I come from a family that isn't what you would call close. We all keep to ourselves and only meet up about once a year for the holidays. I'm also an only child. So, when I found out that my boyfriend had a tight-knit family and multiple siblings, I was beyond excited and couldn't wait to join a family who invested in each other.
Soon after meeting the man I knew I was going to marry, I flew to his parents' house for Thanksgiving. I never thought anything could go wrong but I still had this weird, nervous feeling in my gut. I rationalized that I was getting frazzled because of the fact that these people would be my future in-laws - forever. My boyfriend at the time was also a bit nervous because I was the first woman he had ever dated and brought home to meet the parents.
Upon meeting my future mother-in-law, I noticed how quickly the conversation always steered back to her. I didn't have a problem with this but it was becoming obvious to me that she wanted all the attention and it left a bad taste in my mouth. His father isn't very talkative and his sister never even came downstairs to meet me (she stayed up in her room until dinner was served). I met one of his brothers, who seemed very nice, and I had spoken to another brother on the phone before, so I had officially been introduced to everyone at this point. We played games silently and I helped his mom make Thanksgiving dinner - which felt a lot like being in the kitchen with Gordon Ramsey - overall, it went fine.
However, the next few days were truly a mystery. I witnessed a lot of glares, awkward silence and hush-hush comments being made under his relatives' breaths, all of which I didn't think much of, until a few days later, when my future husband told me that his family simply didn't like me. I was crushed.
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The weeks that followed were some of the hardest we've ever had to get through. My boyfriend had to accept the idea that his family wasn't supportive of him being with me and I was grappling with some strong feelings of rejection and hurt. I never had a problem with any of my former boyfriends' families; I was always polite and respectful, and that usually led to them regarding me as a second daughter of sorts. Granted, that made the break-ups harder but this...this was a different ball game. It was something I had never dealt with and I was left trying to make sense of it all. What could be so wrong with me that they would be willing to judge me and dismiss me after such a short period of time?
Over the next year, we continued to date each other despite his family's passionate animosity towards me. Things took a turn for the dramatic as they tried to convince him that I wasn't "The One" and that he was making a huge mistake. They never said any of this to me directly and his family and I never had an in-person altercation, which only made the tension even worse, since I couldn't address it or convince them otherwise that I was the right person for their son.
He proposed to me right before Christmas and flew to his parents' home a few days later, where he was met with a wall of disapproval and apathetic reaction towards the news. Once he returned, I couldn't stop thinking of potential scenarios in which his family would sabotage our wedding or convince him to call it off. When I received a nasty e-mail from his sister detailing how much she loathed me and thought her brother could do better, my anxiety went into overdrive. I felt depressed, overwhelmed, and helpless as my fiancé did everything he could to quell his family's fears and try to move forward with our wedding plans.
I vented to my fiancé, my mother, and all of my bridesmaids about what I could have possibly done to deserve such horrible treatment. They tried to give me well-intentioned advice that on our wedding day, it wouldn't matter, because it was only about the two of us. Although that is a lovely mantra in theory, quite frankly, it just wasn't helping. I looked through every bridal blog, website, and magazine for some answers or advice but I couldn't find anything that helped. I quickly realized that this is a taboo topic that is rarely brought up in the world of wedding etiquette: What if your in-laws just don't like you and you don't like them in return?
I even went so far as to ask a professional blogger what I should do. Her response: "Don't let worry and your bad feelings about the situation turn into paranoia and ruin your day, or any of the days leading up to your day. You can only deal with what's in front of you, and right now, that ain't much."
I was upset by the underlying assumption that it was me who was making up some imaginary drama. Deep down, I knew that I wasn't being a bridezilla and that I had my reasons for being paranoid. I acknowledged that I didn't have the worst situation known to man, but it was still MY situation nonetheless and I was approaching a full-blown meltdown.
One day, after a stressful conversation with his mother, my fiancé came to me in tears that he just didn't know how we were going to make it as a couple with his parents being so dismissive of our relationship. I had finally had enough. Seeing your significant other break down is heartbreaking and knowing who caused the pain is infuriating. I finally realized that I wasn't the problem - I wasn't making my soon-to-be husband cry over his choice of who he loved. I could no longer let his family's opinions or thoughts about me control my life.
I composed an e-mail to my MIL - I asked a few friends to vet it and make sure it was appropriate before I sent it out - that broke down our issues. At the end, I stated, "We need to work through this because if we both love, then we'll both stop this atrocious behavior." I never received a reply.
However, the phone calls stopped being about me and more about our wedding. My in-laws even offered to help out financially and things smoothed over within a month. The rest of the planning was tension-free and on the week of the wedding, they arrived in my hometown and helped in every way imaginable. Yes, his mother still attempted to steal the spotlight and almost accidentally caught my hair on fire (note to brides: keep sparklers away from MILs) and his sister was a pouting mess, but they simply couldn't ruin our day.
I know I'm not the only bride who's ever had to deal with contemptuous in-laws and my story isn't even the worst in the bunch, but my advice would be to just let it go - especially the week of your wedding. You're going to have so much more on your plate and your future moms/pops will only be background noise at that point. If you can let it go before then, kudos to you.
Quite frankly, the only behavior you can control is yours and how you react to them. After discovering that my in-laws didn't approve of me, I made the choice to be the bigger person and never engage in any sort of back-and-forth. While sometimes I failed, most of the time, it did keep me from saying things to them that I would have eventually regretted, especially now that I'm married. The note I ended up sending was less accusatory and more focused on my willingness to make things work, as well as my admission that I might have things to work on as well.
Also, please know that your significant other isn't marrying you for their family or for your family. They're marrying you for you - and that's all that matters. If your significant other loves you enough to put a ring on it, don't let the haters get to you. You're the person they chose to spend the rest of their lives with; not their mother, not their sisters, not their grandparents, but you. Please remember why you're getting married in the first place and let them eat cake.
Good news: My story does have a happy ending. Now that we're married, the in-law situation has improved, partly because of the 1,000+ miles between us and his family. While his mother does get a bit nosey about our future tiny human plans and when I'm going to get a new job, all in all, it's settled down quite nicely. I continue to make the conscious decision to "let it go." My husband is the only one whose opinion I care about and our goal is to always bring out the best in each other. If that means I have to accept that I'm a bit of a controlling nag who needs to change a little, then that's just fine.
Tell us: Can you identify with this anonymous bride's struggle towards acceptance? How has your relationship with your in-laws changed throughout the course of your relationship?
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