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Should parents pick up the wedding tab?

A woman is angry at her future in-laws for ruining her elaborate plans.
/ Source: TODAY

Dear Dr. Gail: I am having problems with my fiancé’s parents. They aren’t as generous as my parents are. I resent this, and now that we are planning our wedding, they haven’t been very cooperative helping financially. This makes my blood boil.I defend my parents in that they should not have to pay for the entire wedding. Now, it looks like the only way we can pull this off is if my fiancé picks up the financial slack. This, in turn, will take money away from our life together. Yet, only three years ago, when my fiancé’s parents married off their daughter, they took out a $20,000 loan. I feel they are throwing a wrench into my wedding plans, yet they say they are happy we are tying the knot. They know how I feel. My fiancé doesn’t seem upset with them at all, and this has caused arguments between us. What should I do? — Tied Up in Knots

Dear Tied Up: You should back off and realize that adulthood includes managing your own finances and paying your own way. It’s immature to believe that you are entitled to have parents pay for anything — a wedding, a car, a computer, a house.

Adults considering marriage should plan a wedding they can reasonably afford. If someone’s parents want to fund the wedding, that’s fine. Many parents are thrilled to do so. But it’s an antiquated notion to feel that your parents or your fiancé’s parents should pay.

What’s more, it doesn’t sound as though your fiancé’s parents have struck oil in their backyard and can afford to finance a wedding. Maybe that $20,000 loan put them into debt, and they are now suffering the consequences. Maybe they subscribe to their own antiquated notions that parents pay for daughters and not for sons. Possibly they have not clearly conveyed their position to you because they are embarrassed or uncomfortable to admit this.

Still, it sounds that there is more to your question than you ask, and that that you are unable to view this from anyone else’s perspective. Your fiancé is not bothered, which also suggests there is more going on here. I suspect you are missing the forest for the trees.

Marriage is about family and unification, and you are setting up a divisive situation with a “me against them” mentality. You are pitting your parents against your fiancé’s parents and comparing yourself to his sister. You are even pitting yourself against your fiancé, since you write that his parents are throwing a wrench into “my” wedding plans (not “our” wedding plans) and that your “fiancé” (not “both of us”) might need to pick up the financial slack. There is little sense you and your husband-to-be are a team.

If you continue to harp on this issue, you will cause even more arguments with your fiancé and more bad blood in your relationship with him and his family.

Certainly, it’s fine to want a lovely wedding, but not at the expense of a successful marriage. A wedding should not be a money-sucking proposition or a cause of continuing arguments. You and your fiancé need to find a way to pay for the wedding yourself. You can work overtime and save, you can get a loan of your own, whatever it takes — or you can downsize and have a wedding you can comfortably afford.

As you mention, it’s unhealthy to start a married life together in financial straits. You should expand your thinking to realize that it’s unhealthy for any couple to be in financial difficulty, and this includes your fiancé’s parents. Insisting they go into debt to fund your wedding -- basically foisting your financial issues onto them — is unfair as well as counterproductive. In a few years, their financial trouble may send them to your doorstep, needing monetary support from you.

I suggest you upscale the emotional components of the wedding and downscale the cost factors. A marriage is not about how lavish the wedding is.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: People who are grown-up enough to get married are also grown-up enough to manage their finances. This includes paying for the wedding.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .