There was a time when religion and marriage went hand in hand. Weddings were performed at the local church, with ceremonies that spoke at length about God’s intentions for marriage and the role of religion in a couple’s life together. It didn’t matter if the bride and groom were believers or not; it was just “what you did.”
These days, couples take a much more personalized approach to their weddings. Instead of defaulting to old traditions, many lovebirds want to have weddings that are unique and meaningful to them. In some cases, that means ditching religion for something more secular. This decision can ruffle a lot of feathers during the wedding planning process—especially if one (or both) of the couple has religious parents.
Whether you’re planning a secular ceremony, a religious ceremony that doesn’t reflect your parents’ faith, or anything in between, it’s important to use tact and composure when discussing this issue with your family. Here are a few tips to help you navigate this difficult topic.
You probably feel very strongly about the kind of wedding you want to have. There are certain things that are very special to you and your sweetheart (like significant moments or inside jokes), and celebrating them on your wedding day probably means a lot. You have every right to feel this way, but there’s one thing you should remember: your parents probably also feel this way about their faith.
When discussing which religious elements to include or omit from your wedding, try your best to listen to what your parents have to say. Hearing their thoughts about unity candles or the wedding mass will help you understand their point of view—and you just might end up agreeing with them.
Don’t Get Defensive
Talking about religion with your loved ones is rarely easy (especially when you don’t agree). These conversations can quickly escalate into arguments, shouting, and a lot of hurt feelings. While you can’t control how other people react to your beliefs (or lack thereof, as the case may be), you can control how you respond to others. Therefore, the best thing to do is stay calm and don’t get defensive.
As soon as you start to get defensive or angry during a discussion, things start to snowball very fast. To avoid this, do your best to maintain composure and explain your viewpoint clearly. If you communicate calmly and rationally, everyone will likely be more satisfied with the conversation.
Look for Opportunities to Compromise
Let’s say that your family and your future in-laws are both very religious—but they belong to different faiths. To top it off, both you and your fiancé aren’t religious at all. How will you ever put together a wedding ceremony that makes everyone happy? Believe it or not, there is a solution: keep things vague and try to compromise.
Instead of having a loved one read scripture, why not ask your guests to offer a silent prayer after your vows? Your guests can send good vibes, pray to any god they prefer, or sit there and enjoy some music you’ve selected to score the moment.
Instead of picking one religious leader over another, have a secular officiant perform the ceremony (and, if you really want to, allow your pastor/rabbi/etc. to offer a short blessing beforehand). Sometimes, these little compromises can be enough to satisfy your family, while still giving you the freedom to plan the wedding of your dreams.
If All Else Fails, Have the Wedding You Want
Of course, sometimes all the compromises in the world aren’t enough. Your family may demand nothing less than a fully religious ceremony…in their church…with their priest.
This kind of pressure can be very uncomfortable—after all, you love your parents and you want them to enjoy your wedding! However, at the end of the day it is important to remember that this wedding is about two people: you and your partner.
Whether you have a secular ceremony, a religious ceremony, or a wedding with a little of both, make sure that your wedding is the special day that you’ve envisioned. If you don’t want to have a religious wedding, don’t! If you want to do a handfasting ceremony (a pagan tradition that can make some religious guests clutch their pearls), do it! If you want to read scripture during the ceremony but your loved ones aren’t religious, do it anyway!
Plan the wedding that makes you and your partner happy. When your parents and loved ones see the joy in your eyes, they’re bound to feel nothing but happiness for you.