“Is it too late to elope?”

“Baby, we got married three days ago.”

“Oh. My. God. We did! We did that!”

“Want to get married again?”

“Yes, please”

Smacky, kissy noises.

Fade to white.

*****

Is it too late to elope?
young groom, man with beard and young bride with wedding dress and wedding veil with their heads together. They appear as if they just got married.

Two months earlier, our newlyweds were having a rough time. In the throes of planning a wedding, both in their thirties, they knew what they wanted. An outside, DIY, small wedding.

Opinions Were Given

Both families had things to say, opinions to give, and unsolicited advice to share. At first, our sweet couple was rattled. They were unprepared for the tsunami that hit them early in their engagement. “You are wrong. It must be done this way! In a church, professional everything, over a hundred close family.” 

This is the reality of becoming a committed couple that you don’t hear about because, frankly, it’s not romantic.

Dr Aletta, Explore What’s Next

It’s kind of the opposite. When you invite your beloved to share the rest of your life with you, you are back door inviting their entire family. This can cause a lot of conflict when you aren’t aware of what’s happening. 

The Trick To A Good Relationship Is To Establish Good Boundaries Early

And what do good boundaries look like for the couple? They look like this, follow closely. It’s very simple really. 

Pledge allegiance to your beloved first and foremost, before all others, including your Mom.

Dr. Aletta

When you both decide to commit to each other you are also committing to making your relationship your priority. 

Read that again. 

When you both decide to commit to each other you are also committing to making your relationship your priority. 

When you get married, you are committing to each other. Your past relationships with family, friends, work, etc., become secondary. Your relationship with your partner becomes number one. This is necessary, the correct and natural order for a successful, healthy relationship to thrive and work as a team to enjoy and face  all that life has in store for them..

That new plus, your new partner, means a minus that people often overlook. Your partner and you, that’s your new team. The old team, what therapists call the FOO (family of origin) takes the bench. They still have an important supportive role, just not the central starring one they may be used to. That shift can be an adjustment for everyone.

Your Mom might fight it. I hope she doesn’t, but, after all, she has been your go-to all your life until now. It is not easy to give up that position. For some parents, it’s nothing short of an identity shift. “Who am I if I’m not the primary person in my kid’s life?” Establishing good boundaries does not have to mean going in with a sledgehammer. You can assert yourself with kindness and a bit of understanding.

It’s Not Just Mom’s, Dads Need Good Boundaries Too!

Your dad might not like it, either. He might feel compelled to defend Mom’s right to meddle. Then there could be a whole choir of aunts, uncles and cousins telling you what to do. “We just don’t do it that way.” They might try to separate you from your beloved to “work on you”, to get you to make the “right” decision, i.e. theirs. For the extended FOO there might be some existential angst as well. What does that make us if you go a separate way? We drank the koolaid! Be golly, you will, too!

If you are the partner with the overly involved FOO, remember to always defer to the new reality.  You are on a new team now. Your new team makes decisions that affect the new team together.

Here’s A Script For Talking To Your Family Of Origin (FOO)

“You’re going to get married on a farm?! The farm thing is cute but it’s not what your cousins did. Your father and I got married at our parish. Why don’t you get married there? I will talk to the priest.”

“Mom, Jenn and I love the farm. Our friend owns it and it’s beautiful.”

“And that’s another thing. How can your friend marry you? That internet minister thing is ridiculous. I know it’s all her idea. You would never think of such a thing. Tell her we have family traditions.”

“It’s our decision, Mom.”

Sadly, there are people who see the new family member as an interloper who must be ‘put in their place’. Helping your family adjust to the new reality of your allegiance to your fiancé can be frustrating, even scary. If they can’t let it go, they may turn on the heat and fall back on emotional blackmail to keep the old hierarchy of power intact. Like this:

“Son, your Mom asked me to ask you if you and Jenn will be coming to Sunday dinner every week with the family. She said something about you saying you might not make it every week.”

“That’s right, Dad. Jenn and I only have the weekend to catch up on stuff. We might not make it every week.”

“Does Jenn know how important it is to this family to have Sunday dinner together? Your Mom is very upset. When I got married to your Mom I showed up. It makes us feel like you don’t love us anymore. Maybe talk to Jenn and explain how we do things in this family.”

“Dad, Jenn and I agree that it’s better to be up front. We’ll let you know with plenty of time when we can make it.”

“Ever since you got involved with Jenn you’ve changed.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Dad.”

Fear, Obligation, Guilt & Getting Married

Ouch. That was meant to hurt. Fear, Obligation and Guilt, the trifecta that makes emotional blackmail so powerful. 

If the FOO is good at wielding emotional blackmail you may need to armor up. It’s important to recognize emotional blackmail for what it is. It can be subtle but the twist in your gut when you hear it is a clue. Know that you are a good person who loves his FOO, even when they are being dickheads. . In most cases, families will adjust to the new reality with varying degrees of resistance.

It was In our couple’s case, his family having the most adjustment issues. Jenn had her own set of concerns.

Emotional Blackmail, Guilt & Assumptions

From the very beginning of their relationship Jenn recognized that his family tended to make assumptions about everything. According to them, there were right and wrong ways to do things, and their way was the ‘right’ way. She felt the undertow, the pressure to succumb to their wishes, to become one of them, like a creepy horror film. 

What was most scary was, where did he stand? Did he have the same expectations as his FOO? Her future mother-in-law in particular seemed secure in her position as matriarch. Everyone else in the family appeared to willingly fall in line. She was terrified of becoming isolated, a chasm between herself and the other side where her future spouse and his FOO stood.

Could He Be Generous & Strong?

She fell in love with him in part because of his generous nature. Could he be generous and strong enough to protect and defend their new unit? She observed how he was with his family. Kind, respectful, all good things, right? When the shit hit the fan, would he stand with her or them?

Relationships… The Struggle Is Real… and Worth It!

Relationships, the important ones, mean struggling together. Wrestling together when you have differences of opinion, listening to each other, not blaming, not scapegoating, using empathy to find the ways where you can both do better. That’s how relationships grow closer. That’s how successful married people do it.

It was a reflection of how healthy their relationship was that she was able to bring up her concern with Sean and they could have that difficult but necessary discussion of how to move forward when it came to relating to his FOO.

This would be the first of many such discussions. 

The important thing was that they both agreed that each of them individually had work to do. He would have the courage to speak with his family when conflicts arose and she would appreciate just how hard it was for him to do that. She would not have to defend herself or their unit with his family. That was his job. Hers was to not make every issue the ‘hill do die on’. Sometimes it would be OK to agree to the FOO’s preference. She would do the same with her family if the need arose. They  would never throw the other under the bus. They were ‘we’, not ‘she’ or ‘I’ when they made decisions together. A united front, they would deal with the consequences together.

The reward for their hard work? They fell even more in love than before.

****

Two months after the honeymoon…

“My Mom asked me to ask you why you don’t call her Mom.”

“But I have a Mom. My Mom is very much my Mom, alive and everything. Your Mom is not my Mom.”

“I know. It’s weird.”

“And why is she asking you to ask me? She does that. It’s not fair to either of us.”

“So what would you like me to tell her?”

“You can tell her she can ask me herself. Get out of the middle. Until then I’m not calling her Mom.”

“If she asks you?”

“I’m not calling her Mom.”

“Got it.”

“Thank you!”

Smacky kissy noises.

Fade to white.

A Little About Elvira G. Aletta, PHD, Founder & CEO

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