Weddings are rife with bullying – and its got to stop

by Jennifer Cram Brisbane Marriage Celebrant  © (22/02/2019)
Categories:  | Wedding Planning | Wedding Traditions |
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Presentation Marriage Certificate showing
                          two places only for witness signatureBridal and general media are choc-a-bloc with stories about brides bullying their bridesmaids.  It’s a thing, and something that seems to have escalated over the past few years. I suspect that what is to blame is the way wedding stress is ramping up because of huge expectations and a competitive mentality fueled by social media.

It’s a thing. And a problem. But it is also obscuring the amount of bullying a couple is subjected to. So it is time we called out wedding bullying, name it for what it is, and collectively work together to get rid of it so that all weddings can be the happy time they are supposed to be.

Weddings have always been occasions where appearances matter. A socially sanctioned excuse to be over the top, to make a statement. And given the origin of the big white wedding as we know it, the weddings of the aristocracy following the example of Queen Victoria, they have become occasions on which there is an expectation that the wedding party and their guests will dress in a manner they usually can’t afford, and the guests will be wined and dined at a standard they usually aren’t used to. This puts pressure on everyone and creates a climate where multi-directional bullying rife and where it is misread as advice, instead of what it is, an attempt to control.

Bullying disguised as Etiquette Advice


The minute you tell people you’re engaged, it starts; the advice about what you have to do in order to be properly married starts flowing and just doesn’t stop. Historically, the bride has been the primary victim, and female relatives and friends the primary perpetrators. So whether it is what sort of wedding – church vs civil ceremony in the park; the guest list; what everyone wears; even how to walk down the aisle (yes, there are still people who think that awful hesitation step is mandatory!), or a thousand other things, everyone has an opinion and they are not backward in bullying the poor bride about it. In the 21st century, where there can be two brides, or two grooms, both parties cop it, and  the groom in an opposite sex wedding is copping a bit more now than he used to.

Etiquette is a codified set of “rules” that are meant to make sure that no-one is embarrassed or made to feel uncomfortable. When society was ruled by etiquette, largely because it was a way of defining who was of your class and identifying anyone who was not, everyone stuck to the rules. Today, really, who cares? So if your choice is not unkind, is within the law, and makes the two of you happy, go for it, and politely convey that to your “advisers”.

A way to fend off such advice is to have a well-thought out plan for your wedding before you discuss it with anyone. And think ahead as to what their objections could be. Then armed and ready, share the basic details of your wedding with them, addressing possible objections head on. This is much easier if you are paying for your own wedding. If not, explain how going the non-traditional route will actually save money (it virtually always does!).

Bullying disguised as Advocating for Tradition

Traditions are good ideas that someone had sometime in the past that people have continued to repeat them. But they do have their use-by date. Most people don't know why people started to that thing, or you should continue to do that particular thing. They only "know" that you should! If the people around you are pushing for certain traditions it could be because they’ve never thought the issue through, or because there is something in it for them. Couples armed with information about the origins of traditions are best able to refute arguments for them particularly when those traditions have a dark history. Many traditions are responses to beliefs in evil spirits that live to ruin the nuptials, ways of ensuring that the groom did not reject the bride at the altar, ways of signifying ownership of the bride by the groom, or hacks to deal with social conditions such as body odour resulting from infrequent bathing. Counter the bullying and take charge by using the situation as a teaching moment.

Bullying by Guests

For example, it is very common for couples to decide to have a child-free wedding. Guest who ignore that and go right ahead and write their children’s names on the RSVP, or those who tell you they won’t attend if their children can’t come, are demonstrating that they believe that they can bully you into either completely changing or decision, or into relaxing your rule for them.  Or, you’ve decided that you are going to have an unplugged wedding. Guests who ignore that are displaying a form of bullying.

In the case of the children, stand your ground. Sweetly. Express regret that they won’t be celebrating with you. In the case of snap-happy guests, let them know in the invitations that devices aren’t welcome and word your celebrant up to make an announcement before the ceremony starts and request that he or she uses phrases such as “respect their wishes” and “be in the moment with them” If you think it might be a real problem with one or two individuals, speak to them one-on-one ahead of time and task someone to keep an eye on them on the day and quietly intervene, if necessary.

Bullying as a Sales Technique

It’s a technique that has worked for a very long time in everything from cosmetics to underwear, so why wouldn’t the wedding industry embrace it as well? I’m not sure that it is always a deliberate tactic. It is just the way advertising to women works.

Subtle forms of bullying can be used for making the initial sale and for upselling once the initial sale has been made. Promises about fixing something about you are designed to make you feel inadequate and therefore prompt you to sign up. Once you are aware of the manipulation, it starts to lose its power. Your best-beloved fell in love with you just the way you are. Don’t forget that. And your friends and relatives know who you are, what you do for a job, approximately how much you earn and how you normally entertain, so don’t forget that when deciding on what sort of wedding to have and how much to spend on it.

Bullying by or of your Partner

Not nice, but not uncommon. Your wedding is one day. Your marriage is for life. Negotiate your wedding because that’s part of negotiating your relationship. It doesn’t take anything but time and love to make wedding decisions that make you both happy. And if bullying continues, the problem is not the wedding, but the relationship.

It's Time

It is time to stop wedding bullying in its tracks – one wedding at a time. Now.

Thanks for reading!

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