What’s the protocol for family photos with future in-laws?

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What's the protocol for family photos with future in-laws?
Covered in a sticky = Y’all know she gone
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I’ve been dating my partner for about two and a half years and we’re definitely on the road to marriage. He’s very close with his family and they are currently planning some family photos with us and my partner’s brother’s family (wife and kids). They are planning matching colors and including me in the coordination emails. This isn’t something my family would be into, so I’m totally noobing out about how to handle it. Since we’re not married, it feels weird to be part of their family’s photos, especially when I haven’t met them that many times (they live in another state). I’m worried, in the very unlikely case that we break up, that I’ll be a sore thumb in the photos.

Is it cool to have them take the photos without me? Is that even something you could safely suggest or should I just shut up and get in the picture?

My current partner told me a story of seeing an ex’s family photo that had a sticky note over the face of her ex-boyfriend who had been included in the photos. So it’s totally a thing that people leave the family unit and become a sticky note. It may not be in the cards for you, but I can absolutely see why you’d be wondering about it.

But the issue is how to decline if that’s the right choice. When it comes to the future in-laws, it’s sometimes better just to go with the flow and accept the offer to be in the photos. You could always step out for a few photos of just them in an attempt “a comprehensive set.” You know, in case you don’t end up together they can swap out the photo. No sticky note needed. 😉

Fellow Homies: have you been in this situation? How would you handle it? Help a Homie out!

More in-law advice:

Comments on What’s the protocol for family photos with future in-laws?

  1. Speaking from experience here, I can advise to take one of actual family and then one with the in-laws-to-be. I called off an engagement and for many years our only family photo featured my ex fiance. He was a nice guy, but I didn’t need the reminder of what could have been sitting on the mantle piece for years to come. Even if you don’t have the photo, but the other family does, it’s till a nice thing to skip out on at least one frame. We’re talking about the digital era here too, photographers can take larger amounts of photos rather than a couple of nice shots.

    It is really nice to be included, but also, you don’t want the family to be under obligation either way. If there is a pro photographer involved, they may be able to help this process run smoothly. This happened at a wedding I attended and the photographer was very delicate about it.

    Also, when I was an in-law-to-be, my now husband’s family took family photos:
    -their immediate family
    -their children and spouses
    -just their children
    -all the girls and all the guys… etc.
    I didn’t mind not being included, and because they took a bunch of photos it was totally fine. And we in-laws-to-be are now all in-laws now 🙂

  2. Photos last a long time, but they’re not meant to indicate things that were, things that are, and some things that have not yet come to pass – they just show what something looked like at that moment.
    At the moment that these photos are being taken, you’re part of your dude’s family! Embrace that! If things change down the road, presumably other photos will be (or have been) taken that could replace the you’re-in-it photo in the frame. That’s the case with formal family photos that my ex’s family took, some of which included me, the case with those prom photos everyone always takes with like a billion people, wedding party photos, you name it – people come and go, and that’s okay. Now, if only the ‘everyone wear a white or light blue shirt so we match in these family photos’ concept could melt away, too…

  3. When ex’s sister got married, we had been dating for a few years. His whole family (including myself), believed that we would get married eventually, and I thought of his sister as my sister, even though we weren’t that close. So, naturally, when it came time for the family photos, they included me. I took a few pictures with the whole family (which included several of his brother’s girlfriends; he had a VERY large family), but I also stepped out for a few of them, along with the other girls, to show support for one of the girls who hadn’t been dating one of the brothers for very long and she felt awkward to be included in the photos. Needless to say, all of us were glad we did step out of a few of those photos because none of us are with them anymore!

    I once ran into my ex’s sister after we broke up, and because of the way our relationship was, we were still cordial, even though our breakup was messy and drama filled, and we got to talking. She did thank me for stepping out of a couple of photos, not because she now didn’t want me in them, but because every time my ex saw my face, he got upset. So, while she privately cherished the photos that included me, the one that she displayed in her home that didn’t have me in it made my ex feel more comfortable to be there and spend time with his nieces instead of thinking back on our relationship and how badly it ended.

    I would definitely go along with the family photo shoot, but do try to step aside for a few pictures. If they are insistent, then don’t fight it. If the worst case scenario happens, then the family can try to get together later on and take more photos at that time.

  4. The couple of times I was in family photos with extended family, we had about an hour booked and had so many variations on the photos that we could take. We had grouping of the 3 immediate families, the giant group photos, and even had some time for individuals doing some funny things (like my sister doing the jump-into-the-air pose). It’s just like wedding photos where the bride can have a photo with her family, then with the groom’s family, then with both families, etc. Suggesting a ton of variation in the photos is not uncommon, and if there’s more than two groupings that can be made, it won’t seem like such a weird suggestion. And, it’s a good opportunity to get a professional shot of just the two of you 🙂

  5. I actually had this happen in reserve. My husband’s family got family portraits done and it was never even mentioned that I be them. We were not married at the time, but we’d been together for nearly four years, were engaged, and were actively planning our wedding. I was not even asked if I wanted to be in the photos and I confess I was hurt by it. I knew that if my family did the same my then fiance would’ve been included. It made me feel like they felt that I wasn’t, and wouldn’t be, part of their family. The only thing that made me feel a bit better was that my husband’s brother-in-law, who has been part of the family for over twenty-years was also not included … but that may have been logistical since he works out of state.

    So first, I would say it’s a very nice welcoming gesture that they’re including you. Second, I would suggest that you get a variety of poses, some with and some without you. That way, should your relationship end in the future they don’t have to worry about modifying the existing photos, they’ll have copies without you in them already.

    • Same! My (now husband) and I were engaged and I was left out of the family photos at his brother’s wedding. I understood not having me in much, but damn I thought maybe one. I had been around for a long time. For our wedding I made sure to include the other younger siblings’ SOs bc I remembered how I felt and I’m glad I did because now we’re all married and one big family. Their wedding photos are just the few weird exclusive photos now.

      • Man, I feel sorry for you two and anyone else who dealt with being left out like that. I have a massive weak spot for being left out, and would have absolutely have started hating anyone who left me out like that.

        My family has luckily spontaneously developed a culture of accepting significant others at weddings – we all trust that if you feel they’re important enough to bring to a family wedding, they’re important enough to be in the photos with the married partners too, so pictures ended up “just the couple and the parents – just the bride and her siblings and parents – just the groom and his grandfather – the couple and the entire groom’s side including SO’s – everyone in this one!” It was a lot of shots, but since i had planned it out ahead of time to be the easiest we could make it to transition between them with as few people having to move as possible, it was still rather quick to get through it all. My family is big and is hard to get together that often, so we started planning ahead to cover whatever eventuality there is (“what if you did get married later and lived happily together but [relative] died and now theres no picture with all of you together in existence even though your partner was there and hanging out with [relative]!?!?” – we may slightly be disaster thinkers).

        To the OP: unless you are super uncomfortable with the idea in general, or have another reason not to want to go rather than just worries that they may not have pictures they like later, please go if you can. If they really insist on you being in every photo but you don’t want to be, you can always make up some excuse to duck out at some point – really need to go to the bathroom, back is really hurting and you need to sit down for a bit, whatever works for you – you discomfort is a good enough reason for you to skip out. But if your concern is only that they may not like it at some theoretical point, just go with the flow. They are adults, this is their family with their family culture, they can manage that possibility.

  6. I’ve also had this happen in reverse, and it can be totally crushing. Imagine being partnered for 8+ years (living together, but not yet married at the time) and when “family” photos were being taken to be told to get out of the way. Eesh! We’re now married and celebrating our 15th dating anniversary, and I can be fairly certain that things won’t be all that different for the rest of our lives.

    Which is to say, I can understand your uncertainty, but also am so honored for you that your partner’s family would include you in such a lovely gesture. It seems like you are coming from a place where you don’t want to be a sore spot later, but that isn’t in your capacity to dictate how family members feel about you and these photos after some potential future break up. You are here and now; photos are meant to capture a moment in time, not a lifetime of anything.

    As others posters are pointing out, there will likely be a variety of poses and group configurations. You’ll likely be in some, but not all the photos (just like everyone else in the clan). These might be photos you treasure for always, or they could be a bust because of a pimple that makes you cringe, weird lighting, or, perhaps, a potential future break up. And all these things are okay. Some families get photos and then promptly hide them in the closet, while others proudly display them in size extra large above the sofa. There is really no way to know how photos will be received six months from now, let alone years.

    At the best, you can reciprocate the olive branch and show up to smile your heart out. Does your partner now about your uncertainty? Can he provide any calming thoughts or help bridge the divide since you said you’ve only met this family a handful of times? Also, can he please request that at least one of the images just be of the two of you, because how freakin special to have a professional portrait done at any stage in a relationship? Lastly, think about what it would take for you to be excited about this opportunity, and consider making that your mantra. Because thinking worse-case scenarios about anything are often more anxiety-inducing than any real-life event.

  7. I have an aunt who makes the same joke every time we are taking family photos with a new boyfriend/girlfriend in the mix (I have a lot of cousins… there was a period where this was an annual occurrence.) She says “oh! Get in the picture! In 20 years we either say ‘look it’s Aunt Sally on her first Christmas with us!’ or ‘huh. what was her name again?'” The sentiment is dear and it’s always taken well. I’d say in this situation, if you are being invited, accept! Yes to all who suggest it might be kind to step out of a few photos, but it’s sweet that his family is embracing you and you should enjoy it.

      • Some of the first pictures of me after I was born was right as my uncle was announcing his engagement. The relationship didn’t last. She is on the edge of the family photo and when I digitized the image I cropped her right out. Worked beautifully. I had thought of photoshopping his now wife into the photo but that would have looked weird on many levels.

  8. I think the protocol totally depends on the family.

    My sister and her now fiance have been together for 7+ years. They live together, own a house together, have a dog together and have decided to finally get married. My sister and I grew up in a very non-traditional family that has always been welcoming of our significant others since we were teenagers. Pretty much anyone who shows up is “part of the family”. There are lots of photos of us with our young ex-boyfriends still around at my mom’s house. My husband’s family is the same way, and I was in family photos with his family for years before we were married.

    However, my sister’s future mother in law has been adamant about not letting my sister be in ANY group family photos until they are they are married. They take a Christmas photo every year and my sister just sits on the sidelines watching. She has even talked to her MIL about it several times, and explained that they are a serious couple, but it’s always been chalked up to being “just the way their family does things”. I was ready to photoshop her in, if she really wanted me to!

    I can’t wait for my sister to finally be able to be seen in photos with his side of the family after they get married in a couple of weeks!

    • One more thought…

      I work as a graphic designer, and I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked me to Photoshop someone OUT of a photo. I personally think it defeats the purpose of that memory,
      but I know how emotionally impactful photos can be. (Also, most of the time, it’s actually not that easy of a thing to do!)

  9. whatever you choose to do, i want to tell you something i learned from a great teacher (a one eyed painter! she is awesome..) she always said: recognize this for what it is: a gift of love. they include you and show you that you are a part of their family. which is in no way meant to push you in any direction, but for me, it often makes things easier to understand and decide, if the initial love is seen and appreciated.
    man, it is hard to explain!

  10. I say get in the picture!
    In the unlikely event you guys break up, your presence there is their problem.
    Also? Some marriages end in divorce ( shhhh… don’t tell anybody ). Most people understand shit happens and roll with the outdated photos.

  11. I say go for it. That’s just how photos are – people change, relationships and friendships grow, change, or fall apart. Right here and now, these folks are welcoming you into the family, and it would be a perfect time to get to know them better. They can make their own choices – you don’t have to protect them from hypothetical future sadness.

    Perhaps all of this is moot, and they already have shots of different groupings planned. I just don’t see anything good coming from refusing to be in the photos. It’s just not a happy memory for anyone, but the photos could be.

  12. I very much agree with all the suggestions to encourage a mix of ‘just the immediate family’ and bigger group shots that include you.

    Something you could do on the day of the photo shoot (if the photographer doesn’t mind!) is bring your own small camera or phone and stand behind the photographer to get a few shots of the photo shoot underway. I’ve done this at weddings and they are often really fun atmospheric images – and then there’s no awkwardness about being in all the formal photos, because you are still involved, but snapping some informal shots of everyone having a good time.

  13. I have ended up in two sets of wedding pictures as a bridesmaid for my at-the-time-boyfriend/fiancé’s family and I feel guilty. The first one was my high school boyfriend’s mom getting remarried and I think I was chosen more because “Well I need another girl, how about R’s girlfriend?” Being a naive high schooler, it never crossed my mind that they would have these pictures FOREVER and that there was the slightest possibility that I wouldn’t be a permanent part of this family. It took awhile after the break-up for me to realize that I’m in that wedding album ’til death do we all part. And I feel a little guilty, just because of the awkwardness factor. I have visions of R’s fiancée looking through his mom’s pictures while planning her own wedding and being like “who’s this girl?”
    The second wedding was my fiancé’s brother. I’d already been burned before, but I had a ring on it this time! No regrets! How could I not be in all these pictures?……………and then the break-up…..and then more guilt. I feel like this time it sucks more because I was pretty close to my future sister-in-law-at-the-time. She even invited me to her baby shower with specific notice that she would make sure my exm would be nowhere near! But, now I feel like it’s just a constant reminder for everyone that I existed.
    Maybe I’m worrying about it too much. Maybe it’s not as big of a deal. Maybe those kind, graceful women have no regrets and graciously accept my presence in their special day as fact, not disappointment. Maybe I should stop worrying about my ex’s potentially running across the memory (they did both cheat on me after all). Maybe it’s just how life works.
    Looking back, I would/should have stepped out for some of the pictures, just so they’re some of the bridal party without me.

    • If you were a bridesmaid, don’t give it a second thought. The brides chose to include you in that capacity, knowing that you would be in the majority of their photos. What mother doesn’t think it’s likely that her son’s high school girlfriend won’t be in the picture forever? She chose to include you anyway, and more power to her. Your ex probably isn’t looking through his mom’s wedding album (if she has one) with any great frequency. Ditto with your other ex and his brother’s wedding album. You don’t need to feel guilt over a choice that the wedding couple made. I’m not close with 2/3 of my bridal attendants anymore. The only one I am close with still is my sister. It’s not at all unusual for people in the bridal party to not stick around forever in the couple’s life, and that’s okay. It’s who made sense to stand by them at that time in their life. They must have had their reasons for choosing you.

  14. I find this fascinating. My family is very much about family pictures, at all times, but it was a fight to try and get my fiancé into pictures. During our picture sessions we would always have some photos with just the sibs, parents, and immediate family. If they don’t do that already you can suggest it. That way you are not in the majority of pictures, just the largest group one. I’m still a little salty that after we were married and my husband was allowed in the picture, my sister’s boyfriend was in the next set without an argument. Families are special/strange.

    Margarette J Shegog MD MPH

  15. My family always jokes about boyfriends having to stand on the end of the grouping so we can just chop them off if we need to. But we do what others have recommended – some photos with just the family and some with the boyfriends. I found out my sister’s live-in boyfriend was bummed to be left out of some family pics at my wedding, but they ended up having an unpleasant breaking up and I’m glad he’s not in all of the photos.

  16. It’s very kind that you are worrying about what your in-laws might feel in the future but that’s their responsibility, not yours! If your relationship with their child comes to an end that doesn’t make you bad person for being in those photos, they asked you, they took that gamble.

    Since my wedding one sibling has split from their wife and my beloved dad has died. We didn’t do any family insurance shots so what with that and some friends who split up after the wedding, the photos are full of people who aren’t around or aren’t together anymore and I don’t regret it, those photos show life as it was then, exactly, on that lovely lovely day.

    You are in your partner’s parent’s lives and they want to record that fact. Yes, neither you nor they can say you always will be, but enjoy it now, it’s all you have!

  17. This is fascinating to me! I never thought about it, my now husband and I started dating while I was still in highschool. I met a lot of his family very quickly (and under the somber circumstances of his grandfather’s decline and death) and was included in photos very quickly. It was just something they did and I went along with it. Here we are many years later, and photos or not, I don’t think anyone is gonna forget I was around.

    I think the advice above is pretty sound; step out of a few shots if you can and remember that photos are reminders of things as they were on that day – and things change.

  18. The week I met my now-husband I was actually staying at a cabin with a bunch of people, including my partner-at-the-time. It was a great week, and we have a wonderful group photo from our last day there. It is still in a frame on my living room wall. My family, friends, brother’s friends (one of which is now-husband), and me hugging my ex-boyfriend. Haha. Things have changed, but that was a great week that we still both fondly remember. This is all just to say that I agree with all the above folks that said photos are a moment in time, and it’s great to be invited to be a part of it. 🙂

  19. It would be easy for the photographer to “build” the photo by starting with “parents” and take a photo of that couple, then their children (photo), then grandchildren, then people who’ve married in, and then significant others. We did family photos as a Christmas gift (had our wedding photographer come to our house) and did every iteration of groups we could think of (including 4 dogs!). Or, even just a “one with and one without” option if you feel more comfortable with that?

    I am sooo glad that it took my husband and I two years before we sat down to do our wedding album. My sister and her boyfriend had broken up by that point and it was easy to only select photos without him because we’d done so many variations on groupings.

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