When it comes to the people in our pasts, the
decision to keep them there or bring them into our futures can leave us totally
perplexed. That's why when you ask most brides or grooms if they'd consider
inviting an ex to their wedding, they'll most likely say, "Sure -- if we're
good friends." Ask if they'd mind if their partner invited an ex, and
that's a whole different story. For many engaged couples, though, this situation
isn't hypothetical but rather one that has become increasingly common,
especially for those who maintain friendships or have children with their former
So if you find yourself in these circumstances, should you start addressing that
engraved invitation to the ex? Not just yet. First, you need to think it over
very carefully, and let others -- such as your partner and your ex -- weigh in
on your decision. Of course there are the very obvious reasons you shouldn't put
that person on your guest list, like if there's still a love connection between
the two of you. If that's the case, you've got bigger problems on your hands and
this article isn't for you. But if it's not and you're still confused about the
right thing to do, read on.
Before you address the
invitation, you and your future spouse need to ask yourselves some questions --
questions that you may not like the answers to. In fact, these may give you
better insight into your motives and how your decision will affect others
involved. "Marriage is a microcosm of what's going to happen later,"
says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a licensed psychotherapist in California and author
of ten books, including The Ten Smartest Decisions You Can Make Before You
Get Married. "You can start now by making
cooperative decisions about these things and set a pattern that will make it
easier next time a similar situation comes around." To that end, your
answers to the following six questions will help you decide to include your ex
-- or not.
1. Why do I want to invite this person?
If you're inviting your ex because he's the father of your children or because
he has a strong connection to your friends or family, those are valid reasons.
If you dated in high school for six months out of the ten years you've been
friends, he is for all intents and purposes a friend, not just an ex. But if
your ex is "the one who got away" and you just want to make him or her
jealous, even if there are currently no romantic feelings involved, save the
stamp. Or if you haven't been in touch in five years and this is your way of
getting involved in your ex's life again, even in a benign manner, it's not
appropriate to invite this person. Your wedding is not the time to jumpstart
friendships with long-lost lovers -- or the time to say, "See, I'm finally
2. Will it be okay with my current partner?
There should be no surprises for your partner on your wedding day, so be sure to
ask well in advance. "If your partner says that seeing your ex is going to
ruin his day, it's not worth it," says Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a professor of
sociology at the University of Washington, and author of several books,
Everything You Know About Love and Sex Is Wrong: Twenty-Five Relationship Myths Redefined to Achieve Happiness and Fulfillment in Your Intimate Life.. "Your first commitment is to this new
3. What's the worst-case scenario if my ex does come?
If your ex has been known to exhibit inappropriate behavior in public, you may
want to reconsider having him or her at your celebration. "Your wedding is
going to be more like your wonderful fantasy if you're willing to think
realistically about what the problems can be in advance and prepare for
them," says Tessina. If you must have your ex there, Tessina
suggests asking a friend or family member who knows the situation to keep an eye
out for him or her. By designating this person as your
"troubleshooter," he or she can politely cut in if your ex tries to
dance with you very closely to a slow, romantic song. This same troubleshooter
can escort a rowdy ex who has had too much to drink out of the banquet hall.
"This way, you're not going to be dragged out of your wedding fantasy in
the middle to handle some nasty problem," adds Tessina.
4. How would you feel if your current partner wanted to invite his or her ex?
Even though it's difficult to be totally empathetic (especially if your
partner's ex looks like Cindy Crawford), you have to be fair. Remember that good
marriages aren't based on double standards: It can't be okay for you and not
okay for your partner. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, it's likely it
will make your partner feel uncomfortable too.
5. Does my ex even want to be invited?
Don't assume that just because you and your ex are great buddies that he or she
wants to be at your wedding. Maybe your ex thinks you're throwing your life
away, your mother will disapprove of his or her presence, or that there will be
no one to talk to. Before mailing the invite, be sure to ask beforehand in
person or over the phone. Whatever the reasons are, you have to respect your
ex's decision and not lay on the guilt if your verbal invitation is declined. If
there's any hesitation on your ex's part, be frank and don't add extra pressure
by sending a formal one.
6. Is my ex still carrying a torch for me?
If the answer is yes, or even a maybe, don't invite him or her -- it's not fair
to anyone involved. "If your ex is going to watch you get married and feel
anything but happiness for you, your ex shouldn't be there," says Schwartz.
This may be your moment to shine, but it's not your moment to gloat or make
people feel bad about their current situations. (See question number one.)
Ultimately, whether or not you decide to invite your ex should depend entirely
what you and your partner decide together. "You need to come together with
a joint decision you both can live with," says Schwartz, "and that
often means it doesn't go your way." And since a wedding is the first big
event a couple faces in married life, your ability to reach a compromise you're
both happy with "is going to make a difference in whether you have a
wonderful life or a miserable life together," says Tessina.
ON THE ONE HAND...
Among experts, there seem to be two schools of thought with regard to inviting
exes. Some are completely against it, while others are for it in certain
circumstances. Robert Billingham, PhD, an associate professor of human
development and family studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, believes once
people are lovers, they can never be "just friends," and that an ex
should never attend your wedding under any circumstances. "Once sex
happens, it can never be a friendship because sex makes relationships something
different -- it's not like a Friends episode. People who find themselves
in this situation can put on a good show, but it really kills them and takes
away from what should normally be a day focused on celebration."
Ubertraditional etiquette expert Peggy Post agrees that exes shouldn't be
present, but her concern is mainly for the children, if you have any, and those
coming to your wedding. In her book,
Emily Post's Wedding Etiquette: Cherished Traditions and Contemporary Ideas for a Joyous Celebration (4th Edition), she says that even when you have children
with an ex-spouse, it's better not to invite your ex. "It can be confusing
to your children, who need to see you and your new groom (or bride) as a family
unit, separate from the ex. They also need to understand that while you are all
still their parents, you are otherwise not connected to each other."
Another reason for not inviting the ex? No matter how amicable your divorce, she
thinks it can be awkward for your guests to show happiness for you in front of a
former partner with whom things didn't work out.
ON THE OTHER HAND...
But there's the other camp that believes if your ex is a truly good friend,
there's no reason he or she shouldn't be there. "It depends on how 'ex'
your ex really is," says Schwartz. She says maintaining a good connection with your ex can be
beneficial, especially when kids are involved: "You can be a really loyal
person who knows how to convert one kind of relationship into another." She
also adds that it's a positive indicator of your current partner's personality
if he or she is still friendly with his or her ex, as long as that ex isn't
overly dependent or clingy.
And because society is rethinking its definition of what a family means, all the
old rules don't apply, according to Tessina.
If you have children with an ex, she suggests "acting like grown-ups."
Invite your ex to the wedding so your kids can have extra parental support on
what may be an extremely emotion-filled day for them.
SOME DOS & DON'TS
If you do invite your ex and your cordial invitation is accepted, there are a
few dos and don'ts that you should keep in mind to ensure a stress-free wedding
day. Do: Invite your ex with a guest. This way, he or she won't feel alone.
Greet your ex on the receiving line as you would any other guest. Introduce your
ex as an old friend or the father or mother of your children. Seat your ex with
people he or she knows and likes. Limit chatting with your ex to just a few
minutes when you're visiting guests at their tables.
Now for the don'ts. Don't dance with your ex. There's no reason to become the
center of gossip at your own wedding. Plus, you might upset your partner. Don't
let your ex catch the garter or bouquet if your ex is single: "There
shouldn't be anything that causes your ex to stand out," says Billingham,
so this is a big no-no. (Before the wedding, casually mention to your ex that
you think it would be best if he or she skipped this part of the reception.)
Don't introduce your ex as "my ex." We're not encouraging you to lie, but
there's no need to tell someone who doesn't know about your history together.
And if it's a person who already knows your ex, there's no need to rehash the
past. Don't spend a lot of time chatting with your ex. "This person is not a
major part of the day no matter how you feel about them," says Schwartz. Don't
drink too much. This is a day you want to remember, not regret. Alcohol loosens
inhibitions, and sometimes makes us say things we would never say when we were