Why weddings so often cause conflict between friends — and what you can do about it.
Adriana Molello set her best friend up with her future husband in 2014. By the end of the couple’s destination wedding in 2017, Molello was in tears. And they were not happy ones.
“We had been good friends since we were born. Her parents are my godparents. I helped her husband pick out her engagement ring,” Molello said. Wedding planning poked holes in their relationship, and by the big day the now cracked foundation could not hold much more.
“It was a lot of stupid stuff that started to hurt my feelings and make me not want to be around her anymore,” Molello said. She was not completely surprised. “I think most of my friends have a story about losing a friend during a wedding.”
Tension in the good times
These major life events are meant to celebrate love and union. So why do they often end in severed friendships?
“We talk about our friends being with us through the toughest times, but we actually have more tension and conflict with each other around the best of the times,” said Shasta Nelson, author of “Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.”
The problems started soon after Molello’s friend got engaged.
“She asked me to be her maid of honor, which I was not expecting because she has two sisters.” She agreed to be a bridesmaid, but viewed it more like a job than an honor. “I could tell she was hurt by my reaction,” Molello said, so she apologized. “But we never had a heart-to-heart about it, and I don’t think she ever forgave me.”
On the big day, Molello found it hard to celebrate the bride and groom’s relationship when she felt another was crumbling.
“The bride and I never spoke at the wedding; she barely smiled at me,” she said. “I walked out and burst into tears when I saw her parents. I told them I was sorry but I can’t do this anymore.”
Molello said the wedding probably intensified existing issues in their friendship.
An event filled with change
“Weddings have this ability to bring out a hairline fracture in a relationship and shine a spotlight on it in a way that few other things in life can do,” said Jocelyn Charnas, a clinical psychologist specializing in relationships.
“The wedding actually becomes a convenient and concrete vehicle for individuals to express resentments they may have had historically,” said Seth Meyers, a clinical psychologist and author of “Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.” That would explain why many brides and grooms recall a friend hurling cruel, seemingly deep-seated comments at them when they were not asked to be a bridesmaid or when they were not allowed to bring a plus-one.
“Weddings represent change, and usually human beings don’t do well with change,” Charnas said. Fearing loss, a friend might, “unconsciously reject you before they can be rejected,” she said. “Weddings mark a new phase, and sometimes people aren’t ready to move into the next phase with us.”
Exclusions and no-shows
When Megan Poltrack was getting married, one of her close friends told her she would not be there.
“She wrote me a long text basically saying she couldn’t come to my wedding because she didn’t have a ride.”
Poltrack was shocked and angered by her friend’s excuse.
“Over the years, she distanced herself from her friends whenever they got a boyfriend, engaged or married,” she said.
It has been almost a year since Poltrack’s wedding, and they have only spoken once.
“We couldn’t go back to how things were, sadly.”
Nelson can see why Poltrack was so pained by her friend’s rejection.
“A wedding symbolizes being chosen, two people choosing each other,” she said, but it is also about the people invited to partake in or witness the big day. “It can be a tricky thing to make sure that everyone still feels affirmed and loved in your life.”
That includes the people who did not make the guest list.
“Not getting invited to a friend’s wedding is like the kiss of death for a friendship,” Jessica Fecteau said. She speaks from experience; it has happened to her multiple times. Fecteau’s roommate from her senior year of college did not invite her to her wedding, but other college friends were included.
“We had been friends since freshman year, and it just made me sad. I thought we were close enough that I’d see her walk down the aisle,” she said. “If she had never gotten married, I never would have thought twice about our friendship. Not inviting me or telling me why I wasn’t invited really showed me where our friendship stood.”
A call for compassion
Weddings can cause everyone stress, so Nelson suggests that everyone involved should be more compassionate than normal and try not to take things personally.
“We are going to be more prone to assigning meaning to each other’s behaviors that isn’t always accurate,” she said. The marrying couple probably, “didn’t wake up thinking, ‘how can I betray that friend?’ ” Nelson said. “We should acknowledge that most of what is causing our suffering is the meaning we are assigning to that action, not the action itself.”
Meyers has a simple solution to preventing wedding breakups: Have a small wedding.
“The grander a wedding is, the more complex the emotional and social repercussions can be.”