Donna Marie

PHOTO CO.

Planning Your Wedding: Don’t Let Family Bully You

Planning Your Wedding: Don’t Let Family Bully You

I want to start this out by saying, don’t let anyone, family or otherwise, bully you ever. The boundaries that you and your partner decide on are the boundaries that matter the most when it comes to your wedding. So please, don’t let your family bully you when it comes to planning your wedding.

CW: talk of abuse, family estrangement

As a full-time wedding photographer, I often work with couples who feel like they have to make everyone happy. That they are required to involve all their friends and family, no matter what kind of financial hardship or discomfort it may cause them. Many couples come to the solution of having something small and intimate now, and then something large and bustling later. Roughly a year later. It’s absolutely a valid solution, especially during these times with COVID. There’s just one thing that I will always, always, always tell my couples: your wedding, your rules.

Whether you choose to elope and have just the two of you present, or have a small wedding with 3-15 guests; you deserve to create a space where you can truly be yourselves on your wedding day. You deserve a space to be fully present and in the moment with your partner. A space where you don’t have to worry about judgement. More often than not, there will be some family member who has opinions on your wedding. You may be tempted to just placate the heat and give into the pressure, but I’m here to say “nah, friend.”

Here’s the truth of the matter:

The people you choose to invite to witness your vow exchange and be present with you and your partner on your wedding day… that’s not for everyone. It’s a privilege for them to be there—it’s not a right.

Real talk, families can be hella complicated. Just because you share DNA with someone doesn’t entitle them to anything in your adult life. I cannot express this next sentence firmly enough. Do not feel bound or obligated by tradition to invite anyone, family member or otherwise, if they will be a detriment to your mental health. If you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or will cause some form of drama, you are not required to invite them.

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

I’m sure can all agree no one deserves 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. You can also choose to 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.

Like really, really real. The reason I prefer elopements isn’t just because I love the outdoors, love to travel, or helping couples like you in planning your wedding. The real reason is because I know what it’s like to have family members that I’ll never feel safe around. Family who I will never be able to be myself around; who will not accept me for the asexual person I am.

My childhood home was turbulent and abusive. While I’m glad that I’ve risen against the statistics, a majority of my family are the last people who I would want to be at my wedding. They no longer know me, and they still demonstrate extremely unhealthy behavior. 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. I was able to save myself by legally emancipating myself at 16 and learning to live as an adult. I tried to mend the relationship as an adult, and each time failed. It led to a complete communication cease at age 26 with my father.

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 it was time for my own wedding—to marry the man who loves me for everything that I am; I knew that there was absolutely no feasible way 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. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen couples bend over backwards, nearly bankrupt themselves, and bicker with each other at their own wedding because of “keeping with tradition”. Your wedding should be about you and your partner. Planning your wedding should be focused on the wants of you and your partner.

Don’t get me wrong, large weddings are one way to get married. And if that’s what you want and what you’re drawn to, please have one. They’re the default, so to speak. Elopements and small weddings are off the beaten path. If I had known about elopements, you bet your ass I would have eloped. We had a small wedding, so it wasn’t as bustling or as stressful as a large wedding. But I still noticed that I was largely surrounded by my husband’s extensive family. The only member of my family to attend was my mother. (Who is long divorced from my father.)

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

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

If there’s anything that you take away from this, I want it to be this:

+ Take control of your wedding day—it’s yours and your partner’s, no one else’s.
+ You and your partner decide the wedding boundaries while planning your wedding.
+ No one has the right to tell you how you should get married, or who you get married to.
+ This day 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. Planning your wedding or elopement is something that you and your partner need to work together toward. Make your decisions and stand firm in them, this is your wedding that you’re fighting for and it’s completely worth it.

Here are some other resources for you!

5 Hella Good Reasons to Opt for that Engagement Sesh
How to tell Family that You’re Eloping

"The moment I spoke to donna I knew we'd made the right choice by reaching out—she was instantly so invested in capturing our lovestory and couldn't be more pleasant to work with."

Claire + Justin