What to Know When Planning the Guest List for Your Wedding

How to Make Tough Calls When Planning Out Your Wedding Guest List

Although your wedding is meant to be the most magical day of your life, the pressure that comes with that expectation can be overwhelming. You’re trying to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch, from the setting and food to the music and your outfits. 

And then there’s the guest list.

Who is and isn’t at a wedding can be hugely controversial. Whether it’s friends, family, colleagues or exes, a snub either from the couple or the invitee can hurt feelings, ending a relationship for good in a worst-case scenario. 

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In order to help you navigate the potential minefield of figuring out your wedding invite list, we spoke with a relationship expert, an honesty expert, and half a dozen married individuals about who you should and shouldn’t invite to your wedding (and how to handle the conversation with your spouse-to-be so that you’re both happy with the result). 

How to Talk With Your Future Spouse About the Guest List

It might not be a conversation you’re relishing, exactly, but it’s a good idea to bring things up early on in your engagement. In fact, talking about your wedding invites is a learning experience for both of you in terms of your problem-solving skills as a couple. 

“I actually think it’s great practice for the many negotiations that are to come with marriage and (perhaps) kids,” says Judi Ketteler, author of the book “Would I Lie to You?: The Amazing Power of Being Honest in a World That Lies.” 

“Just like your approach to debt management or your views on how much independence to give a tween, your idea about who you want at your wedding (and who you may not want at your wedding) is likely formed through a mix of gut instinct, logic, and previous experience,” she adds. “So as you start the conversation with spouse-to-be, remember that you’re not just navigating a list, you’re navigating a sea of both positive and negative experiences.”

For starters, there are some aspects of the guest list that will feel easy. Maid of honor and best man, best friends, cherished family members, as well as others in your immediate social circle can be easily put down without a second thought. 

How to Talk Through Invite Disagreements With Your Future Spouse 

The trouble can arise in two ways: when your list starts butting up against your budget or when the two of you disagree on whether certain people should come or not. 

“The first thing to do is ask why the person should be at the wedding,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.” “Take time to listen. Your fiancé(e) will either realize during the explanation that the person isn’t so important, or you may realize it’s OK. Don’t get into who’s right or wrong. Remind your intended of the budget, and work out a deal.”

Ketteler, meanwhile, notes that it’s important to identify the emotions underlying the situation before any disagreements get too heated. 

“I’m not really talking about the emotion at the top of everything, like anger that your partner doesn’t agree with you, but rather, the emotions you may or may not be recognizing — like jealousy, shame, or compassion,” she says. “Unnamed emotions are the hardest ones to deal with, and cause you to double down the most. If you and your partner find yourself stuck and unable to agree, it’s time to lay those emotions right out there on the table so you each know what you’re dealing with for real.”

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Having those conversations might not be easy, but as before, they will be a great test of what the two of you are like as a couple. Can you withstand difficult conversations and disagreements? Can you resolve your differences in the name of shared happiness? 

Who to Invite & Not to Invite to Your Wedding

Just as no two couples are alike, no two weddings will feature the exact same type of guest list. Cultural expectations, the size of the budget, the number of friends you have, where you live and where the wedding is being held — all of these will impact who’s getting invited and who will actually come. 

“A lot depends on the budget, who’s paying and the size of the wedding,” says Tessina about who couples should invite. “Start with your immediate family, then [move to] closest friends, then move out to extended family and more distant friends. Then add others for reasons of family peace or because your in-laws want them. If your parents are paying, they get a say in the guest list, too.”

But who should you be choosing, exactly? And almost as importantly, who should you be leaving off? 

INVITE: Your Close Friends’ Significant Others

“Wedding invites are such a weird and stressful balancing act. My philosophy is, ‘As long as everyone has someone to talk to and nobody gets into a fight then it’s fine. I can 100 percent guarantee that you’ll have other things on your mind.’” – Erin, 27

Even if you don’t love your best friends’ partners, they do. Denying them a plus-one out of spite could open up a serious rift in the friendship. Your friend’s happiness at your wedding is probably more important to you, right? If they’ve been dating someone for a while, it’s only right that they join the celebration even if you two aren’t super close. At this point, they’re a package deal. 

DON’T INVITE: People You Don’t Care About

Your wedding is your wedding, meaning the guiding criteria of who gets invited or not should be who you want to see there. 

However, even if that’s true in theory, you may find yourself feeling tugged towards sending out invites to people you don’t care for. 

“You may have to invite people neither of you like,” says Tessina. “For example, the ex who is co-parent of your children, and the ex’s new partner. Or the one curmudgeonly uncle you can’t leave out if you invited his siblings.”

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In particular, familial obligations may be out of your control to a certain degree — the more so if your parents or your in-laws are footing some (or all) of the wedding’s bill. 

“The whole family bit is really more difficult to navigate than the friends bit. There are politics for some people that we had to be mindful and respectful of — weddings for other cultures are more important than what I thought they would be. They’re a focal life point, which is not how I was raised to believe in them, so being understanding of that was a learning experience. You can’t not invite some people because of politics, even if I myself will never see them again.” – Melissa, 32 

Yes, in theory, you shouldn’t invite anyone you don’t care to see there, but be prepared for the reality that some of them may end up seated in the crowd on your big day. If you can handle that with grace and keep it moving, you’ll be that much more likely to have a night to remember. 

INVITE: People Who Might Not Be Able to Come

Expect there to be some hemming and hawing over whether to invite people who most likely couldn’t make it — often because they lived far away. 

That invite could turn out to be a wasted invite, or it could turn out to be an incredible experience of reconnection. One thing you should do? Let those people know whether they’re likely to know anyone else there.

“If you’re inviting friends that won’t know anybody and maybe they have a decent distance to travel, it might be a good idea to let them know that they might not know anybody. It could help them decide whether they want to come or not.” – Patrick, 29 

And if you’re on the fence, you could consider sending a symbolic gesture of inclusion instead. “Depending on the budget, you can invite people you don’t believe will come,” suggests Tessina, “but it might be better to just send announcements to those people, rather than invitations.”

DON’T INVITE: People’s Children

“There are no rules for this. Try not to insult anyone by inviting their equal and not them. Invite as many people as you can within your means. Ask that people leave their children at home.” – Timothy, 31

Having a cute niece or nephew as a ring-bearer is all the rage these days, but rambunctious kids at a wedding are a well-known no-no. Apart from being a hassle from a planning perspective (think seating, dining, etc.), they’re also well-known for being hard to control. 

Do you want someone’s baby wailing during the ceremony? How about a 5-year-old running around like a wrecking ball during the reception? No, you don’t. Find a polite way to phrase it, but let your guests know that they should leave their kids at home. 

INVITE: A Variety of Friend Groups

“When we were sending out invitations, we had a handful of friends who were almost close enough to invite but not really. When the wedding actually rolled around, those people were definitely in a position where if we redid the guest list, they’d be on it. So that was a thing that I felt weird about for a while.” – Erin, 27 

One of the weird things about friendship is the ways we accumulate friends from different eras and areas of our lives who might not ever get to meet each other.  

It might be tempting to think that you should focus on one specific friend group, but there can be something beautiful about throwing a whole bunch of people who’ve never met before, and whose only real commonality is their closeness to you, into the same room.

Tessina mentions “business associates, single friends who might meet someone, beloved mentors or teachers” as people worth considering. “If the budget permits, you can invite anyone you wish.”

DON’T INVITE: Anyone You Can’t Agree On

“A wedding is an investment in time and money, so you want to make sure that you surround yourself with people who actually want to be there. My wife and I worked hard at identifying people who brought us joy. We also had certain criteria (active contact, etc.) that we began to hone in on during the process to try and get the most out of each invite.” – Bryan, 35 

Perhaps the most important thing at the end of the day? Agreeing on the guest list with the person you’re marrying. Make finalizing a guest list that you can both be proud of and happy with a priority — be honest, flexible and empathetic. 

As Tessina puts it, “Think about the future blended family you’re creating.”  

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