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 partners.
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.
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, Fourth Edition (Harper Resource, 2001), 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.
Do: Seat your ex with people he or she knows and likes. Don't: Don't dance with your ex.
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 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). Schwartz 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 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). 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 sober.
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