How to Deal with Unsolicited Wedding Advice

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (16/03/2021) 
Categories: | Wedding Ceremony | Wedding Planning |
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Black and white photo of a woman holding
                        up her hand palm out in the stop gestureUnsolicited wedding advice (advice you didn't ask for) can add to wedding planning stress
. It is often well-meaning. And it is  usually given couched in terms such as must, traditional, proper etiquette, the way it is always done. These, and similar guilt inducing justifications, can make unsolicited advice especially hard to deal with emotionally. The fact that such advice is usually directed to the bride, while at the same time the common claim is that a wedding is "the bride's day", is not only sexist, it also sends a strong message that it is not just the success of the wedding that is at stake, the success of the marriage is the bride's responsibility!

Unsolicited advice can make you feel disrespected, particularly if it is repeated often enough to feel like you're being nagged. More than anything, it can create relationship problems with people you care about. So how do you defuse these pressures without alienating your nearest and dearest? It needs a multi-pronged approach and thoughtful planning about how to deal with it when it comes. Obviously this needs to be done as early in your planning process as possible, so you are well-armed.

Manage your own assumptions

Yes, it will seem as if everyone has an opinion about what you should include in your wedding, how you should manage it, what traditions you "must" honour in order to be "properly" married. It can all feel very negative. And certainly, if you read the huge number of stories about this shared on social media, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that such advice is not only negative, but downright toxic. Which in real life isn't true, but hey, a good story is also a disaster story!

In actuality, most people are trying to be helpful. Taking a minute to consider where they are coming from can do a lot to diffuse your reaction.
Because it is highly likely that you will feel that you are being criticised. At the same time, being the target of unsolicited advice about your wedding can undermine your ability to make decisions that will contribute to you having the wedding you want and deserve to have.

Understand why people give unsolicited advice

To be fair, a lot of unsolicited wedding advice is given because people are excited about your wedding and invested in it. They just want to be helpful. It is likely that it not about control, but an expression of concern. What underpins and motivates that concern is often about things they worry about for themselves and for those they care about. Sometimes it is as simple as wanting to make sure that no-one judges you because being judged is something they fear. Which, in their minds, means doing what they think is right. Sometimes it is an expression of practical concerns, trying to avoid anything going wrong. Sometimes it is pure superstition!  And often it is because the person has been to a wedding or two, been part of a wedding party, or has had their own wedding, so they are convinced they know how weddings should be structured and run.

But some people are motivated less by concern for you and more about their own needs. They want to get you to do what they want. They may be seeking to reduce their own anxiety about you but feel powerless, so they give advice as a way of calming their own anxiety and feeling that they are actually contributing to the success of your wedding. It might also be that they are a person who has trouble with respecting your boundaries.

Manage the expectations of family and friends

While harsh, the best way to limit unsolicited advice is to manage the expectations of family and friends by limiting how much you share with them. If you don’t discuss your ideas, think aloud in their presence, vent when all you want is empathy rather than advice, ask their opinion or seek their advice (unless you really want it) you will reduce your stress.

And it will be easier to
  • Take a wiser, more modern 21st century approach to your wedding, and stick to your guns about what you really want
  • Do only what feels right for both of you in the context of your relationship
  • Ignore traditions that are in reality just disguised superstitions
  • Eliminate gender stereotypes that perpetuate the notion of a bride being a second class citizen on her way to becoming the possession of her groom – and particularly don’t assign gender roles if you’re a same-sex couple
  • Ask for and accept help for specific tasks (delegate anything and everything except the decision-making)
  • Stand firm on what you will and will not tolerate for your wedding
  • Not allow anyone who is generously paying for all or part of your wedding to hold you to ransom over it.

Remind yourself that, while it feels personal, it very likely isn't

When someone tells you what you should or must include or how you should do something in relation to your wedding, it is likely not that what you are doing or planning is wrong, but more that that wouldn't be their choice. Most of us have an ingrained belief that the way we would do things is the right way. Most of us have filters that stop us saying anything that would come across as critical. But some people don't. Which means they feel both comfortable telling you their way is better, and entitled to do so.

Don't forget that someone else's wedding might well have been very different to yours. Cultural customs, different religious marriage ceremonies, and just evolution of legal requirements and ceremony and reception inclusions over a period of time can mean that your wedding will be quite markedly different.

Learn the origins of wedding customs, traditions, and superstitions

Most wedding traditions have their basis in superstition – what people believe must be done or observed to avoid bad luck, and funnily enough, the responsibility is always firmly on the bride. Heaven knows how that is supposed to work if there are two brides, or none (two grooms!). Scratch a lot of unsolicited advice and you'll find compulsion to have, do, or include something just to ensure good luck or avoid bad luck.

Other traditions are handed down to us through the British aristocracy, who always followed the lead of the Royal Family. White weddings, as we know them, were very largely invented by Queen Victoria.

It is worth being familiar with these superstitions, and with Queen Victoria's wedding, because that knowledge can give you the perfect response to unsolicited advice about traditions Nothing can influence the outcome of your wedding. So it is worth knowing that, in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of weddings I’ve never had any of the following happen - and neither has anyone else:
  • The marriage fell apart because the groom saw the bride’s dress before the wedding. This superstition is an extension of the superstition about the groom seeing the bride before the wedding. That was a practical measure to ensure that a groom, who had never before met his bride, or seen her in anything but a flattering painted portrait, would not have a chance to reject her and thereby completely derail a marriage that had been arranged for political, economic, and/or strategic advantage for both families.
  • The bride was kidnapped by fairies because she arrived on time. The whole "fashionably late" thing started with the belief that fairies operate completely by the clock.
  • The bride was adversely affected by evil spirits under the ground because her feet touched the ground. The reason for the carpeted aisle.
  • Future fertility was assured or compromised by the throwing of confetti, rice, etc or lack thereof. 
  • Future fertility was assured because the bride wore knickers previously worn by a pregnant woman (and not washed, yuk!).

Develop an action plan for responding to unsolicited advice

  • Make yourselves a list of what you both agree you definitely don't want, definitely do want, and are flexible about. If you don't care much about something there is no harm in accepting a suggestion from someone near and dear to them, thanking them for their input at the time, and crediting them with the inspiration in your speeches at your reception. and if there is something one of you loves and the other hates, or vice versa, the earlier you work out a compromise, the stronger you will be in the face of the opinions of others.
  • Brainstorm - just the two of you over your favourite tipple -  your bets about who will say what and possible responses. It can make for a fun and stress-defusing experience.
  • Pre-prepare some all-purpose responses and deliver your response in a gentle tone of voice with a smile, so that it is taken at face value.
Here are some suggestions:
    • I'm not sure that I understand. (making them explain often highlights how silly the suggestion is)
    • We're still working on that
    • That doesn't feel like it would be right for us
    • We aren't superstitious (and then follow up with the origin of the particular superstition/tradition)
    • We've decided not to bother about peer pressure from Queen Victoria
    • That's an interesting suggestion. I'll run it past [insert fiancee/celebrant/photographer/wedding planner/our wedding party/our witnesses/etc etc]
    • That's not a thing anymore. Weddings have changed quite a bit since ...[fill in the blank]
    • That's not something I want to talk about
  • Say Yes and Keep Walking is a  great saying! There is absolutely nothing wrong with agreeing with them and then doing nothing about it
  • Acknowledge but reject the advice. Respectfully listen to what is being suggested. And then politely tell them that you have to disagree with them. You might say something like I know you mean well, but I'm not looking for advice. What I really could use would be if you would ... (give them a task) 
  • Ask them to stop with the advice. This is your fall-back position if you even suspect that the advice comes from a negative position. Sometimes you need to be blunt and tell the person that they are taking some of the shine off your excitement about the wedding. But again, in a polite and gentle tone.
  • Be careful with humour. A witty one-liner retort might seem funny but can hurt and therefore do irreparable damage to your relationship with the advice-giver.

Remember you have an ally in me

As your celebrant, I make a great sounding-board. So feel free to vent. I won't be telling you you have to do anything (except for the very few legal requirements, and that's a case of the Marriage Act and not my personal opinion!)

Thanks for reading!
Jenny xxx Let's talk soon about how you can
                    have the best ceremony ever
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