In the wake of some drama with our families, I've been reading a bit on why wedding planning seems to make people act crazy and unreasonable. I read some wedding advice websites, some behavior websites, and a book by Allison Moir-Smith called Emotionally Engaged. At first, I was just seeking to understand my mother's erratic behavior, but I found it applying to my Mister's family as well. And I think I've come to some conclusions on why both of our families are being so bloody difficult throughout this whole process.
Money as love. Some people equate love with spending money. This applies mostly to my mother, who used gifts to express love when she couldn't be emotionally or physically present. My fiance's family is similarly emotionally charged about money, but it was a way to show encouragement more than love. In situations like these, refusing their money is seen as refusing their love! It's a rock and a hard place due to the next point…
Money is power. Since our families have gifted us money or services they feel they've bought a share in the decision making and guest list. When we refused them this kind of control, our families got angry and threatened to take away the gifts. His parents actually went through with it, and it still stings. This is a pitfall Offbeat Bride warned me about, but I feel is not emphasized enough in other advice places so I kinda overlooked it and it got away from me.
The relationships are changing. Weddings are seen as transitions. When the relationships are changing, people get nervous and act crazy. Moir-Smith's book speaks at length on weddings changing relationships and how it's silently dramatic. While I personally did not relate to most of that book, the changes are obviously felt by our parents. They may feel their children are slipping away from them and could be trying to reassert their lost authority; or, they may feel this is the last thing they can do or provide for us before we become "real" adults and want things to go "just right." Both of which get complicated by the next few points…
"Beautiful" isn't a universal term. To some, a beautiful wedding means a barn on a sunflower farm. Others, "just right" is a church with their whole town in the pews. There is a lot of variation here! Our parents want the wedding to be beautiful, but their expectations aren't the same as ours. For example my mom knows an altar arrangement isn't going to make or break the wedding. But, if I say "no" to that idea, she becomes so worried that the wedding won't be beautiful that she'll actually fight with me over it. You just can't change what people think is beautiful or perfect.
A place of honor isn't universal either. My mother and his parents have independently expressed displeasure because we have not given them, or our sisters, a place of honor. To me, a place of honor to me means, "sit back and enjoy the party." Sadly, they don't see it that way! A place of honor to them seems to mean I should visibly distinguish them from the crowd. I have had to go out of my way to make "honored" people feel honored, and I'm still pissed about it, but in the end, it will mend some hurt feelings. I hope.
People communicate badly. People in general are really shitty at explaining what they want, need, or expect. Sometimes it's poor verbalization or awareness, sometimes it's a martyr complex or shyness. Whatever it is, it's hard to know what people want so it's hard to make them feel heard, understood and appreciated, especially when they are emotional. This is very true in my family where emotions run deep and at high volumes. It's VERY hard to uncover what they are really upset about. I am also guilty of this. I am currently taking a class with my fiance on how to communicate better so I don't drag this kind of bullshit into my marriage (any further).
All together, I'm trying to see our family's behavior as "overzealous love"; like when a toddler hugs a favored toy so hard that the head flops off. Unfortunately, I'm not a dolly and I got hurt and angry for a while. I'm just now learning to accept it all as part of the process. It's particularly difficult as both families are seeing their first-borns get hitched and no one knows what to do. Maybe I could see it all as a bunch of similarly confused people just trying as hard as they can.