Learn how to navigate these potentially touchy conversations.
pastel floral illustration wedding invitation suite
Credit: Matoli Keely

Many couples will find themselves in the unpleasant situation of having to make cuts to their guest lists, particularly right now, in the age of COVID-19, when smaller weddings are the safest way to celebrate. While most people will be completely accepting and supportive of the fact that you had to scale down your guest list in order to safely tie the knot, there are some who may ask why their invite never arrived. The same is true in more typical circumstances, too: Whether you always wanted a smaller wedding or needed to invite fewer guests in order to make your budget work, there are almost always a feel people who will feel stung that they didn't get an invitation.

Coming up with a way to tactfully (and comfortably) answer their questions—either in the context of the pandemic or your personal wishes—may feel impossible, but licensed clinical psychologist, Rebekah Montgomery, Ph.D., who specializes in couples and relationships, assures us that it can be done.

Preemptively communicate the smaller guest list to anyone you think might be hurt by not receiving an invitation.

Montgomery says that if there's someone in particular that you know will be offended or upset by being left off the guest list, give them a call ahead of time. "Share how hard of a decision it was. Be open about the reason; we have to keep the wedding small, we have to accommodate family, and so forth," she says. "Assure the person it not a reflection of the value you place on the relationship. Even reaching out to have this conversation, shows your care for the relationship." Montgomery adds that it's helpful to make some extra efforts around this time to reinforce your connection. "If appropriate, ask if there is another way to celebrate the milestone together. Maybe a special dinner or another small way to acknowledge the relationship and emphasize you want them to be part of this next stage in your life," she suggests.

Share your reasons.

In the event that you scaled back your guest list because of the coronavirus pandemic, guests will likely be extremely understanding—this was a difficult decision and obviously not how you intended to celebrate. But if a smaller celebration is what you've always wanted, and your smaller guest list isn't a reaction to the current health crisis, don't be afraid to say that. "People can really understand finances, family obligations, venue limitations, and so on," says Montgomery. "Sometimes this can be easier for friends who have had a wedding as they may have been there. But it could be harder if you were invited to theirs. Honesty and showing your value for their friendship is key."

Should you reconsider extending an invitation if the lack of an invite has caused someone extreme upset??

"The fundamental guide in choosing who to invite is how you will feel on that momentous day looking around and seeing them there. If it is someone that will bring joy and meaning, by all means, see if there is a way to invite them. Level of 'upsetness' or threats to end the relationship are not sufficient reasons to invite someone," says Montgomery. 

You can also consider alternative ways for family and friends to be involved. If a smaller guest list is a reaction to the pandemic, consider a livestream of the ceremony or hosting another get-together when things are safe. If you simply want a smaller wedding due to preferences or budget, ask friends to join you for an informal celebration at your home. At the end of the day, people just want to share in this special moment.

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
December 8, 2020
I have a difficult situation regarding this question. I am the groom's mother and I am very close to him. He is paying for the wedding and my husband and I are paying for the rehearsal dinner. He is having a small wedding and during the planning, all was good until his "favorite aunt" asked when they were getting married and said that of course she was coming. Actually, we had left out that entire "ring" of family but he had nothing left to say but "of course". This leaves out his grandmother, all other aunts and uncles, and my brother. Would have been fine except for this one little issue. This aunt is very close to us and called to ask what I really thought. I told her that, of course, we would love her there but I couldn't think of the right way to do it. My brother will be heartbroken and honestly, that's not okay with me. My son called his aunt the next day after we had discussed leaving all out, but the original intended and let everyone be part of the day by videotaping it and offering the link to family so they could be included. I thought we were good, but she said "are you sure you want me there" and he said he did (I think because the alternative would have been, "no, I don't." My sister-in law called me several weeks later because she was concerned that this was going to hurt my brother who she likes very much. I said it was making me very uncomfortable, and she said she was just going to RSVP that they weren't going to make it. I told be future daughter-in-law about it and she looked a bit upset and said it was his favorite aunt. I called her immediately and asked that she come. Well, we won't be sending the link and including other family members now. My son and I are very close, and I have known from the beginning that this was going to taint the way I felt about the wedding, but I have tried not to say anything. For two months it has bothered me (well, a lot more than that) and I know it will for years to come. His grandmother isn't even invited. Beyond what feels like a huge breach of etiquette, it just feels wrong and it would not even have happened if my sister-in-law didn't ask. I know that they won't say anything to family members ahead of time and reach out to let them know he cares, and I honestly don't think I should have to. It really breaks my heart, but I can't say anything. I think I am just here to let off steam. I love everyone very much and I know I shouldn't have any say in who comes to the wedding. That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.