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How to deal with family drama (and other things you aren’t getting paid for)

Family drama exists before the engagement; the planning process is just another stage for that drama to play out. It brings pre-existing issues to the surface, which can quickly get out of hand if not controlled.

Although we’re in the business of producing weddings, it can sometimes feel like we’re also therapists and mediators amidst all of the creative work on our plates. The wedding planning process can present some tense situations between couples and their families, especially when their expectations aren’t managed.  

Now, there’s a common misconception that weddings create drama, but that simply isn’t true. Family drama exists before the engagement; the planning process is just another stage for that drama to play out. It brings pre-existing issues to the surface, which can quickly get out of hand if not controlled.  

Unfortunately, many people think it is part of a wedding pro’s job to deal with this type of drama when it really isn’t. Your contract states what you’re paid for; everything else is out of scope and beside the point. You run a venue, you cater events, you take professional photos, you plan timelines and design spaces—whatever your specialty, you are not a therapist. You are smart, skilled, and dedicated, but you are not going to solve longstanding family drama that existed before you entered the picture. Set the drama apart from the wedding and focus on what you do best: your craft. 

So, how can you stop the drama from spilling over onto your plate? 

Define your working relationship. 

If you don’t define your business and its services clearly, people won’t necessarily see you the way you hope to present yourself. You essentially allow your clients to define your relationship, which can push you into a difficult area. You might be relegated to being a “helper,” when really you are a professional and a business owner who was hired to serve your client. 

Always use professional verbiage when discussing your business and how you operate with clients. For example, calling clients by their name (as opposed to “Hey, girlfriend!” or “Hi, lady!”) sets boundaries and keeps your relationship on the formal side. Additionally, you need to define your role as a wedding professional not just in conversation, but in your contract. Get crystal clear on the services you provide, as well as everything you don’t do. Be specific about everything from your office hours to the payment schedule to the responsibilities expected from the couple. If you don’t tell them explicitly, they won’t know. 

Be proactive in encouraging conversations. 

If you don’t want to start a side-hustle as a therapist, do what you can to preempt any sticky conversations by encouraging family discussions early on. For example, our lead generation freebie is a downloadable checklist of things couples should do once they get engaged. In addition to the little tasks like getting rings appraised and setting aside savings, it outlines the important conversations couples should be having with one another and with their family. These include but are not limited to subjects like budgeting, traditions, guest lists, and delegation of tasks. 

This reminds them they can figure out family issues on their own and that it’s not my responsibility. Encourage them to have the hard talks early, so when you start planning, the process—and the wedding day itself—won’t be clouded with drama.  

Answer questions before they’re asked. 

Once you have a few weddings under your belt, you should have a good understanding of what couples want to know when planning their wedding. Be proactive by providing answers to these questions before they come up. Provide resources for topics like how to get a marriage license, tips for setting a realistic budget, suggestions for booking accommodations and transportation, and other FAQs that arise along the way.  

In this, consider including an extra guide about family dynamics that can coach clients through the trickier parts of planning, like creating guest lists and deciding who gets a plus one. By providing this information on the front end, you’ll be defining your role as a professional and giving them all of the help they need to make those tough decisions on their own. 

At the end of the day, a big part of dealing with family drama is accepting that it has nothing to do with you and your professionalism. Try not to take things personally and set the boundaries that will allow you to remain productive and effective in your work. It can be difficult to draw these lines, especially considering we’re in an industry that deals with very personal and emotion-driven events.  

However, it’s essential to prevent your professional relationship from turning into a friendship. We can (and should!) be friendly, but working with friends is frankly quite challenging. Being friends with clients can devalue your worth, power, messaging, and money.  

Think about your own service providers: your dentist, your accountant, your attorney, your hairdresser. You might be friendly with them, but you still respect them as professionals who know better than you in those fields. That’s what you pay them for—you don’t expect a free haircut or tell your dentist what to do. When you blur the lines of your client relationship, you risk losing your reputation as a bona fide professional. 

When it all boils down, managing these sticky situations is mainly about setting firm boundaries and doing so early. Don’t mince words with clients; be clear and transparent about your role in their wedding and trust that they will follow your lead. 

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