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Guest List: 6 Questions to Ask Before Inviting Your Ex

Not sure how to handle the guest list? These six questions will help you decide.

Photo: Stacie Ann Smith Documentary Photographer

Should you invite your ex? 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, (Macmillan, 2002). "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.

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 over you."

Don't assume that just because you and your ex are great buddies that he or she wants to be at your wedding.

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, including Everything You Know About Love and Sex Is Wrong: Twenty-Five Relationship Myths Redefined to Achieve Happiness and Fulfillment in Your Intimate Life, (Perigree, 2001). "Your first commitment is to this new life."

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.

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.

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 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.

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 on 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 an important skill to learn now rather than later.

-- Delia Blackler

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