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My parents are divorced and have not been in the same room together in 20 years. How in the world am I going to have them together for my wedding?


What may be going on: If your parents have gone this long without being in the same room, it could be a case that both parents would actually welcome an occassion to try to "make nice" for the sake of family unity. Or it may in fact be ongoing resentment from a nasty divorce. Either way remember both parents feel very vulnerable to the idea of seeing the other person after so long and will feel really uncertain by how they may react at your wedding to seeing the other person.


What usually doesn't happen, but should: An honest, sincere conversation with each parent is a good idea. This could be as simple as, "hey mom, I know this wedding is going to be tough, seeing dad after all these years. I'd love to set up a time to talk about what you'd like or not like to have happen so we can make it easier on both of you." Listening to your parents will give you a sense of where they're at, how much (or little) thought they've given to the big day and will spur the important conversations about logistics. For example, how important is it to YOU to have them in the same photo and how open are they to that idea? What about extended family and how they all get along? Knowing the "rules" you have to play by will help you set up seating and all occassions they may be in close proximity.


How to avoid potential drama : The last thing you should do is not have these important conversations ahead of time and expect your parents to play nice and be emotionless about the prospect of seeing the ex after all these years. The reality is if they were capable of playing nice, they would have done so a long time ago, for all your games, recitals, graduations, birthdays and other big moments in your life. And while you're becoming a "wedding expert", they were married a long time ago and may not realize all the times they will potentially be near the ex. Talking through logistics will go a long way in reducing your own stress, not to mention the potential drama between them.


What not to say : Do not beg, plead, or let yourself be taken for a ride. There are basic expectations you should have. For example, you should not have to hold TWO separate weddings to accomodate both parents! It likely won't work to do what most advice out there says, "sit your parents down and tell them you expect them to get along." You either come across as condescending, or you cause a lot of defensiveness and create unnecessary conflict.


It is a good idea to get the lay of the land for when weddings involve both parents in close proximity (rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, ceremony, photography, reception.) Then learn how much they are willing to bend to your wishes and how rigid they are. Then get creative! Every wedding vendor has a lot of stories of divorced parents who can't be in the same room, or who cause drama. Ask them for their creative solutions to get ideas. And then keep your parents updated on the plans. This will ensure a smoother wedding day if both people know what to expect and can be assured they won't have to confront someone they've spent a lot of effort avoiding for 20 years.


Read more from our book, Take Back Your Wedding available on our website or Amazon.



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Elizabeth Doherty Thomas, is a co-founder of The First Dance, along with Marriage and Family therapist father Bill Doherty. The First Dance is a 2007 Modern Bride Trendsetter award winner for taking on the complex family dynamics of wedding planning. See what engaged couples and wedding professionals are saying about our book Take Back Your wedding. Our entire website is dedicated to offering advice on working through the people stresses of wedding planning as a couple, with your families, and how to strengthen your upcoming marriage through this enormous first task of married life.