One reason that some couples hesitate to consider an intimate “just us” ceremony is because they fear hurting the feelings of unincluded family members. There’s not much benefit--and potentially quite a bit of harm--from swapping pre-wedding day stress for post-wedding day stress. At least the former has an ending date; the latter could go on indefinitely!
You can’t control how your family will feel and react in response to your desire to elope, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the impact--both on your family members and subsequently on yourselves.
Here are our best tips on how to tell your family you're eloping (or have eloped):
1. Be sure you, yourself, are comfortable with the idea of eloping. A few doubts-even a twinge or two-is perfectly normal when going this route. But if you’re having major reservations about your decision to marry alone or with a minuscule group present, then your gut is trying to tell you something. Get it worked out in your own mind before trying to convince your uninvited family members that it’s a great idea.
2. Hinging on #1. Be sure you understand the reason(s) why you want to elope. The clearer you are in your own head, the more persuasive you can be when confronted with an angry parent or adult child. Is it for financial reasons? A need to keep things simple? Does it just sound wonderfully romantic? Do you want to avoid the whole crazy family scene? Are you pregnant (yes--shotgun weddings still exist)? Have you been together so long that it’s just a formality, so no need for a big fuss? Is it a green card wedding? (Oh wait-scratch that--those are illegal). All humor aside, be clear with yourselves and others on why you want to do (or have already done) this. Don’t offer excuses; offer reasons.
3. Think about things you can do to mitigate the blow. Have lots of photos taken at your elopement ceremony; maybe have a video made. Have a celebration dinner (big or small) to celebrate your marriage after you arrive home. Facetime or Skype the ceremony.
4. Consider the timing. Do you want to tell them before or after it’s a done deal? There are pros and cons to each and you know your family best. Determine beforehand if it’s better to ask permission or forgiveness.
5. Remember, it’s all in the presentation. When you break the news, be it before or after the ceremony has taken place, be sensitive to how you present it. In your eagerness to avoid conflict, you may come across as callous, cavalier, or blasé about your family’s feelings. Acknowledge that this might not be good news for them, validate their feelings, and be thoughtful in your approach. This doesn’t mean you should grovel or apologize-only that your tone and the words you use should reflect caring. Practice out loud beforehand if need be.
6. Explain, but don’t justify. Going hand in hand with #5, remember that giving an explanation of your actions and motivations does not mean you have to get them to understand your decision. You do not need anyone’s forgiveness. You hope, of course, that your decision will be accepted--embraced even (in the best of all fantasies), but if the outcome falls far short of this desire, then simply acknowledge their hurt feelings and move on. You can’t own other people’s feelings.
7. Plan to be surprised by people’s reactions. It never fails--the one you expect to be calm will freak out and the one you expect to have kittens when they hear the news will be as cool as a cucumber. Expect the unexpected.
8. And last but not least, once you have done all that you can, accept that it is your life, your wedding and your marriage. The relationship you have with each other is the cornerstone of your happiness and the distressed reactions of others, while sometimes posing a challenge, cannot rock your world unless you allow it to. Remember, too, that most negative reactions will not last long. I virtually guarantee that by your first anniversary, everyone will be smiling!