How To Break Through “Conversational Gridlock” While Doing Wedding Planning With Parents

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When not officiating weddings, I’m a corporate communications coach and trainer ( In addition, I teach communication courses at UCLA Extension. This email excerpt is from Rose (names changed), a student, explaining why she missed the last class of last Quarter. All of this does have something to do with wedding planning – trust me!

“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 two hours. . .

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

My family’s motto is ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ and his is ‘keep your cards close to your chest.’ Our parents have had so many misunderstandings and disagreements 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. 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.

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

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When Paulann and Paul 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 (so she claimed) 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 our home. I breathed in that mantra without thought or doubt. Later in life I had to work hard to overcome its limitations and trust people.

When growing up, Paul’s 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 nine o’clock the dishes were done and everyone was heading to bed. Proper was the guiding word in her family life.

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

What to do?


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 set about creating 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 partner taught to see life? What is your partner’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.

If your family’s mantra limits you and your partner, then toss it to the side. Choose a new mantra that reflects who you are and who you want to be!

JP Reynolds, M.Div. has officiated more than one thousand weddings and has coached hundreds of people in how to create and deliver heartfelt, personalized ceremonies.

This post is an excerpt from his latest book - How to Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane

JP is also the author of the best-selling


All books are exclusively at

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