The Female of The Species

You can hear it now. That defeatist sigh of exasperation as he mutters the word that all men resort to when they fail to fathom you: “Women”... A complex breed, we females are emotive beings – and the pre-wedding period can prove a particularly testing time.

The entire process is supposed to be about one defining relationship in your life: your romantic one. But weddings – since they also involve every other person and, therefore, relationship in your life – rapidly become about so much more.

What was originally a promise to be made between two people suddenly incorporates your family, his family, your friends, his friends...and, amongst it all, brews the most difficult dynamic of them all: female relationships.

All women – even the sporty/ladette/tomboy/emotionally guarded/non-girly ones – love and respect other women. We share empathy, gender specific experiences and unite to celebrate our womanliness in a variety of ways that serve to strengthen our bond.

However, some of the worst wedding conflicts occur between women. Welcome, if you will, to the world of the female power struggle.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the tales of terror. Not only has wedding fever gripped and transformed rational women into their unmentionably terrifying ‘Bridezilla’ alter ego, it has also created a more deadly creature: the ‘monster-in-law.’

This phenomenon is fast becoming one of the central issues of conflict that has left much devastation in its wake. And it doesn’t stop there. Other female relationships are forced under the microscope such as the mother-of-the-bride, bridesmaids and maid of honour.

“I have had one mother-in-law threaten not to come to the reception unless the table plan was changed and the sister of the groom was added to the top table, all because that is what had happened at their wedding,” recalls wedding planner, Sarah Vaux (

“I have also had one mother make the bride cry on nearly every decision she made because she did not agree with what the bride wanted.”

Lucy recently married and dealt with similar struggles of her own: “I found it very hard to stand my ground and found myself giving in to things that I did not particularly want. In the end we decided to choose our battles and my fiancé and I allowed certain things to pass without challenge and on other things we tried to stand our ground.”

“We found wedding planning stressful and it was very hard to keep everyone happy. It was made obvious when my mother-in-law wasn’t pleased with the decision made and we experienced tears, sulking and all manner of silly behaviour.”

Tears? Sulking? Though it sounds like nursery school antics, this is a common experience. Emotions can run extremely high, and even the sturdiest of relationships can flounder under the pressure.

“The biggest struggle I had was with a female friend who was single and unhappy. When I got engaged and started wedding planning she was really critical and bitter. She kept questioning my relationship and pointing out to me that loads of marriages end in divorce,” comments Kate.

“She insisted on coming wedding dress shopping and then turned up so late I almost missed my appointment. She was so hungover that she said afterwards she was glad it was over and couldn’t remember any of the dresses I tried on!”

Her friend’s behaviour had a knock-on effect with other relationships and social scenarios. “I tried not to mention weddings but when she asked and I mentioned any ideas I had she just criticised them. It was difficult as the rest of our friends were really excited for me but when she was around I couldn’t say anything.”

Not usually one of the most testing relationships, female friends and bridesmaids present their own problems. Remember to pick people that you know are up to the task. If a friend is mid-break-up herself, her support levels will be low and you might want to discuss this with her.

Choosing bridesmaids is both a personal and public announcement of your relationship, so be prepared that bitterness and resentment may ensue amongst friends not selected for the role.

Keep in mind that it is an investment for them in terms of finance, emotion and time. Remind them of this, be clear from the outset about what is specifically expected from them, and confirm that they are entirely happy with the arrangements.

Welcome their input, diffuse conflict as early as possible by verbalising it and remember the nature of your friendship. Honour your routine with them so that it isn’t all about you getting married. Schedule nights in/out that are free of wedding talk and ensure that you express an interest in what is happening in their lives too.

From the start, it is important to be decisive and assertive (but not dictatorial) while considering everyone – a necessity unless you’re being hitched alone. Christine Northam from Relate advises couples to work together to achieve their united aim.

“The bride needs to sit down and think through carefully what her priorities are for herself and her partner – decide whatever needs to happen to make it our special day. Then, what do our parents need, siblings and so on? Take into consideration the most important people in the group, for example, the role of the best man, ushers and bridesmaids. Ask yourself: what do we need/what do they need?”

“Outline a programme of the day, consider the individual people included in the planning and then plan together and assign yourselves jobs.” In short, it’s all about “cooperation and collaboration.”

Concerning the other underlying matriarchal relationships, Christine advises “making her aware of your vision and ask her opinion so she does not feel excluded.” This is applicable to both the mother-of- the-bride and mother-in-law.

Lucy highlights the “clash between the bride, her mother and mother-in-law-to- be. The two mothers often wish for things to be organised and planned the way in which they would want a wedding to be planned.”

“Unless you are very lucky and have a mother and a mother-in-law who get on well and are friends in their own right there is a sense of conflict there. My mother became irritated when she felt my mother-in-law to be was ‘overstepping the mark’ and making decisions that she should not make.”

The solution? Respect their positions. On a base level, one is ‘losing’ her little girl and the other is essentially being replaced by another woman. Their roles are being undermined by your independence and inter-dependence on someone else, and as happy as they are for you, the situation can psychologically induce emotions and inner turmoil of their own. Though your relationships will grow and adapt accordingly, this is still the ultimate in umbilical cord cutting for all involved.

Sarah Vaux pinpoints a familiar problem: “The most common phrase from the mothers is ‘I would like...’ and then sometimes they correct themselves and say, “oh I must remember it is not my wedding!” This is a common problem when the parents are paying for the wedding and the bride feels she is sometimes compromising on what she wants to please her mum.”

Christine agrees that money can provoke an issue of control but urges mothers of the bride to remember that, “things aren’t what they used to be – the roles have changed.” Politely remind over amorous mothers that their opinions and help are required, but that ultimately it is your decision, and your day.

Lucy continues: “Mother-in-laws are in the more difficult position of not always being directly involved in the wedding planning which, in my case, would have resulted in a lot of upset and feelings of being excluded. Having said that, even when she was included in the choosing of the venue, wedding dress shopping and other organising, difficulties arose because she was not in complete control.”

The easiest way to assuage these conflicts is to stick to your original plan, calmly argue your case and invite suggestions. Ask them what they would like to do, tap into their strengths and interests and only compromise on smaller, non-issues. The more important decisions must be the sole reserve of you and your fiancé.

If things get wildly out of hand and clashes are commonplace, Christine advises that you “present the case. Explain how difficult it is to manage and tell them that you will get married alone if they don’t behave.” If they still fail to see the error of their ways, you might well have to “consider an alternative way of getting married. Cut your losses; don’t let them ruin it for you.”

If communication lines are open, this worst-case scenario can be avoided entirely. Lucy held regular meetings to discuss the process: “By doing this, it gets the awkward issue of money and financial contribution out of the way immediately and everyone will know where they stand and what is expected.”

“At these meetings it is so important to say exactly what you want your special day to be like and not worry (or try not to) if you displease your mother or mother-in-law. As much as they are excited for you, you have to remember it is not their day. This is about you and your day must be an expression of who you are as a couple.”

Though you may experience conflict as the oestrogen levels rise, remember that your female friends and relatives are some of the most important people in your life. They can offer a lot of indispensable support in every way. When you are caught up in the wedding, they are there to help you – however they may act – and genuinely want what is best for you.

Most of all, they know you and your fiancé well and offer a different perspective while taking some of the pressure from you. So long as you remain true to yourself, your man, and all the various women in your life, your relationships will only benefit as you breeze your way toward married life.