Ug. This is a post no one wants to write, but that definitely needs to be written. Most of us really do wish our weddings could be sweet celebrations of love and family, commitment and community. Unfortunately, for a whole bunch of legitimate reasons ranging from addiction to abuse, crime to communication problems, some of you are going to face the challenge of not inviting certain family members (or ANY family members) to your wedding.
It's going to suck. Obviously, no one article can work for every tangled family situation, but let's see if we can help you make it suck a little less.
We're not going to get into why you're not inviting given family members. We're just going to assume that you feel you've got a really, truly legitimate reason. It's not our place to judge the legitimacy, and ultimately it doesn't matter: if you feel it strongly, then that's your decision to make. You just need to be sure. Really, really sure. Talk to your partner. Talk to your friends. Possibly even talk to a counselor. This is going to be hard, so you need to be completely solid in your decision.
Once you've made the decision, you need to hold yourself completely accountable. This is not about what the other person did to you. This is about you feeling like you're making the best decision you can for yourself and your wedding.
As always, you can't control other people or their behavior. You can only control and take responsibility for your reaction. If not inviting family members feels like the best solution for a toxic situation, that's cool… but don't make it about what they did. Own your reaction, and be accountable for the fact that the decision not to invite family is going to hurt people's feelings, full stop. (Even if you think they hurt you first, it doesn't matter. The decision not to invite someone is all on you.)
The worst thing you can do when there's drama approaching is propagate it by not being up-front in addressing it. Yes, it's going to suck, but you can't put it off. You need to confront the situation quickly and directly. Don't put it off, and don't use platitudes. You likely do not ever need to contact someone to tell them they're not invited to your wedding, but if they or another family member ask you about an invitation, we suggest you use straight-forward, un-charged language. Here are a few examples:
- “I'm not comfortable having you/them attend our wedding. I'm sorry, but my decision has been made.”
- “I understand this will probably be upsetting, but I've made the difficult decision not to invite you/them to our wedding. I'm just not comfortable with you/them being there. I'm sorry.”
If you want to discuss why you're not inviting the person, by all means do — but make it clear that the decision is final. We also fully support just drawing a boundary:
- “It's hard for me talk about the reasons behind the decision, because they're emotional and painful. At this point, my decision has been made and it is final. I'm sorry. I'm done talking about this.”
Stand your ground
When other family members hear that you're not inviting someone, they may threaten not to attend your wedding. As one Offbeat Wed reader shared:
Do not cave to emotional blackmail, do not cave and fight with people over this — this is your choice and you have to stand firmly by it. “I'm sorry you won't be there but that's your decision” is your mantra, your rock, your hard place and your go to reply. If you can't not cave, don't start this. I cannot stress that enough.
My policy is to discuss my decision once with a person — and then no more. If someone presses, I give them a warning: “I am not going to talk about this any more.” Then end the conversation if the warning is not heeded: “Well, I have to go now. Love you, talk to you later.”
Refuse to fight over it
If someone starts debating your decision, give them a warning that it's not something you want to discuss. If they don't respect that, then politely end the conversation. Don't get triggered into arguing or rehashing old wounds. It's not worth your time. If your decision has made, then all fighting over it accomplishes is wasting time and energy better spent elsewhere. Be loving, but be firm.
If someone starts fishing for an invitation, politely refuse to do battle. Simply state that the person will not be receiving an invitation, and then respectfully decline to answer further questions.
- “This has been a really difficult decision, but it's one I feel very firmly about. I don't want to talk about it any more, I'm sorry.”
Focus on the family you ARE inviting
Try to minimize times that would highlight your family not being present, if possible. Be aware of all wedding moments where both families are usually included, and find ways to feel good about your friends and/or partner's family stepping in, or consider to minimize the family moments.
Allow yourself to grieve
It can be hugely valuable to take the time to acknowledge and grieve the loss of an important relationship (or any huge disappointment), regardless of how it happens. Yes, make this wedding your own and celebrate what you have, but also acknowledge to yourself that you are grieving some lost relationships, and that grieving will be an important part of letting go and moving on.
Yeah, this is going to suck. Yeah, you're going to find yourself in truly awful conversations that could dredge up a lot of painful family history. But challenge yourself to find as many ways as possible to be loving, appreciative, and gracious in your conversations about not inviting family.
If family members push to come to the wedding, consider whether you're open to repairing your relationship with them separately from their attending the wedding. Obviously, choosing estrangement is always an option — and in some situations, it may be your best option.
Ultimately, there are relationship dynamics here that are much larger than just a wedding invitation, and it's worth considering carefully whether, once your wedding is over, you want to leave the door open to reconciliation.
In certain situations, there may be issues like restraining orders involved. In some cities, the local family court may have helplines or a help desk where you can ask for legal advice related to extreme situations like restraining orders.
We'd love to hear from couples who've got through this challenge — what methods did you use to minimize drama? What language did you use to talk to both those who were not invited, as well as those who WERE invited and upset by your decisions?