Q: My fiancé and I are from different ethnic backgrounds. When we announced our engagement, I thought that everyone would be happy for us. Instead, no matter what we do, we just make more people mad at us–people that we thought would support and encourage us. Why would our families turn on us like this?
A: The fact that your are from different backgrounds may be creating some anxiety and concern amongst your families. People are most comfortable with what they are familiar with. It feels safe and predictable. Something new and different may feel threatening. If you are of different religious or cultural backgrounds, how do you reconcile this difference? Different backgrounds may bring different ideas and traditions concerning your marriage and your lives afterwards. Each family may have its own ideas about the marriage ceremony, the roles of a husband and wife, relationships with the extended family and child rearing. Adding these possible differences to the concerns that often accompany any wedding, can create a high level of anxiety.
Some people are just stubborn and unwilling or unable to listen to new ideas or to attempt any compromise. But, it may also be that parents are genuinely afraid for their children, afraid that they will be at risk if they step outside of their familiar circle. Perhaps parents are afraid that their children will leave their culture behind–a culture that the parents and/or others have made great sacrifices to maintain.
If you and your fiancé have not already done so, sit down together and decide what your answers are to the potential questions that your parents may have. If you are clear in your own minds what you plan to do and why, it may alleviate some of the anxiety that uncertainty can bring, anxiety that your parents are most likely experiencing. Meet with each of your parents. Communicate to them that they are important to you. Ask them what their wishes and concerns are for the two of you. Share with them your plans and how you came to your decisions. Perhaps afterwards, you could meet with all of your parents together. If you can do all of this, it may help to clear the air a bit and hopefully start a new course for your upcoming wedding to be a happy event for everyone. Congratulations & Good Luck!