How To Deal With the Unspoken Expectations of Family!

 

When not officiating weddings, I’m a corporate communications coach and trainer (The Business of Confidence). In addition, I teach business and cross-cultural communication courses at UCLA Extension.

 

Last week my eleven-week course on business communication wrapped-up. Rose (name changed) wasn’t able to make the last class and here’s an excerpt from the email she sent me. . .

 

And, YES, all of this does have something to do with wedding planning – trust me – read on!

 

I’m so sorry that I missed last night’s last class. I was in the car on the way there and ended up having a tough conversation with my parents about wedding planning – the source of many of our family’s conversations these days.

 

We ended up talking on the phone for 2 hours and it was such an important, necessary conversation for us to have that I made the tough call to continue on and miss the class. . .

The most important thing I’ve gained from the course is the idea of the “family motto”. This is why I skipped the class last night: My family and my fiance’s family have completely different family mottos and it’s been clouding the way that everyone communicates with each other.

My family motto is “wear your heart on your sleeve” and his is “keep your cards close to your chest”. Our parents have been having so many misunderstandings and disagreements lately and it’s all a result of them not understanding where the other ones are coming from.

 

My parents are transparent and want everyone to share their feelings during our meetings and discussions and his parents just don’t operate that way. This has resulted in my fiance and I putting ourselves in the middle, which has turned into a giant game of telephone, which we ended last night.

 

After asking our parents to talk directly to each other, we had conversations with each set of parents and it became clear that our mottos are in conflict.

 

And it was because of what I learned in your class that I feel that I was able to take control of the conversation and get everyone to realize that we’re all operating towards the same goal but we’re getting there different ways. Our best course is to understand that about each other and accept each other for who we are.

Thank you for giving me the tools and confidence to do so.

 

So what is this “family motto” thing that Rose referred to?  Well, let me tell you a. . .

 

true story

When Paulann and Darius (names changed) hired me they’d not yet chosen a venue. He had a large family and wanted a place where they could invite everyone “plus one.” She had a small immediate and extended family and didn’t care where they got married.

 

As the weeks passed, they still hadn’t found the right place and were bickering to a degree that surprised each of them. She nixed every venue he liked and he began to wonder if she even wanted to get married.

 

When we got together it was clear that they were working from different visions of their day, guided by what I call family mottos.

 

Our family’s beliefs and rituals are like the air we breathe.

 

Every family lives life guided by a motto, a mantra. Sometimes it is spoken aloud; other times it is implicitly understood. But no matter, this motto guides a family as it navigates through life.

 

When I was growing up, my family’s motto was – “trust no one”.

 

My father was a cop. His job demanded that he be leery of all. And as is often the case, his work flowed into his home.

I breathed in that mantra without thought or doubt. Later in life I had to work hard to overcome its limitations and to trust people.

 

When growing up, Darius’ home was where all the neighborhood kids wanted to hang out. His mother loved to cook. His family made a good fuss over holidays and birthdays. “The more the merrier!” was their motto.

 

Paulann’s family was close-knit and very private. Few of her friends were ever invited for dinner. Holidays and birthdays were celebrated in a low-key way. By ten o’clock the dishes were done and everyone was heading to bed. “Proper and Private” were the guiding words in her family’s life.

 

Darius saw their wedding as the celebration of all celebrations. Paulann didn’t want to share her day with so many people.

 

What to do?

 

Talk.

 

They had to talk openly and trustingly. They had to have some hard conversations, revealing feelings that surprised each of them.

 

Once they were able to see things from each other’s perspective, they were able to go about making honest decisions that honored them both.

 

They were able to begin to create a new family motto—one that was their very own.

 

Sanity Saver Questions:

  • How were you taught to see life? What is your family’s motto regarding life?
  • How was your fiancé taught to see life? What is your fiancé’s family’s motto?
  • How do those assumptions about life influence you in your life together? As you plan your wedding?

 

Without understanding your family’s and your partner’s family’s assumptions about how life is lived, you will be setting yourself up in subtle ways for the stress of misunderstanding.

 

Remember:

The challenge, the responsibility and the excitement of creating a life together involves embracing a new motto of life.

If your family’s motto limits you and your partner, then respectfully work around it or put it to the side.

Choose a new motto – the motto that will guide you and your partner.

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