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Deciding the Guest List Can Teach You About Marriage


The guest list is about your sense of family, friendship, and community.  Many of these people will be with you for decades into your marriage, and how you choose them says important things about you see your marriage and your ways of relating to your in-laws.


The reality is that most of us can’t, or wouldn’t, invite everyone we know to our wedding.  This means we have to decide who makes the cut based on factors like our budget, the location (in state or out of state for guests), and where the wedding or reception take place (fire hazard codes if nothing else!)  Yes, there are lots of logistical factors, but the decisions on the final list intensely personal.


  • The initial list-making and brainstorming session is the biggest “a-ha” moment where you see if you’re on similar pages or not.  If everyone, meaning you, your fiancé(e), and both sets of parents are “close” on to their desired guest lists, this bodes well.  This can mean there are similar notions of what a wedding is, what it isn’t (an excuse to invite everyone you’ve ever met to a big party), and can also indicate how future life events may go – other weddings, babies, baptisms, etc.  Each family has its own notion of “who is in” and “who is out” depending on the event.  Since weddings are the ultimate family event you can be sure that there will be some drama and that past stories will emerge about who slighted who years ago at someone’s wedding or who didn’t show up out of spite.


  • Are there people who have already been told they are invited when the engagement was announced or people who expect to be invited, no matter what (this includes your couple friends but also the friends of both sets of parents?)  Are you sharing lots of details about your wedding with people who you don’t actually plan on inviting?  Are they going to get the wrong message?  If you belong to a religious community is the expectation that everyone in the congregation is going to be invited?


  • Who parents think should be at the wedding can tell you important things about your marriage.  It’s part of how you and your fiancé(e) grew up – notions of who is important, who attends big life events, and notions of family.  Some families are huge and everyone has to be there, others are huge and an unspoken rule says that you only invite one “circle” (such as all first cousins, aunts, uncles only).  The people your parents want to invite are part of their lives and you will be joining their lives whether you know it or they ever meet you.  You are going from “my son’s girlfriend” to “my daughter-in-law.”  It’s like acquiring a new baby in middle age – everyone in their lives is there to support them and get to know this new family member.


  • Are you and your parents able to finalize the guest list to the satisfaction of everyone?  Does everyone know when the final list is made and are they aware they are no longer able to keep inviting new people?  Are there disagreements and if so, how and when are they going to be resolved?  (Hint: making someone find out their enemy was invited by waiting until they run into them on the day is probably not the best approach to handling conflict.) 


  • We each have various levels of friendship.  Are we aware of these or do we hold onto notions of closeness that aren’t there?  Do you both have similar numbers of friends and if not, why?  If your fiancé(e) is adding people to the guest list that have never been brought up until now, but when asked, they have a rich history together—then  what do you do?  Does lack of current closeness mean they shouldn’t be invited?  Are former boyfriend/girlfriends you are still friends with invited or not? 


Too often drama occurs with the guest list.  Lack of communication, unspoken expectations and a belief that this wedding is exclusively for and about the bride and groom can lead to a lot of stress and hurt feelings.   Working out who is going to be there shines a spotlight into the life of the family you are marrying into and can be a great way to meet the important people in your in-laws’ lives. If only marriage were just about you and your beloved, weddings as we know them wouldn’t exist.  Guest lists have a lot to teach you about your future.





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Elizabeth Doherty Thomas, is a co-founder of The First Dance, along with Marriage and Family therapist father Bill Doherty. The First Dance is a 2007 Modern Bride Trendsetter award winner for taking on the complex family dynamics of wedding planning. See what engaged couples and wedding professionals are saying about our book Take Back Your wedding. Our entire website is dedicated to offering advice on working through the people stresses of wedding planning as a couple, with your families, and how to strengthen your upcoming marriage through this enormous first task of married life.