You Asked: Pre-Wedding Blues

DearSugar --

My future mother-in-law has become a nightmare, and I don't think I can handle dealing with her for one more second. I'm a grown woman, and she's hijacking my wedding plans and always insisting that she's right and I'm wrong about how to do things. She is criticizing and trying to change every single detail, the little ones and the big ones. I could spend hours here listing all the things that she's said and done in the past four months, but please just believe me. I don't want to meltdown and freak out on her, but I need her to stop now. How do I make that happen without hurting my relationship with her? -- Wedding Blues Wendy

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Dear Wedding Blues Wendy – Planning a wedding is a stressful job, whether or not you’ve won the mother-in-law lottery. So, let’s begin with reminders about the super important stuff. I hope you’re about to marry a guy who consistently stands up for you, as you’ll definitely need him to be your man and not merely his mama’s boy in your married life. If that’s all set, you’re a lucky girl in a temporary jam. That’s the stuff to remember: Temporary problem; Lucky girl. And you are not alone; I get daily emails about this very situation, so I've put together a thorough roadmap, with lots of tips. I hope the community here will post suggestions that have worked for them, as well!

Now, on to your future mother-in-law: Experience suggests you probably can’t stop her irritating behavior and you probably can’t not offend her, especially if she’s hell bent on being offended. I need you to really hear that before we start damage control, okay? I can offer some strategies and you can give them a try, but at the end of the day your peace of mind can’t be tethered to her transformation. Do not, I repeat, do not engage in an open battle of wills with your FMIL. Strong boundaries and cleverness should be your camouflage.

Today we aim for the high road. In five years, you’ll look back and be seriously impressed with yourself, I swear it. For now, I need you to invest about two hours of your undivided time. Here's the gameplan:

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1) Invite FMIL to lunch.
2) At lunch, express how grateful you are for her wisdom, her experience, her passion and her good taste. Thank her for all the ways she’s been available to you and your fiancé.
3) Tell her you’re trying very hard to be organized around the wedding, and explain that you’d like to call her every two weeks (or once a month) with a list of questions or things to run by her. Tell her to keep a list, too, for your phone dates. This way you help contain her “input”.
4) Communicate to her that where your decisions and her advice differ is no reflection on how much that advice matters to you. Let her know that her suggestions always help you think more clearly about your choices and their consequences.

After that, Miss Wedding Blues, put her to work:
1) Give her a list of two or three time-consuming wedding tasks, ones you’re willing to let her drive and own.
2) Ask her sweetly if she’s willing to manage these for you; suggest that you’re stuck about the best direction. Pick only things you can let go of or about which you have no preference, Bride. In other words, make her feel they are critical matters for you and the wedding, and that only she can be trusted to manage the decisions. See where we’re going?
3) When the work is done, thank her copiously and thank her within earshot of other people.
4) At the rehearsal dinner, thank her again, very specifically, for all her good counsel and hard work.

Repeat as necessary. It’s a lot like dealing with a child: Gently state what you require, reinforce good behavior and qualities, and then redirect her attention and energies.

After the lunch date, dear Wendy, let the chips fall. You’ve done your part to be a graceful and strategic problem-solver, daughter-in-law, and fiancée. Don’t forget to reward yourself afterward with a massage or manicure, anything calming and relaxing. You’ll definitely have earned it.

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