Don’t Let Family Bully You When It Comes To Your Wedding

As a full-time elopement and wedding photographer, I am often working with couples in crafting their dream wedding day who are caught on whether they should just elope or have a larger celebration. A lot of couples come to the solution of: something small and intimate now, something large and bustling later (usually in a year or so)—which is absolutely a valid solution, especially during these times with COVID.

Whether you choose to elope and have just the two of you present (with your photographer and/or officiant), or have a small wedding with 3-15 guests—to create a space where you can truly be yourselves on your wedding day; a space to be fully present and in the moment with your partner, where you don’t have to worry about judgement—there will likely be some family member who doesn’t agree with your decision as they had their own ideas on what your wedding should look like.

But here’s the truth of the matter: the people you choose to invite to witness your vow exchange and be present in the moment in which you dedicate your lives to one another—it’s a privilege for them to be there—it’s not a right.

Real talk, families can be hella complicated. And just because you share DNA with someone doesn’t entitle them to anything in your adult life. I cannot express this firmly enough: do not feel bound or obligated by tradition to invite anyone, or any family member if they will diminish your mental health, make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, or will cause some form of drama.

Family estrangement is more common that you realize, wherein at least 27% of Americans are estranged from a member of their own family (according to The New York Times) where research in the same area suggests that roughly 40% of Americans experience estrangement at some point (Pillemer, 2020).

I think we can all agree that no one deserves to be made to feel less than, unworthy, or uncomfortable on their wedding day. You can choose to invite only your best friends—or invite just your parents, or just your siblings, or make the day an entirely private rendezvous for the two of you. You are not required to make choices regarding your wedding out of obligation, or trauma bonding, or tradition.

Let me get really real for a second. The reason I prefer elopements and smaller weddings isn’t just because I love the beauty of the outdoors, or love to travel, or helping couples who want to break the traditional mold—the real reason is because I know first hand what it’s like to have people in my life who share my DNA who I will never feel safe around; who I will never be able to be myself around; who will not accept me for the asexual person I am.

I grew up in a very turbulent and abusive home, and while I am glad that I have risen against the statistics—my father and my siblings are the last people who I would want to be at my wedding. They don’t know me, and they still demonstrate extremely unhealthy behavior—and every time I’m around my father I feel unsafe, judged, and completely unseen. Every interaction with him left me feeling unworthy of love or life, and completely disregarded. The only way I was able to save myself and my mental health was to leave home at 16, legally emancipate myself, and learn how to live as an adult. I tried several times to mend the relationship as an adult, and each time failed—resulting in a complete communication cease at age 26.

A part of me wishes it were different. That I had a close knit nuclear family with large family gatherings each holiday. A father who would be proud of the woman I’ve become. So when my own wedding came around—to marry the man who waltzed into my life and loves me for everything that I am—I knew that there was absolutely no possible way on this planet for my father or siblings to be there without sacrificing my own mental health or safety.

I get how harsh, cold, and jarring this all sounds. Especially if you’re in the mindset that your mother/father/parent would essentially disown you if you didn’t invite them to your wedding. Don’t fall into that trap. If you honestly, deep down, would feel better about your family member not being there, do. not. invite. them. You’re setting yourself up to experience more stress, and potential regret by following what everyone else expects of you on your wedding day. I’ve photographed my fair share of large 150+ guest weddings and have seen couples bend over backwards, nearly bankrupt themselves, and bicker with each other at their own wedding because of “keeping with tradition”.

Don’t get me wrong, large weddings are one way to get married. They’re the default, so to speak. If I had known what I know now about elopements, you bet your ass I would have eloped just me and my husband. We still had a smaller wedding, so it wasn’t as bustling as a large wedding, but it was somewhat off-putting to be surrounded entirely by my husband’s family, when my only family in attendance was my mother (who is long divorced from my father).

When I photographed my first elopement in 2020, my whole world view changed.

Your wedding should be a reflection of who you are, who your partner is, and the love story that you’ve created together. Kinda mind boggling to think that weddings are suddenly about a large group of people who have no real impact on the lives you lead together.

If there’s anything that you take away from this post, I want it to be this:
+ Take control of your wedding day—it’s yours and your partner’s, no one else’s.
+ No one has the right to tell you how you should get married, or who you get married to.
+ The one day that is going to be your anniversary for the rest of your lives together, you deserve to feel safe, loved, comfortable, accepted, seen, and at ease—you should be able to experience each moment of your day fully present.
+ Being at your wedding is a privilege, one that no one other than you and your partner is entitled to

I know that creating a guest list, culling a guest list, or nixing it all together can be scary. But make your decisions and stand firm in them, this is your wedding that you’re fighting for and it’s completely worth it.

About me

Donna Marie

Your elopement + wedding photographer and planning assistant. I'm your body positive bestie, dream vendor locator, facilitator of 10 second dance parties, and your unobtrusive personal paparazzi for when you say your vows. 

Meet Me!

See more of my work!

Get in touch!