Two wedding planners and a relationship expert chime in.
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Credit: Jose Villa

Putting together your wedding's guest list is never easy, but when you're dealing with tricky family dynamics and estranged relatives, the process is even more complex. Should you invite a family member you're no longer in contact with to your ceremony and reception? According to two wedding planners and one relationship expert, there's no one right answer. For some couples, extending a wedding invitation is almost like an olive branch; for others, they're simply inviting tension into what should be a celebratory day. To help you decide what makes the most sense for your situation, our experts discuss how to know whether or not you should invite an estranged relative, and how to handle the situation if you do.

Consider your relationship.

Before you put anyone on your guest list, you should consider the relationship he or she shares with you or your future spouse. Mindy Weiss, owner of Mindy Weiss Party Consultants, says you should also consider how seeing this person generally makes you feel. "If you're considering inviting an estranged relative, ask yourself if their presence would positively or negatively impact the day," she advises. "Also consider if this is a good opportunity to reconnect, or perhaps not the right time and place." If the reason for your estrangement is extremely negative, you may want to think twice about extending the invitation. If you simply fell out of touch with the family member or fought over something that now seems insignificant, a wedding could be a great chance to reconnect. "Ultimately the day is about the love you share with your partner and those around you, so let that be your guiding force to make your wedding day decisions," Weiss adds.

Weigh the pros and cons.

Laurel Steinberg, PhD, a New York-based relationship therapist, says that there are a number of pros and cons to consider before extending a wedding invitation to an estranged relative. "A pro of inviting that person is that it may help to mend your differences and reawaken the relationship," she explains. It's also true that not inviting the estranged family member can further worsen your relationship, since they might be upset about being snubbed. Kate Ryan, owner of Gold Leaf Event Design & Production, mentions one major downside to asking estranged family members to join you on the big day: they could misbehave at the wedding, leading to awkwardness for yourself and other guests. Imagine the worst-case scenario and use this to guide your decision. Do you truly think they'll criticize your wedding, get belligerently drunk, or act rude to other guests? If so, hold off on sending the save-the-date.

Another con is that the bride and groom will likely experience unnecessary stress after sending out the invitation, since second-guessing is a natural part of the decision-making process. You may also feel let down if they don't accept your invite. Regardless of what happens, it's important to remember that this one person does not have the power to ruin your wedding. "No matter what, it's your day, so eyes will be on you, the entertainment, the flowers, and the food-not some potentially poor-mannered relative," says Dr. Steinberg.

Try to make amends first.

"Remember that once the invitation is sent, there's no taking it back, and therefore we definitely recommend making amends before the wedding," says Ryan. After mailing an invitation to an estranged relative, Dr. Steinberg suggests following up with a call saying that you hope they can attend. "You can mention that you'd like to rekindle the relationship; however, this isn't necessary, as the subtext of your efforts implies this. Alternately, you can slip a handwritten note into the envelope along with the invitation," she says. After realizing your efforts, the estranged relative may be more enthusiastic about attending the wedding, and they'll likely be on their best behavior.


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