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8 wedding etiquette dilemmas solved

By Bridget Mora, Special to CNN
July 19, 2013 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
When it comes to wedding planning, everyone seems to have an opinion.
When it comes to wedding planning, everyone seems to have an opinion.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • How do I say "no" gracefully but firmly? Experts share insights.
  • What if my family doesn't support our union? Good riddance!
  • Is it rude to ask for cash? Yes and no.
  • Who pays for a destination wedding?

Editor's note: Bridget Mora is a former bridal salon manager turned wedding writer. She also blogs about autism.

(CNN) -- Although every wedding is unique, most wedding planning problems are quite universal. From traditional nuptials to offbeat hipster weddings to same-sex unions, couples face the same dilemmas. While I personally happen to adore reading about the finer points of etiquette (no, really!), most engaged couples probably do not have a shelf full of etiquette books in their home.

Fortunately we have assembled a team of top wedding experts to give you all of the answers you need so you can get back to the fun part of wedding planning: designing your dream celebration on Pinterest.

Meet the wedding experts:

Randy Fenoli: Star of TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress," "Big Bliss," "Randy Knows Best" and "Randy to the Rescue" and author of "It's All About the Dress"

Steven Petrow: Author of five etiquette books, including "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners" and "The New Gay Wedding" and The New York Times "Civil Behavior" columnist

Lizzie Post of The Emily Post Institute: Great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post, co-author of "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition," and author of "How Do You Work This Life Thing?"

The Editors of Southern Weddings Magazine: The South's premier annual heirloom publication for the modern bride

CNN: When it comes to weddings, it seems like everyone has an opinion, from mothers to mothers-in-law to friends and sisters. Unfortunately, those "brilliant" ideas often do not fit in with the type of celebration that the bride and groom envision. How do you suggest that couples politely decline well-meaning suggestions about what they "must do" or "must have" to make their wedding perfect?

Steven Petrow: Make sure both members of the couple are on the same page. It's called "the power of two" and makes it much easier for a bride to say to her mother, "James and I had another idea for the centerpieces." It can also be helpful to assign specific tasks especially to a mother-in-law and mother-of-the-bride to help them feel a part of the planning and yet keep their focus narrow.

Remember, very few brides will get away without accepting some well-meaning suggestions. It's the art of compromise, and it will get you off to a good start with your new family.

Interestingly, for same-sex couples this is much less of a problem since a large majority (86% according to a recent Advocate survey) of gay couples plan and pay for their own nuptials. Family members are also less likely to be as involved in the wedding as a result. That's one way to tame a Bridezilla MOB to be.

Southern Weddings: Smile sweetly, and thank them graciously. Perhaps try this line: "Well, bless your heart -- thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. We'll definitely take that into consideration."

CNN: Managing the guest list is typically one of the most challenging aspects of wedding planning. What is the best way to inform guests that they are not welcome to bring a plus-one or their children to your reception?

Lizzie Post: If you don't speak up, you run the risk of upsetting others who did follow the rules. When you get the RSVP, call them and say, "Jane, there might have been some confusion -- the invitation was for you and Bob only. We chose to have this be an adults only reception; I hope this doesn't cause too much inconvenience."

Think ahead of time about the people you are inviting. Should you have a babysitter at the wedding for guests with young children so their parents can travel with them? It is really important for guests to respect that "no kids" means no kids, not even infants.

If guests are unsure about whether it is OK to bring their baby, they can call and say that they are not yet comfortable traveling without the baby. That gives the host a chance to either say that it is OK to bring the baby or to say "We understand; we will miss you at the wedding."

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Randy Fenoli: It should be clearly stated on the invitation: This invite is for one guest only and we love children, but we have decided to have a grown-ups only wedding. You should always be polite, but firm.

CNN: What advice do you give to a couple whose relatives do not support their union -- whether it is a same-sex union, a matter of religious differences or some other issue?

Randy Fenoli: Every family situation is different and should be approached accordingly. For me, if someone didn't support me, or the partner I choose to be with, why would I want him or her at my wedding? Invite people who genuinely love and support you. It's far better to have an intimate wedding than a huge wedding filled with people who aren't supportive.

Steven Petrow: Because weddings are about new beginnings I generally urge gay couples to take the high road and invite family members, even if they don't support your relationship because you're a same-sex couple.

One of the most effective things is to talk directly with any disapproving relatives, as a couple, about your love for each other, the commitment you're making and your ceremony plans. Take the time to explain why marriage matters to you: because it makes for stronger families, that you'll become eligible for federal and/or state benefits or that you want to affirm your relationship before your loved ones.

It takes an awfully cold-hearted person to sit through a wedding ceremony and not be moved -- if not to tears, at least to acceptance. Consider this a unique opportunity to change some hearts and minds.

CNN: One of the most commonly asked wedding etiquette questions is: "How can we politely request cash gifts?" What's your advice to the couple who already has all the toasters they could ever need?

Southern Weddings: It's never considered in good taste for the couple themselves to offer gift preferences, unless asked directly, so make sure your closest friends and family know your wishes. Guests are more willing to give cash when they know what it's going toward, as in: "Emily and John are saving for a down payment on a house, and would be so grateful to have your help."

Steven Petrow: "High manners" still generally frowns on the notion of "pay for play" weddings, even though it's perfectly acceptable to ask for and receive a cash gift in some communities and ethnic groups. Still, plenty of workarounds exist to avoid getting an excess of toasters.

Feel free to tell those in your wedding party or other close relatives that you prefer dollars to doilies and that, if asked, they should relay your wishes. There are also honeymoon registries, which make it possible for guests to contribute to a fund; their gift might be one night at the hotel or an adventure outing (sea kayaking, anyone?)

Many same-sex couples, marrying after many years together and with too much stuff, are forgoing gifts altogether and politely suggesting to their guests that donations be made to a marriage equality organization, like Freedom to Marry.

CNN: Destination weddings have their own special set of dilemmas. The biggest question that couples face is who pays for what. What's the best way to handle expenses for a destination wedding?

Steven Petrow: I love the idea; I hate the cost. In fact, I have an invitation right now for a fall wedding in Italy that will cost at least a couple of grand to attend. Unless your destination wedding is, say, in Syracuse, New York, you're going to lose a number of your guests who can't afford either the cost or the time away from work.

Guests should expect to pay for their airfare and accommodations as well as any meals not associated with wedding festivities. So before you say yes, do the math.

Special circumstances: If you have a dear friend or relative who can't afford your dream wedding, do your best to make sure they can attend. Factor this cost into your budget before you make your final decision.

Lizzie Post: These days, many weddings are destination weddings for everyone but the couple. For any wedding, the hosts should pay for the bridal party's accommodations, so they just pay for their own travel.

Do not pick bridesmaids based on who can afford to come; invite those whom you want, with the understanding that it is OK for them to politely decline if the expenses are too much.

Consider your priorities about who will be able to attend versus having a certain location. If you do book your wedding at a ritzy resort, look for other nearby accommodations. Think about all of the expenses that are going to be involved in attending your wedding -- travel, attire, even care of pets back home. Make it very clear to everyone involved whether you are covering expenses for accommodations or not.

CNN: Every social circle has at least one person who is known to cause a scene at parties. (Yes, probably even your family has at least one of them.) How do you recommend that couples prepare for problem guests?

Southern Weddings: There's always one in the bunch. Discreetly warn bartenders about possible repeat offenders so they can keep an eye on how many times they've filled up. And if possible, assign a trustworthy relative or friend to shadow each rowdiest party-goer.

Randy Fenoli: Couples need to set ground rules, have tough conversations and be firm, even if this means you may not have some people at your wedding.

CNN: Who should get the most say in which wedding gown to buy -- the bride or her mother? And does that change depending on which one of them is paying for the dress?

Randy Fenoli: I work for the bride, so when this problem arises, I ask the mother, "Who picked out your wedding dress?" If she did, then I tell her it's time to let her daughter pick out hers. If her mother did, I ask her how she felt about that.

If this doesn't work, I ask her who is choosing her mother of the bride gown, or how would she feel wearing a garment she didn't like on the most important day of her life.

If all these tactics fail, I simply turn to the mother with a smile on my face and say, "I'm sure like any parent, all you truly want is for your daughter to be happy."

Lizzie Post: It is a discussion you need to have before you go shopping. If your ideas are too far apart, thank you mother for her offer to pay for the dress, and then say that you have decided to take care of it yourself. You may still wish to invite her to come shopping for the wedding gown with you.

CNN: What is your best advice for couples about choosing the people who will stand up with them at their wedding?

Lizzie Post: Take everything into account. Who is really important to you? Look at family first. Also reach across the aisle to the family you are going to be joining; you may wish to invite your future sisters-in-law to be bridesmaids.

Do not get carried away choosing your bridal party; keep it simple and remember that you can always find other special jobs and other ways to include friends who are not bridesmaids. Sometimes it is best to limit your bridal party to just family to keep the size reasonable. It is also OK not to have attendants at all.

Southern Weddings: Think about your past, present and future. It's tempting to choose your childhood friends for sentimental reasons, even if you're not close to them anymore, but a newer friend might be a more meaningful choice if you can see them standing beside you long into the future.

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What other wedding etiquette dilemmas have you been facing? Let us know in the comments below.

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