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How to Tell Your Big Family You Want to Have a Small Wedding

How to Tell Your Big Family You Want to Have a Small Wedding
February 12, 2020 Riana Ang-Canning

If you come from a big family, they might be expecting you to have a big wedding. But what happens if you’re actually dreaming of something much smaller? How do you break the news to your family that you’re eloping?

If big weddings are what have always been done in your family and your parents have been planning your 200+ person wedding since you were in diapers, it can be really tough to announce you’re doing something different. But this is your day and the beginning of your marriage. You deserve to have the celebration you want.

So if you want to elope or keep things small but don’t know how to share the news with your family, check out our tips below!

by Erica Miller Photography


Get on the same page

First things first, you and your partner need to get on the same page. If you anticipate some push back or negative reactions from your family, you need to make sure you’re both 100% on board with an elopement. Discuss your reasons and your doubts with one another in private and agree to present a strong, united front to your families and friends.

Don’t falter and don’t throw the other person under the bus. Nothing kills an elopement idea faster than admitting to your grandma that your partner is forcing you to do this.

Decide on guests

Just because you’re eloping or having a smaller wedding doesn’t mean that none of your loved ones can attend. You can still invite people in your life to your elopement, if you want them to be there. With a small wedding, the guest list is very important since it’s so limited. Decide together who is making the cut and stick to your list. If you let your family knows there’s wiggle room, you’ll soon find yourself inviting way more people than you had intended.

Of course, if you want to elope just the two of you, that’s okay too!

Set expectations early

If you know you want to elope, start setting those expectations amongst your family as soon as possible. Even before you’re engaged, you can bring up the topic of elopements and start dropping hints that you’re leaning towards a non-traditional wedding.

At your engagement party, don’t let your aunts go on and on about venues and catering if you know for sure you’ll be eloping on the beach with two witnesses. If a cousin asks you what date to save, don’t lead them on. Try to get one family member on your side and fill them in on your plans. That way, they can help spread the word that a big wedding isn’t in the cards for you two.

by Clint Bargen Photo

Expect & acknowledge hurt feelings

Understand that some of your friends and family will be hurt when they find out they won’t get to attend your wedding. There will be people who are upset they won’t get to celebrate with you and people who are disappointed they won’t get to attend a big family function. There will be people who are offended because they think big weddings are how it’s done or, they think you’re judging their own big wedding.

Unfortunately, these negative reactions can’t always be avoided, but don’t let them ruin your plans. Be brave in the decision you have made together. Express empathy and understand that there’s a lot of meaning, emotion and tradition tied up in weddings. Listen to concerns and allow people to vent, but don’t get angry or get into a debate about the decision you’ve made.

Should you share your news in advance?

One of the big decisions couples have to make is whether to fill family in on the news of their elopement ahead of time or after the fact. There are pros and cons to both and it really comes down to your individual relationships.

There are certain people in your life who will want to hear your plans ahead of time. Usually parents, or anyone who has been thinking about your wedding for a long time, will want to be informed. Tell these important people in advance so they have lots of time to react and (hopefully) get on board. It can be a huge adjustment and they may need some time to come around to your plan. You’ll also want to have these conversations in person, if possible, as they are important.

Explain what an elopement is

For many people, an elopement is a couple running off in secret to get married at the courthouse without their family’s permission. But nowadays, an elopement can be so much more than that. An elopement can involve guests, decor and lots of planning. They don’t have to happen at courthouses – you can elope locally or abroad (or even on a mountaintop!).

Some of your family’s apprehension about an elopement may stem from the fact that they just don’t know what a modern elopement looks like. Explain to them what you’re planning so they can put some of their worries aside.

by Erica Miller Photography

Lead with excitement

At the end of the day, your family loves you and wants what is best for you (at least, we hope that they do). Once they realize an elopement is truly what you want, that should help them get on board with the idea.

So when you’re sharing your small wedding plans, lead with excitement! Let your family know how important an elopement is to you and that this small wedding is what will make you happy. Make sure your joy is centred on “eloping makes us happy” and not “the fact that you’re not invited is thrilling.”

Bring the focus back to your marriage

While weddings are momentous and meaningful, at the end of the day, it’s your marriage that is truly important. Help alleviate some disappointment about your small wedding by reminding your friends and family about this fact. Just because they aren’t attending the elopement doesn’t mean they won’t be a big part of your marriage.

Consider saying something like, “We love you so much and we really appreciate your support for our marriage. While you may not be there on the wedding day, we know we’ll spend so many important days of our marriage with special people like you who will support us in the years to come.” 

Explain your reasoning (or not)

The most common question you’ll get when you announce that you’re eloping is why. Some people may be genuinely curious and others may just be confused or disappointed. There are lots of reasons to elope or have a small wedding such as not having the funds for a big wedding, not wanting the stress of wedding planning, or wanting a more private ceremony. All of these reasons are valid and you do not need to justify or explain them to anyone.

Some people in your family will benefit from hearing your reasoning. It will help them to wrap their heads around your decision if they know why you are making it. Other people may be offended by your reasoning or use it to try and attack your decision. For those people, it’s best to avoid engaging. Simply say, “We don’t feel a big wedding is for us” and leave it at that.

The most important thing to stress when explaining your decision is that you’re not eloping because you don’t love your family and don’t want them to be in your life. This is a decision about you two, not about them.

by Menze Visuals

Keep them involved

One reason family members may be disappointed about your elopement is that they don’t get to be involved. Not only attending your wedding, but your family may have dreamed of helping you find the perfect outfit or getting ready with you on the morning of. Luckily, there are lots of ways for your family to be involved in your elopement, even if they’re not there on the day. Check out our blog post on how to include your loved ones in your elopement.

How to tell people you eloped after the fact

You’ve likely decided not to tell all of your friends and family about your decision to elope ahead of time – which is perfectly fine! But you do need to figure out a way to tell them after the fact. Hint: It’s not with a post on social media.

As best you can, share your news in person or in-real time. You’ll want to try and reach everyone on the same day, so the news doesn’t begin to spread like broken telephone and Uncle Carl gets upset he had to hear it from Cousin Melvin instead of from you. Only after you’ve told all the important people in your life about your elopement in person or over the phone should you share it on social media.

Yes, some people will be hurt that they didn’t know ahead of time or that they weren’t invited. But it’s hard to stay mad at excited newlyweds saying, “Surprise, we’re married!”

The option to still have an event with family

Even if you’re eloping or planning a smaller wedding, there’s still an option to have a big family event. You can elope in private and still hold a big reception with friends and family. If finances are part of the reason you eloped, you can make your after-party more casual and budget-friendly (think: buying the first round of drinks at the bar or a pizza party at your parents’ house).

You can also hold your event before or after the fact, if you want to avoid the stress of planning a big wedding party on top of your elopement. Consider something like a pot-luck brunch to announce your engagement or a family picnic to celebrate your one year anniversary.

Of course, you don’t have to hold an event for your family. If one of the reasons you want to elope is to avoid this, that’s absolutely fine. You can celebrate in smaller groups, like a dinner at your house with just your parents and parents-in-law. Or you can celebrate by gifting family members with photo albums or framed photos from your wedding.

by Clint Bargen Photo

Remember: Your wedding, your way

At the end of the day, your wedding should be about the two of you. Whether that involves 300 guests or no guests at all, you should get married in the way that you want to. Your wedding should be about what’s important to the two of you and what you value most. How do you want to start your married lives together? That’s the wedding you should have.


feature image by Erica Miller Photography
written by Riana Ang-Canning