rev. Gessner had a Hindu groom and bride from a conservative Christian family tie the knot recently, and she described the bride’s willingness to dive into her husband’s new culture by incorporating Hindu traditions into the big day. “At the rehearsal, the bride took me up to her room and showed me this just beautiful, long, ornate kind of coat she would wear for the Hindu ceremony, which I’ve never seen before,” Rev. Gessner explained. “And it was just so cool.” Being adventurous and making a little effort can make all the difference. 

No. 5: Incorporate Family Traditions into Your Ceremony

If you come from different faiths or cultures, it can be daunting to imagine incorporating so many different traditions into one ceremony. But with a little creativity, you can make it fun. Make sure you select an officiant who is committed to including both faiths or cultures into the ceremony, and talk to your parents about what is important to them. Rev. Holland officiated a family wedding with a joint Christian and Jewish ceremony, complete with bible verses and smashing a glass at the end. “So for example, the traditional way to conclude a prayer in the Catholic and Christian tradition is to say, ‘we pray in the name of Father, Son, Holy Spirit,’ and that’s certainly not a part of the Jewish liturgy,” Rev. Holland explained. “So prayers in that sort of setting, I would say, ‘and we offer this prayer in the name of all that is sacred and holy.’” Incorporating words or traditions into a ceremony that both parties are familiar with can be a great way to represent the joining of two families into one.

No. 6: Incorporate your Families into the Big Day

There are going to be certain things that matter a lot to your family on your big day, and while your ceremony needs to be centered around your wants as a couple, listening to your families’ wishes means a lot. If you have a good relationship with your parents, ask them how they feel about decisions you are making. Maybe you don’t care whether or not your father walks you down the isle, but he’s been waiting for this moment your entire life. In that case, it may be worth a compromise. Are there cool heirlooms or traditions that they’d like to be passed down? Talk about what it would look like to incorporate them. If you have children from previous relationships, talk to them about how much attention they’d like to experience during the ceremony. Making sure everyone is comfortable and feels included will help relationships get started on the right foot. 

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