How to tell your family you are eloping
My family will never forgive me if I elope!
One reason that some couples hesitate to consider an intimate “just us” elopement wedding is because they fear hurting the feelings of unincluded family members. Since the prime motivation for couples wanting to elope is to reduce stress, the thought of dealing with the drama of uncooperative family members is going to make most eloping couples want to run screaming from the room.
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!
Types of reactions you’re likely to experience when you tell your family you’re eloping
There are types of responses you should expect from your family when you tell them you are eloping:
- The Arguer (a.k.a. the cajoler). “We are Planning to Elope” will barely be out of your mouth before the objections start.
- The fit-throwers. Imagine My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a plot twist: Toula tells her parents she and Ian are running off to Vegas to tie the knot. I can hear it now, “Whaddoyamean, your 27 first cousins aren’t invited???” “Hey Ian, we’re going kill ya! Oooopa!”
- The Martyr. (Full disclosure: I grew up in an arch-Catholic family and I married a Jewish man. While these two religions don’t have a monopoly on the “suffering in silence, but make sure everyone knows it” approach to dealing with situations, let’s just say, I am very well versed in how to handle this type of reaction!) These are the family members who reluctantly say, “Okaaaaay….. if that’s what you really want, we understand. I’ll just return that dress I’ve been planning to wear.” (Trust me, they do not understand. The aforementioned statement will be punctuated with lots of sighs.)
- The Stoic. Kind of like the Martyr, but this is more of a dad thing. Picture a tight-lipped nod, while that vein in his temple throbs uncontrollably.
- The Delayed-Reactioners. These are thamily members who initially make you think, “Hey! They’re really okay with this. We were we forried about nothing!” Then, the next day, they morph into an Arguer, or a Fit-Thrower. They just needed some time to amp up!
- The Doubting Thomases (Note: your family member does not have to be named Thomas for this to be an option.) These are the people who are just certain that the two of you haven’t thought this through and are positive you will live to regret it. They will immediately begin asking you probing questions designed to get you to rethink your decision. In all likelihood, you and your Sweetie will have already asked yourselves these questions weeks before.
- The Puzzled. They’re going to go along with your wishes, but they simply don’t understand why you don’t want to be the center of attention at a party for 200 people.
- The Acceptor. They secretly wanted you to elope, but would never admit it. But now that you’ve brought it up, Hey! They are totally on board. If you’re lucky enough to have this type for all your family members, you can stop reading here.
Regardless of the type of response you receive to the news that you are eloping, read and memorize the following sentence!
You can’t control how your family will feel and react in response to your decision!
Go back and read it again… we’ll wait…
All you can control are your own thoughts, words and responses. If Mom throws a hissy fit when you tell her you’ve chosen to elope, that’s going to be unfortunate and uncomfortable, but you don’t have to get sucked up in that dynamic. If your sister acts all hurt because you were the maid of honor at her wedding and you’re not going to return the honor by reciprocating, that is (to put it bluntly) your sister’s problem, not yours. “Family closeness” is not synonymous with “we all must react in the same way.” Even if you’re the spitting image of your dad, or you’ve inherited your mom’s personality to a T, it doesn’t mean you have to match their crazy-making responses.
I talk to a lot of couples in the course of a week/month/year and my heart always goes out to the ones who really want to elope, but feel they can’t because they fear their family’s reaction.
Just a few weeks ago, I talked to a bride who was somewhat elopement-averse simply because her family “expected her to allow everyone to bring a Plus One.” Ummmm….no…. elopements don’t work that way. Elopement weddings are designed to be all about focusing on the couple. Your love; your commitment; your choice. This poor gal was on the verge of planning a wedding that was bigger than she wanted simply to accommodate the (in my humble opinion) absurd expectations of her family. Come to think of it, she never did book our services. I’m guessing she caved to family pressure.
How to mitigate the impact of your announcement to elope
There are a few things you can do to minimize the impact of your decision to elope–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):
- 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. Here’s a helpful article if you’re on the fence about eloping.
- Hinging on the point above. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Remember, it’s all in the presentation. When you break the news, be it before or after the elopement 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. And speaking of presentation, decide if it makes sense for you to tell your fmaily alone, or with your fiancé(e) by your side. There are pros and cons to both ways.
- 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. Owning other people’s feelings is not your superpower!.
- 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.
- 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 have forgotten about the manner in which you were married. (They’ll be too busy nagging you about having kids!)
What if you just can’t bring yourself to tell your family you’re eloping?
Okay, I get it. Sometimes in spite of all the pep talks, the inner dialogue in your head just wins out and you just can’t bring yourself to upset your family by eloping. Does that mean you are doomed to a 200-person pearls, pumps and pantyhose wedding?
Not it does not.
Even if you decide to accommodate (some!) of your family’s wishes into your wedding plans, I still think you should tell them of your desire to elope. But then emphasize that you’re dialing back from that position quite a bit in order to include them. Basically, it shows them you’re coming to the negotiating table having already made compromises. There might actually be a way to meet in the middle–and if you have to meet in the middle, you might as well start as far away from the middle as possible so it looks like you’re making more concessions!
- Give your family an absolute drop-dead, maximum number of guests you’ll accommodate. Make sure you and your fiancé(e) are in agreement on this, in case (heaven forbid!) both of your families are giving you a hard time. If you top out at 30 (the absolute maximum, in my opinion, that you can even remotely consider still being under the umbrella of an “elopement-style” wedding), that’s going to force your family to be on board. If you’re really too chicken shit err … sorry… “timid” to draw this line in the sand with your family, then blame the limited number of guests on some other factor. I tell couples all the time to feel free to throw me under the bus for this reason. “The lady at Blue Sky Elopements says 30 is the maximum number of guests they can accommodate.” What can they possibly say? And it’s true. (You’re welcome!) Saying that the venue you’re in love with has a maximum number is also an option.
- Now, hear me out on this one, because it sounds a little counterintuitive to someone who wants to keep things simple on their wedding day. Plan two ceremonies: one where it’s all about the two of you… intimate… romantic… even do that one in secret if you want. And the second one for the family. Involve the family in that second one. Treasure the first one as something only the two of you shared. You get to dress up twice (or not–wear whatever you want for the real elopement). You can make either one the legal wedding (i.e. the one where you sign the marriage license), although I recommend you make the elopement your legal wedding because that’s the date you’re going to want to celebrate your anniversary.
- Stick to your guns and have that just-the-two-of-you elopement, but agree to a reception later on. Somehow, when the party isn’t tied to the actual ceremony, people tend to lighten up a little. They may be okay with something more to your taste: a backyard get-together, a barbecue, a brunch, or a tapas and cocktails soiree.
No matter how you go about it, it’s a tough situation without an easy answer. It’s easy for outsiders to simply say, “It’s your wedding, do whatever you want.” I know for some couples, it’s not that simple.
I can tell you this: we send out a post-elopement survey to almost all of our couples and one of the questions we ask is, “What advice do you have for other couples thinking about eloping?” And the answer is overwhelmingly the same from all our couples. It’s always some form of, “Do it–you will absolutely not regret it!” I don’t think couples that ultimately cave into pressure to have a big wedding can say that.