Hong Kong counsellor Sharon Glick understands more than most the pros and cons of getting your family involved in wedding preparations. Her own nuptials weren't exactly what she'd envisaged: 'My father found a wedding hall right under a subway in Queens, New York. It was a horrific place. He showed it to us and we immediately said we didn't want to have our wedding there, but it was too late, he'd already signed the contract. Relatives came from out of town wearing tuxedos and had to go to this dingy awful place. It was mortifying.'
Conway Lau, partner at Pink Wedding (www.pinkpink.com.hk), agrees that getting the family involved can be tricky, especially when you're incorporating western elements into a traditional Chinese wedding and vice versa. 'The generation gap is often a problem. Often Chinese couples like to have western-style wedding, but of course that means a white wedding, which is related to death and funerals in Chinese culture.' He says the best way to avoid angry and offended relatives is to get everyone involved in the planning process, so there are no surprises on the day. But can this really be done?
Caroline Shaw from The Wedding Company (www.theweddingco.hk) says it is possible, with a little planning and tact. 'Don't shut your family out. When you have an idea or theme in mind, discuss it with your partner, then let the family know the direction you've chosen. A big part of our job as wedding co-ordinators is acting as a mediator between what the couple wants and what the family wants. Young couples might want a clean and contemporary look for their wedding, while the family might want lavish, brighter colours to show off the joyous occasion. Our job is to make sure that everyone is happy and a compromise is reached. After all, you are marrying into that family and the wedding is just one day in your life, so it's important that everyone is happy.'
Ms Shaw says there are many benefits to getting the family intimately involved with the preparations, not only because you can usually trust them and they will feel an obligation to get it right, but also because it makes a wedding more personal. 'Get a family member to sing if they have a good voice, or to do a reading at the ceremony,' she says. And of course, as Mr Lau points out, getting a relative to act as emcee, do your hair, or drive you to the church or reception can save a lot of money. 'We help couples understand the benefits of letting the family get involved. We talk to the bride and groom and let them know that families do have expectations, and the wedding is a party for the whole family, rather than just for the couple alone,' he says.
Ms Glick says getting the family involved can strengthen bonds and make the wedding feel warmer and less manufactured. 'But remember to offer to pay for expenses if you ask people to do things, or buy them a gift to say thank you. With healthy, happy families, you can see the affection and connection when families are involved.'
When Sonia Lau got married last year, she asked her cousin, a professional photographer, to take the wedding photographs. 'Because she knew so many of the guests, the photographs had an added dimension; everyone was so much more relaxed, including my husband and I. Everyone who sees my wedding photos comments on how happy everyone looked.'
But what happens when overenthusiastic family members start to push for something the bride and groom don't want - how do you keep tempers in check and avoid hurting people's feelings? 'I suggest that people use a technique that comes out of assertiveness training, and that is to validate everyone's wishes,' says Ms Glick. So to the aunt who wants to bake the wedding cake, she suggests acknowledging appreciatively the input while stressing your own need for an alternative. Say I appreciate your input, I'm grateful for your involvement, but I need to do it this way.
'Someone I knew said they didn't particularly like their nieces and didn't want children at their wedding, but the sister-in-law desperately wanted them to be flower girls. I suggested during the reception that they be given something to read. This provided a spotlight, which satisfied the mother's maternal pride issues. There are ways to negotiate, but it's very important for the bride and groom to do what they want to do,' Ms Glick says.