Ask Team Practical: Including Family

How do you pick and choose?

Q: I’d love your advice. My fiancé and I are getting married this summer. I have one sister and he has two. Instead of a big wedding party, we’re each having one person stand up with us. I chose my sister to stand up there with me, because even though we’re not super close, for me weddings have always been about families, whether it’s the family you’ve always had or one you’ve made or are making. My fiancé chose one of his close male friends from work. We’ve talked about having readings at the ceremony, and he mentioned having one of his sisters do one. He doesn’t want the other sister to participate in the wedding (although she’s invited) because they’re not close and are actually not getting along at this time. I’m feeling guilty and anxious over this. It feels like an insult to have every member of our immediate families highlighted in some way (all of our parents will be walking down the aisle and giving speeches at some point) except for her. It’s starting off my joining their family on the wrong foot—even though it’s his family, it’s our wedding, so the choice is projected as both of ours. They aren’t getting along now, but what if they get along in the future? At the same time, I want him to be comfortable and happy and honor the people who matter to him. Should I try to convince him to change his mind, or should I let this be his decision?


A: Dear Anonymous,

Yes, you should talk to him. I completely understand your partner’s perspective. Weddings are, in part, about honoring the people around you! But he may need reminding that sometimes they’re also about honoring the relation you have to those people, if not the relationships.

Put a different way, yeah. Maybe he’s pissed at his sister. But she’s still his sister. He can honor that relation, even if their actual relationship is currently a little rocky.

That “currently” word is an important piece. This doesn’t sound like a relationship that has been terrible in the long term. This isn’t a long, sordid history of awful. There are some relations you just simply can’t fake your way through honoring. But, “not getting along right now,” doesn’t sound like it falls into that camp. That’s the sort of thing you can kinda fudge in the hopes that this current argument will be a temporary one, and somewhere down the line, things will be a bit brighter and better.

It also sounds a smidge like your partner is trying to make a statement. If it’s not just that he thinks he’ll avoid some drama or some discomfort by excluding her, then he’s probably trying to send her a big message by leaving her out. Weddings just aren’t the place for those sorts of statements, because of two of the things you said: 1. this being the beginning of your marriage, his choices are reflected on you, and 2. hopefully someday things will be better between them, and he’ll regret excluding her. There aren’t often do-overs with weddings. We always talk a bit about how weddings highlight how things are in contrast to how we wish they were. In this instance, you and your partner can mourn that without seeking to add further insult.

So, talk to him. It’s awesome that you haven’t tried pressuring him into any decisions regarding his own family and his own attendants. But it’s worth letting him know why you’re worried, and why you think it might be in his best interest to do otherwise. Tell him exactly what you told me—that his decisions concerning the wedding are “our” decisions. But also that you want to honor his sister for being his sister (even if she’s being a pretty awful one right now).

Team Practical, how do you decide which family members to include and honor?

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  • Alice

    I get what the advice is getting at, but I personally think it’s missing the mark. Of course, it slightly depends the nature of ‘not getting along’ but… Arent weddings supposed to be about what you want? If he doesn’t feel comfortable, I wouldn’t feel right pressuring him to include her because you feel weddings are about family. Weddings are about YOU, the bride -and- groom. I wouldn’t want such a special day to be spent paying any mind to a family member purely out of obligation, when they can be stressful enough. She is attending, isn’t that enough?

    • S

      I think you’ll get a lot of replies here saying that a wedding isn’t just about you, it’s also about family, and you should feel a certain sense of obligation. I think it’s worth noting that a lot of people don’t or can’t feel that way at all. Some people don’t have a genuinely happy relationship with their family, and don’t feel like pretending on their wedding day. Some people have weddings for other reasons than honouring their loved ones, or at least honouring their families. Some people truly feel that families are what you make, and feel that if you’re born into one with people that aren’t *your* people, you have no reason to waste your celebrations and holidays with those people. Some people can get on just fine with their family, but don’t want any of their wedding guests to be people they “get on just fine” with, and only want people there that make them feel loved and supported 110%. While I don’t agree with you that weddings are *by default* only about what the bride and groom want, I also agree that they can be and maybe should be for some people. Like, I just wanted to pre-empt the comments you may or may not get here and say that if a wedding is just about what you want, that’s awesome and cool and fine, and nobody should judge that, because you’re the only one that knows WHY you’re throwing the wedding and what will make you feel happy, loved, comfortable and mentally safe.

      • Laura C

        Yeah, I want to chime in as a person who … doesn’t get the whole weddings are about family thing. It’s actually something I have a lot of trouble with, and my conclusion is I partly need to expand my understanding of how other people see it, but that I also have a valid point of view. I’m super close with my parents, but I’m an only child and all my grandparents are dead, so maybe it’s easy for me to say. But even so, if my grandparents had been alive? They would have been potential problems to navigate, because they all had their ways of being difficult. My one full uncle (my father also has a half-brother) is absolutely invited, but he’s sort of going to be a challenge to seat at dinner since, well, my parents have a full table of their closest friends and either I boot a pair of the friends to a table where they know no one in order to put my uncle at the table with my parents, or I keep my parents’ friends at that table and find a different place for my uncle, who knows basically no one at this wedding.

        And I kept having to have this discussion with my fiance’s mother where I said “I feel like if we invite any children, we have to invite them all, and that gets to be a whole lot of people” and she said “but these two are particularly close family” and I was like “yeah, and I held this one of my friends’ kids in the hospital before anyone else but the new parents and the hospital staff, and knew this friend was planning to take a pregnancy test a few hours ahead of when she took it, and babysat for this friend’s kids after their mother, who I loved too, died, when the only way I could not be a weeping mess around them was to just keep thinking ‘these children are so beautiful.'” I guess what I’m saying is, for some of us, our families aren’t at the center of our worlds, and that’s ok, and the deep relationships we have deserve to be honored, not shifted to the side because “weddings are about family.” Now, maybe the fiance in this question is coming from a petty place of “I had a fight with my sister, so screw her.” But maybe he’s coming from a place of “we’re not close and don’t have a lot in common at the best of times, and there are other people in my life I prefer to have involved in my wedding, which I don’t see as being so focused on my technical family.” So, the advice to talk to him I completely agree with. But I think the letter-writer should be prepared and open to accepting that how she thinks about family and their role in weddings and how he does may be different and that can be ok.

        • js

          I think the part that gets me is the idea that you should kind’ve suck it up to make your family happy. On APW, weddings are often about statements: for gay marriage rights, for your new baby family, eff ’em if they don’t like the chairs, etc. Even the letter writer acknowledges it can be about the family you’ve made, not bio family. It’s about community, that’s hit home here as well, and his sister may not be the closest part of his community right now. That may change, but weddings can’t always honor every single person that has meant something in your life at some time. Also, I would like to point out they are only picking one wedding party member and he has two sisters, so either may feel slighted no matter what you do.

          • Liz

            Whoa, I think there’s a huge difference between the kind of statement that says, “here is what my new family is about,” and one that says, “I’M MAD AT YOU SO :P”

      • M

        “Some people can get on just fine with their family, but don’t want any of their wedding guests to be people they “get on just fine” with, and only want people there that make them feel loved and supported 110%.” Yes, this!!

        • Lauren from NH

          Yeah this has been my struggle as my partner and I are beginning to tackle the guest list. He has a big family and they are all very local and very family centric, so everyone knows everyone, we see everyone at least three times a year and they all help each other out…BUT he/we don’t actually talk and interact with over half of them. When you are on a tight budget it’s like “Really? we are going to greet them and then like every other party, avoid them like the plague.” But it really depends on what you value. And he values honoring them for their role in his life and his family so now it becomes two receptions! Because while they may be very unimportant and unconnected to me, I don’t want him to have to sacrifice part of his joy in our celebration.

      • Thanks for this. Not everyone has a family situation that suits the “honoring family” wedding model. I think it’s great to honor people in your wedding, but sometimes I feel a bit pressured by the default focus on family. I prefer to think about it as “honoring people who have loved and supported you”.

    • Liz

      I would quibble with “weddings are supposed to be about what you want.”

      But, let’s say that they are about that. I think what you want TODAY isn’t always a good measure of what you’re going to want longterm.

      Put another way, the stress of just giving her a corsage or asking her to hand out programs is probably way less than the stress created by “making a statement!” and excluding her simply because she’s been a pain lately.

      • Annie

        I think it really depends on what the level of tension is between the siblings. Being a pain lately and deep emotional conflict are very different, and it’s hard to tell what the issue is here. If it’s just an issue of not getting along, like he’s super liberal and his sister campaigned for Romney, that’s one thing. If she’s stolen his credit cards and stabbed his dog, that’s another. But no matter what, communication between partners is the key to figuring out the situation.

    • CH

      But is it really that difficult to have 2 readings and each sister reads one? That way they’re equally participating, equally honored, but the reading part is over in 30 seconds. I just cannot imagine being SO stressed out on my wedding day that I couldn’t handle someone I wasn’t super close to doing a reading. I’m not super close to my MIL (in fact, I don’t like her that much), but I wasn’t at all put out by the fact that she was escorted into the service and included in our photos.

    • Alyssa M

      Honestly I’d say my biggest worry in this situation is the future ramifications. If you’ve got serious issues with your family and are willing to cause a further rift… that’s totally your prerogative. However, this REALLY doesn’t sound like that kind of situation!

      I’m actually in a very similar situation actually. I have a brother and sister, neither of which am I particularly close to, but they’re important to me. My partner has two brothers, one is a friend, the other is kind of obnoxious. My sister is a BM, his friendly brother is a GM, and my brother is walking our ring bearer-dog down the aisle… but we don’t really have a place for his obnoxious older brother.

      He’s willing to just say “eff him, who cares.” but I refuse to do that, because we’ll be seeing his brother at least yearly for the rest of our lives… there’s a good chance of our children opening Christmas presents together some day…do we really want this guy to feel snubbed in a major way?

  • Angie

    I totally agree with this advice. My wedding was last weekend (it was awesome, yay!) and we worked really hard to involve everyone on both sides of the family, as well as our closest friends. My new brother-in-law’s fiance isn’t my husband’s favorite person, but I wanted to involve her since she’ll be in our life for a long time. She was an awesome listening ear during wedding planning, helped me find a hairdresser to color my hair for the wedding, and helped with my hair and makeup the day of the wedding. Basically, I found what her strengths are and had her help in those areas. No, she didn’t have a part to play in the actual ceremony, but she did have a part to play, and I think she felt included.

    • KC


  • Emily

    I think it is super awesome how important family is to the writer, but I think that many families don’t formally honor siblings during the ceremony, and I wonder if she would even notice. There are also a lot of traditional ways to honor her without her actually speaking in the ceremony. I get having high standards for speakers, because in my mind the ceremony is the most important part of the wedding and you don’t want it to be dishonest. However, I know a lot of people would happy to not have to deal with the anxiety of speaking at a ceremony. Giving her usher duties and a VIP corsage would give her the opportunity to greet guests and would mark her as important. She might even enjoy that more than giving an emotional speech or reading.

    • Amy March

      Asking her to give a toast at the rehearsal dinner might also be an option to consider.

  • Amy March

    I’d also ask him to think about what a reading is. It isn’t primarily a way to honor a special person in your life. It’s a way to facilitate having meaningful words spoken at your ceremony. It might help him to think of this not as “I am honoring sister” but rather “sister is honoring us by performing an act of service at our wedding.”

    And I agree with Liz’s distinction. There’s a big difference in a sibling you love, but aren’t getting along with, and a toxic sibling.

    • Sarah E

      Ooh, “sister is honoring us.” Well-put.

    • Jules

      Personally, I think it works both ways, and they’re not necessarily separable. To me, it IS an honor to asked to participate in a ceremony for my friends/family in any capacity, even if that capacity has a service aspect to it.

      Similarly, I consider it an honor to be chosen for a bridal party, but it is also a way for me to honor the couple by supporting their new relationship and standing up with them to witness. Dual-purpose.

  • Eh

    The part of the advice that I agree with the most is that the letter writer needs to talk to her fiancé. The decision does reflect on both of them so she needs to tell him how she feels. Even if the decision regarding his sister doesn’t change, they need to be on the same page.

    My husband only has one sibling, his brother. He was supposed to by our Best Man (both of my siblings were involved in our wedding). On my husband’s side there was a huge family feud around the time of our wedding. The feud has been going on for a few years though it had been getting worse in the last two years. My BIL and SIL’s wedding the year before our wedding really highlighted how widespread the feud was (e.g., lots of people faked their way through it and it was pretty uncomfortable); while our wedding both intensified the feud and was used as a statement. The month before our wedding we learned that my BIL might not come to our wedding at all. He actually asked us to uninvited him and his family, and fire him as Best Man (so we looked like the bad guys and to give him an easy out – my husband and I discussed the situation and decided not to uninvited them and, despite pressure from his parents to name a new Best Man, we decided that the only person we wanted as Best Man was his brother). We tried to work things out with my BIL and his wife but they felt we were only trying to work things out so they would go to our wedding and because my in-laws were pressuring us. On our wedding day my MIL went over to their house. My BIL ended up coming to the ceremony (and stayed for family pictures) but did not act as Best Man, and his wife and children did not come.

    After the very high emotional time of our wedding had passed we sat down and worked things out with them. It took about six months for us to feel “normal” (e.g., not anxious, fake or stand-offish around each other). The family pictures from our wedding hang in our dining room so it is a constant reminder that my SIL and their children didn’t come to our wedding. Since we have worked things out, my SIL has told me that she regrets not coming to our wedding, but she wasn’t ready at the time.

    Even though this was an issue with his family we made a joint decision about how we were going to handle it (i.e., not firing his brother as Best Man and not uninviting his family from the wedding) because it does reflect on both of us. There were points where I thought it would be easier to just fire him and get a new Best Man and my husband had the same thought at different points too but when we talked about it we realized that wasn’t what we wanted. And with both of us on the same page we were able to be a united force against the people who kept telling us to name a new Best Man and uninvited them (so we could save money by not paying for their meals).

    • Kara E

      I’m so sorry that things worked out this way. I hope that there is continued healing in your relationship with them. Congratulations on taking the high road. Best of luck.

      • Eh

        Our actions during that time have been a huge reason that we have been able to get our relationship with my BIL/SIL on track. I doubt that we’d be talking to them if we had excluded them since they were ready to cut ties with the family.

  • Sarah E

    I’d definitely try to include his other sister in the day in some way. From my own experience, I get miffed if I’m not included in something, but I get *more* miffed when my brother is left out. So sister #1 may not be cool with having sister #2 as just a guest either.

    • Mum

      Yea, for me choosing folks to be included in the wedding has been part “these are my people and I want them with me,” and part “these people are going to be around for the rest of my life, and I want them to feel OK and us to keep our relationship going on the right track.” It’s definitely a balance! If I only included my favorite people, the makeup of our bridal party/ceremony participants/other involvements would look very different.
      But I also get not wanting to have toxicity around you (like if my future mother in law, who struggles with mental illness, was having a paranoid episode where she was paranoid about me, as has sometimes happened in the past, I wouldn’t want her at the wedding, much less in a place of honor!).

      And for my fiance, he’s very much in the camp that “this is our day, so we should do what we want.” It’s a balance.

      • Sarah E

        Fo’sho’. We aren’t having a bridal party, but when we’ve been at weddings together in the past, my partner’s opinion is: the bridal party is full of friends who stand with you no matter what. Family is a given and don’t need the distinction. My opinion is: Family would be a major part of any bridal party I would have, Including his sister. So, opinions, man.

        • elysiarenee

          I feel the same way as your partner and I love how you put it “Family is a given and don’t need the distinction.”

  • My personal opinion, and everyone has one, is that the writer needs to recognize what’s her stuff and what isn’t and knowing that in the end it will all be okay. It really will. No one “owes” it to someone else to be included or not. It’s just what it is. The feelings the letter writer has about family are not necessarily those of her FH. Some people are attached to the idea of family is absolutely everything and others are attached to specific individuals. It’s important to be able to have these conversations in an exploratory, non-judgmental way. There is no one right answer. I believe that the process of coming to the decision is as important, if not more so, than the decision itself. And the thing with decisions, if you feel confident in them and present them as “this is the decision we’ve come to and we’re not discussing it further” (not in a mean way, but in a “this is what it is” way) people will see that you have put thought and effort into it and respect your decision. It was not made lightly or in a vacuum. You don’t owe anything to your future sister in law, but communication with your FH, and being on the same page, is essential!

    • Eh

      “This is the decision we’ve come to and we’re not discussing it further” – Exactly being on the same page and presenting a united front. If people think that you aren’t on the same page they might try to put a wedge between you to try to change your decision. My MIL gets annoyed when we do this (e.g., We have discussed it, and since A doesn’t have much vacation time he will not be taking a vacation day for the family reunion so we will not be able to attend) and then my FIL has to remind her that we have to make decisions that are best for us no matter what my MIL thinks we should do.

      • Stacey H.

        “United front” all the way.

    • TeaforTwo

      “what’s her stuff and what isn’t” AMEN.

      There are certain things about the way my husband interacts with his family that drive me crazy, or are just bizarre. I was worried for a long time that they would blame me, and insisted on things like mother’s day gifts and getting in touch with them early about various updates and wedding-related things (and now just life-related things.)

      The thing is, it’s not my relationship to manage, and I was borrowing a lot of headaches. I may think it’s rude not to get back to his parents right away when they invite us to something, but the fact that he is lousy at responding to emails is not news to them. They made him, they know him, and a lot of his “laissez-faire” approach to scheduling that drives me crazy is something that they taught him. Ultimately, he gets to be the picker of how we relate to his family. I’m polite to them, enjoy hanging out with his parents and siblings, and am definitely part of the family. But changing the way that he relates to them is a) never going to happen and b) not really on me to do, anyway. What a relief.

  • Clare

    I feel like everyone is making the assumption that the sister wants to be involved in the wedding. She might prefer to simply be a guest. Depending on the nature of he reason. For their falling out, having her participate could actually increase the tension. I understand that the letter writer wants to start off her baby family on the right foot, but in the letter it seems like she doesn’t really understand the reasons for her fiancé’s decision. That’s probably the starting point. Personally I wouldn’t want someone at my wedding pretending to feel a way they are not.

    • Emily

      I was just going to say basically the same. My fiance and his sister have a…rocky relationship (honestly she has a rocky relationship with everyone, but that’s another matter) and he did not want to include her the same way we are including the rest of our siblings both for his sake and hers. I felt the same as the writer about family and honor and inclusion. Anyway after a lot of hand-wringing and worry we happened to see his sister at another occasion. She privately took my fiance aside and explained that she had been really anxious about the wedding because she just didn’t feel like it was her place to stand up for us the same as his brother and would much prefer to attend as a guest so that she could leave if she felt awkward or uncomfortable. It totally turned the tables on the issue and gave the two of them a chance at honest communication for the first time in years. Things work out the way they should if we give them a chance.

  • anon

    Family is so hard. We aren’t doing bridal party either, but my fiance would like to have his dad stand up there with him. He is really pushing me to find someone to stand with me, but I really just don’t feel like there is anyone I am happy with filling that role, even with having four brothers and sisters. We aren’t close and I definitely don’t feel that there has been anyone there supporting me through my life. I feel like anyone I have standing next to me will be a mirror of my fiance and his dad’s relationship, which I just don’t have in my life. (Well, outside of my fiance.) Plus I feel like he understands this, but wants someone standing up there with me “so it doesn’t look weird.” Meh. s much as I wish I had someone to fill that role, I’m not just filling a role like that for looks. But good for you to be able to look past that and honor your sister. Apparently you are less petty that I am.

    I also am not having my dad walk me down the aisle, which my mother is appalled about. I’m not really sure why–he is an alcoholic who has pushed the family away since before I can remember. Not really sure why my mother thinks he has earned the right to “give me away.” I don’t feel that he ever had me.

    Welp, there’s my whole family history! Apparently I needed to share all of this with someone. Thanks, internet!

    • Lauren from NH

      Haha! we all need to get it out sometimes.

    • Lawyerette510

      Good for you in being true to yourself on those two points! First off, it’s not a big deal that there is one person standing next to him and no one standing next to you from a visual perspective. Secondly, I would guess your mom wants that moment of the trope of seeing you walked down the aisle because she (like most the rest of us) has had a lifetime of social conditioning telling her that’s what it will look like on your wedding day. That said, as a recent bride I will back you up and say walk down the aisle the way you want to! Originally I wanted us to walk in as a couple with our dog, but in the spirit of lots if advice about hurting feelings etc I decided to walk in with my parents (who are divorced). It was never an option to have just my dad walk me in because he did half the parenting and half the damaging and mom did the other and no one was giving me away and we eliminated any such wording and instead has community vows later in the ceremony.

      Anyway, my point was, while it made my parents really happy to walk me in, and my dad would have been disappointed had we not done that, I would have felt better walking in with my groom or dog or both or even by myself. In the moment I really wanted to be waking down by myself, I felt very encumbered physically and emotionally by having them walk in with me. It all worked out fine but the truth of my relationship with my parents and my husband is that he and I built our relationship very separate from my parents and during a period of time when both my parents were dealing with a lot of their own shit, and I had to overcome a lot of shit related to the marriage I saw modeled by my parents to be ready for my own and I think I would have felt unbridled joy walking down the aisle alone or with my groom instead of feeling hemmed in walking with both of them. Also my da trying to do some bullshit patriarchal move of placin my hand into

      • emmers

        Ugh!!! That sounds really miserable.

        • Lawyerette510

          It wasn’t miserable, it was just that in the moment, and now with about a month’s distance from it, I can look back and say I made the wrong choice for the right reasons. I wanted to make my parents feel good and included, and while I think I could have accomplished that in another way through meaningful prior conversation and creative thinking, I didn’t and that’s ok.

          Also, I realize that some people may take offense at my calling my dad’s trying to place my hand in my husband’s a “bullshit patriarchal move” and no offense is intended to anyone who finds the tradition of fathers giving away daughters meaningful in a positive way.

          • KC

            I think that the key to “bullshit patriarchal move” in this case is “something you objected to potential implications of and therefore asked him not to do… and which he did anyway for reasons which were presumably not just habit”. (I mean, if he’s married off 12 daughters or something before and just did it automatically, then maybe? but that seems unlikely.)

            There are a lot of traditions that have some potential vestiges of offensive original meaning about them but which, I think, can be fine to do for tradition’s sake and without that original meaning if you want to – but there they do not become truly offensive until they’re non-consensual.

          • Lawyerette510

            KC, thank you for articulating that so nicely!

      • Lauren from NH

        Oh boy. It’s these areas where I don’t think everyone’s feelings count, if you know what I mean. I mean important people should be honored but I don’t think the honored get to declare the form or fashion unilaterally. And just because you respect someone, doesn’t mean you have to do things their way. My partner’s family typically does very traditional WIC weddings and I am just not having it. It’s mostly the heteronormative, patriarchal shit that I am willing to fight tooth and nail. My brother is standing on my side damnit! and we walk in together because we are fucking equals and will have been together 6 years. They can think it’s “wrong” if they want, haters gonna hate lol. (Mostly not reflecting on your comment, just starting to hear some of the “it’s not a real wedding if…” BS and needed to rage).

        • Lawyerette510

          “I mean important people should be honored but I don’t think the honored get to declare the form or fashion unilaterally. And just because you respect someone, doesn’t mean you have to do things their way. ” Very well put!

          And feel free to vent the “it’s not a real wedding if…” frustration, fortunately for us we moved really quickly, so we left most in shock which limited the opportunities for that, although we did get a fair amount of it even though it all happened in less than 3 months.

          • Lauren from NH

            I think that is the way to do it, short and sweet, but with lots of moving parts in theory, I don’t know how well we will pull it off. For now we are unofficially engaged secret planning, which is awesome and gives us time to sort out the major elements of our vision without “help”.

  • Has her fiance asked his sister if she wants to participate? Or are we just assuming that she wants does? Not all families (or people) are all that into weddings. I love weddings. I have volunteered to participate in every wedding of every person I’ve ever met. My sister hates them. So although we have a wonderful relationship, she told me in no uncertain terms that she did not want to participate in my upcoming nuptials. It’s just not her thing and I respect that. So maybe they can identify if the sister’s non participation would be a real slight or just a perceived one. Maybe the sister isn’t all that keen on participating in a wedding when she’s miffed at her brother.

  • e

    Some times, relationships get worse after weddings and people regret having certain people at/involved with their wedding. It’s hard to see the future.

    • Liz

      I’m going to push back on this just because I think it’s a fair assumption that a current argument will resolve itself. That’s far more reasonable than trying to guess at who you’ll have a falling out with later on. They’re not really equivalent.

  • Annie

    I totally agree that talking to your partner is necessary in situations like these, but I don’t agree that family members (even close ones like siblings) necessarily have to be included in this way. It’s okay to distance yourself from people who have hurt you, even if they are family members. I know lots of people think “But they’re still family, your wedding is about more than just you,’ but I also think there’s no reason to put yourself in a stressful situation just to include someone with whom you have a bad history. Taking care of yourself and your own family and setting boundaries is okay.

  • Nell

    This is the first time I have ever disagreed with advice on this site! Families are all really, really different. Just because Partner A feels like including her sibling is the #1 most important thing, that doesn’t mean that Partner B has to feel the same way.

    For example. . . I have 1 sibling. He hates both talking and being the center of attention. If I asked him to make a toast or do a reading, I think that’d actually be MORE stressful for both of us. We get along just fine, but we are not super close. Will he be in family photos? Of course! Will he be seated at a table in a place of honor? Yup! Has everyone on the planet asked me how I’m including my brother? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that they know what’s best for my family.

    It is true that you don’t get “do-overs” at a wedding – but a wedding is not the last time you get to make amends with a distant sibling. With luck, you’ll get many more (less stressful) family holidays and dinners to try to figure out what that relationship is going to look like.

  • zoe

    I agree in that I think a lot of it depends on the history and his future wishes for the relationship. If he wants to have her in his life in the future (including any future nieces, nephews), and all other immediate family members are included, he should consider including her. It is TOTALLY fine if he decides not to (and even though you should talk about it, ultimately, his sister = his choice) but if decides not to include her, I think he has to be prepared for repercussions, including her feelings being hurt and a further degradation of the relationship. Is it possible to include her in a way that will minimize any potential for drama? Maybe have the 2 sisters both participate in the reading (i.e. alternating verses)?

  • Dacia E.

    I don’t have much advice to offer this person, since everyone else has done a beautiful job of that. I do wonder if the size of the wedding may also come into play here – it can be awkward when you have a smaller wedding and half of the guests end up needing to be honored in some way. (Which I imagine is likely to happen when you have a smaller wedding, since only the people you’re close with are there.)

    I apologize ahead of time if I’m derailing, but since the article is about picking and choosing, I’d love to hear what people have done when they had to choose between people they dearly love. I understand that it’s possible to honor everyone at a wedding in SOME way, but when you have multiple people who are equal contenders for a distinction like maid of honor (and who might be hurt if you picked someone else), what the hell do you do? (Let’s say it’s one of those smaller weddings, where you’re close enough to most of the people there that you could conceivably have more people in the wedding party than in the seats.)

    • Liz

      I think it perhaps depends on your definition of “honoring.” You’re right that it can get a little ridiculous to have half of the guests standing up front. But having small “ceremony building” roles can involve important folks (ushers, handing out programs, carrying things into the space).

      Re: the equal contenders thing, you could go the bridal brigade route, skip on the bridesmaids, and just have all of your important ladies wear a flower or something instead of actually having a Role and standing up front.

      • Dacia E.

        Thanks for the help! Our wedding is close friends and family only, and when I asked my fiance who he wanted on his side of the bridal party, he literally listed every. single. friend. that he had invited, plus his brother. I’ll talk with him about all the ideas people have, and see if he’s willing to do something like that.

    • KC

      An awesome friend of mine went for the solution of having a larger bridal party with bring-your-own-dress and then letting them sit during the wedding. :-) (bridal brigade/bridesmaid hybrid?)

      But yes, that’s a challenge!

      • Dacia E.

        That’s a great idea, and I think we’ll definitely go with the sitting if I can convince my fiance. Thank you!

    • Jules

      My favorite ones….
      1. Having a little ribbon or flower or fake flower that distinguish large numbers of “equally important” people from “regular guests”. Example:
      2. Including as many people as you want to in the “bridal party” and only having them process down the aisle, sit closer, but not stand. And/or the MOH(s) are the only ones who do stand with you if that’s important
      3. House party. I always felt happy when I got to do programs although I’ve seen some people can get insulted over that due to feeling “lower ranking” than the bridal party. :(
      4. Honorary bridesmaids/special thank-yous in the program
      5. Do multiple MOHs, but be cautious with this because it can turn into a power struggle/disorganization if the people are slightly nuts. (Esp if you are having a shower/bachelorette/accessory parties) Split up the duties…have one hold your bouquet, one sign the certificate, and so on.

      Lastly, if it’s a smaller wedding – let’s say 30-50 and you want to pick 20 people – I think most of them will feel intrinsically honored by nature of you having invited them to attend something intimate (versus 200 people where you want to honor 20 people, in which case one of the above is more feasible).

      You know your guests better than me, but in my experience the simple act of saying, hey, you’re special and can I recognize that in X way goes a long way. :)

      • Dacia E.

        These are great ideas! Thank you!

      • I really like idea #1.

        And perhaps there could be a listing in the programs with the names of immediate family members, if that might help honor people in a way that wouldn’t be perceived by you as a couple on the actual day? Or asking that other sister if she might want to to help pass out programs/birdseed/bubbles/etc.or the person that is there with the guest book or something- a task that implies a closer involvement with the couple than a standard guest, but that has less potential emotional ties/implications.

      • And #2 is good too. We had a grandfather process in, along with the parents and be seated, just before the bridal party. But it could easily be the whole immediate family that processes in just before the bridal party and/or people getting married. And reserved seats designated for family…

        • Jules

          Plus, people in the procession are sometimes included in the program anyway! Double win.

          I was a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding, but her sister was not (they are on good, although distant, terms and have a lot of history they’re trying to work through). I know they discussed in it advance. She was in the procession with a bouquet, I believe immediately before the bridal party…her mom walked my cousin down the aisle and all other immediate relatives were not present. She basically did everything except stand up beside her and it was a good balance for them.

          That was more of an anecdote for the LW, but, you know.

    • Nell

      Ugh – I know how this feels. My fiancee and I decided that we would only include people that BOTH of us were close to, and I go back and forth feeling fine with it and feeling like I have totally betrayed a couple of women who I love, but who have just kind of been less of a day-to-day presence in my life recently. To be fair, the women we are not including did not actually include me in THEIR wedding parties – which everyone in my life seems to think is a perfectly natural way to make a decision. I feel like it is petty and totally not me.

      For me, the big issue is not that particular day, but all the photographs that include ABC friends but not XYZ friends. The answer for me is going to be picking a photographer who is willing to try to capture a large portion of the guests on camera – but I still don’t know if that will feel right enough to me.

      • Dacia E.

        You’ve brought up my biggest dilemma so far – the “tit for tat” (or is it?) nature of bridal parties. I have two very close friends, either of whom could be maid of honor (let’s call them X and Y). X has been in my life more consistently, is closer with my fiance, is located in the city of the wedding, and was promised the job YEARS ago. But Y asked me to be the maid of honor at her wedding, and I feel horribly guilty about my inclination to pick X.

        Although both my friends are wonderful and reasonable people, they are definitely on the sensitive side, and I really don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’ll probably end up picking both, and hope that neither of them see it as making them less special.

        • Nell

          Dacia – I think this is the nature of friendships, right? No friendship is perfectly reciprocal. I have only been asked to be a bridesmaid ONCE, and I have been to a ton of weddings for people who I thought of as really, really good friends. I think that being cut so many times has made me feel really sensitive about making my wedding party at all exclusive. But the way we do weddings, it’s all about exclusivity – the guest list, the bridal party, the seating chart.

          It may suck, but it would be utterly impossible to actually treat all of your friends as equals. Only one set of hands can hold your bouquet while you do the kiss thing. One person is going to end up standing a few inches closer to you than the other. And that would be true if it was your wedding or your birthday or the birth of your child. (I’m saying this because it is so hard for me to accept!)

          • elysiarenee

            as someone who had a large ‘bridal party’ that was non heirachical (no maid of honour) I want to say that height order (their idea) is totally valid way of determine which of your specials is a few inches closer to you haha

      • Liz

        That is definitely something you can request in advance! Many photographers will ask what posed photos you want (some people want all the family EVER, some just want parents…) and it would be completely reasonable to request a photo with a handful of your favorite ladies.

  • amalance

    We’re also struggling with this now. My fiance does not get along with his sister at all. We really only see her at Christmas, and even for the three days we’re together, it’s unpleasant. I’ve made an effort to forge a relationship with her and have given up at this point. When she got married three years ago, she did not include my fiance in the wedding in any way, despite including her husband’s sister and brother. We’re having a Jewish wedding and I am considering having friends and family read the seven blessings, meaning we’d choose either 7 or 14 people/couples depending on how we split it. It would be a huge snub not to include her, while on the other had I don’t necessarily want to give one to her, given the way she treats us. Any advice?

    • Liz

      If she was comfortable not including your fiancé, I would feel comfortable doing the same. It’s not tit-for-tat, it just doesn’t seem so much an outright snub when she’s already done the same. But that all depends on what your fiancé thinks about the whole thing.

    • KC

      Is there a different, less personally-meaningful-to-you assignment you can give her? (usher, etc.)

      Also: If the blessings are said by enough of a melange of people (old people, young people, family, friends), then it may appear more that you were going for a range of life circumstances to represent the range of circumstances in your marriage in the future, rather than Excluding Her Specifically?

      If there’s an explanation of the blessings before the blessings themselves, then that might work as well?

      And, if you get down to it, a corsage or a note. :-)

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I wouldn’t worry too much about what random guests will think. They either won’t notice, or will assume something harmless/positive, or they’ll assume something negative. But the last is on them, not the couple. It’s wrong to assume the worst of your family and friends. And what’s the likelihood you’re choosing to invite people you care about to your wedding who will also assume the worst about how you treat your sister?

    But that doesn’t address how you actually treat your sister/sister-in-law. We’ll always have imperfect information when planning our weddings. Life may move us emotionally apart from the people who stand up with us, while the friend we made late in wedding planning that we don’t even invite because she’s such a new friend becomes a huge part of our lives. You make the best choices you have with the information you have at the time. To my mind, you’re more likely to regret a decision made from feelings of anger, sadness, or spite than from love, kindness, and generosity. And you’re more likely to regret a decision made because “that’s just what’s done” or “if I don’t, people will talk” than one that’s true to you individually.

  • Fiona

    This is an interesting dilemma a lot of us probably face. I have two sisters (I’m in the middle) and we’ve struggled a little bit to find balance. The older one and I have been very close friends all our lives, but the younger one and I spent years barely talking. When she went away to college, we connected more over social media, and began to repair our relationship a bit, though it still wasn’t great. When I got engaged, I asked both sisters to be my maids of honor. The younger one was so surprised and honored that she cried on the spot. She got very involved in wedding planning and marriage planning (she’s very intentional about that kind of thing) and in general, our relationship has gotten better and better. I don’t think that was the only thing that led to us finally being good friends, but it certainly went a long way, and looking back on it, even though she expected it, I think she would have been very hurt if I had only asked our older sister to be my maid of honor.

    • Lauren from NH

      Interesting, it’s like her being excluded would have confirmed or officialized the poor connection between the two of you.

      • Fiona

        That’s exactly it! In retrospect, I’m SOOO glad I didn’t.

  • Annie

    I was feeling really distant from my brothers when I selected my bridal brigade, and I didn’t include them. (I was coming more from the perspective of “who has my back, no matter what?” instead of “who will be in my orbit for the next 50+ years?”)

    We’re not super close, but over the last few months, I’ve started to reconsider. I feel like NOT including them somehow cements our distance.

    The wedding hasn’t happened yet, but now I’m wondering about some other ways to honor them. They’re not big public speakers and we already have a slew of ushers and greeters. Our BB isn’t very formal so maybe they can just tag along, and I’ll have to get over my fear that a large BB means I’m a diva. :)

    • BeeAssassin

      I’ve heard similar stories from friends who’ve gotten married. There were people they weren’t that close to at the time, that they included, and somehow being included in the wedding meant that 5 years later those people are still coming to BBQs at their house where before they would have totally flaked. And vice versa, the people they excluded have sort of drifted away, maybe not necessarily in a dramatic fashion but being excluded from the wedding solidified a growing sense of distance.

  • It sounds like the fiance isn’t including the sister because they aren’t that close anyways, aside from the fact that they aren’t getting along right now. If that’s the case, she probably also realizes that they aren’t that close. Not including a sibling in the ceremony doesn’t always lead to spiraling downward relationship issues or family drama. Sometimes they just aren’t that close and that’s no big deal.

    If it’s something that’s an issue for you however, that’s always worth speaking up about.

  • mimi

    I have 4 siblings, 3 of whom are married, and my husband has 1 brother, who is also married. We wanted everyone to be involved somehow, but didn’t want a huge wedding party. We chose to each have 1 sibling (my only sister, and his brother) in the small wedding party. Two of my brothers did readings during the ceremony and the other officiated. We asked 1 sister-in-law to be our day-of coordinator, and the others all helped with prep stuff. We also did a sibling toast at the rehearsal dinner where all the collective siblings and spouses (9 of them) gave us a group toast. Basically, we gave everyone a role, but didn’t ask anyone to do anything they didn’t feel comfortable doing.

  • Michelle

    OMG yes. Weddings are NOT the place to make statements. My sister and I went through few rocky years, but we were really close as children. She was a bridesmaid when I got married, and I always thought I would be in hers. But I wasn’t. She picked her best friend, her future sister-in-law, and two college friends (she told me recently she doesn’t even talk to one of them anymore). It really broke my heart that she didn’t ask me. She WAS making a statement, and that hurt so badly. We are pretty close now, but I will never forget that she didn’t ask me. It still hurts.

    • Eh

      My BIL and his wife excluded me from their wedding. I had only been with my husband for a year (we weren’t engaged yet, but we were engaged shortly after) so I didn’t expect much but being overtly excluded was not how I expected to be treated. My BIL had been pretty welcoming to me but my SIL was not (she didn’t like me because I am friends with someone she doesn’t get along with). She refused any of my help (she later complained how my husband, who was the Best Man, didn’t help more, even though I asked her how we could help – her response was that she didn’t want me to help because I would cause her stress but she never said that she needed my husband to help fold programs or put stickers on candy bags). At their wedding she put me at a table in the back with my BIL’s friends instead of with my in-laws (my MIL and my husband’s grandmother were pretty upset). I only knew one person at my table and it was my friend who my SIL doesn’t get along with because my SIL was also excluding my friend (who is the wife of my husband’s cousin – she was also forced to sit at the “friends” table instead of with her in-laws). I was also excluded from family pictures because we weren’t married (this was equal opportunity exclusion though – her teenage sisters’ boyfriends were also not allowed to be in family pictures – that said my SIL explicitly told people to keep me out of the family pictures). This again upset my MIL because she would have loved one picture of the whole family.

      That said, their wedding was a statement about how my SIL was there to stay and that everyone in my husband’s extended family needed to suck it up (since many people in the family don’t get along with my SIL). (BTW – making this statement actually made things worse between them and the extended family.)

      We have worked things out since but these actions really affected the relationship between us and my BIL/SIL, and my husband’s relationship with his brother since my husband did not feel that they respected our relationship. (The day that we announced we were engaged my husband was invited over to my BIL/SIL’s house and he asked if I could come, again I was excluded.)

    • Megera

      ugh, YES. When my sister got married about 7 years ago, she initially asked my aunt to be her maid-of-honour and excluded me from the party.. apparently for telling her that I would need a set date from her before I cancelled the remainder of my summer plans. Turns out she got married almost a year later, and while I *did* end up being in her wedding party, it was only after some totally unnecessary and very hurtful drama. She’ll be my matron-of-honour in October because that’s the way our family works, but I’m minimizing her contributions because I don’t have the patience for her brand of bullshit.

  • KitBee

    Lots of good advice in this thread! The only thing I would add is that the future SIL is not the only person whose feelings might be affected here…I’m thinking primarily of the future MIL, who might be hurt/offended that her daughter is not participating in the ceremony, and might even blame the bride for it! I’m not saying this (hypothetical) reaction would be justified, but it certainly could happen.
    Ultimately, I think the LW and her fiance should make whatever decision works best for them. I’m just saying, be prepared for Opinions from all kinds of people, not just the future SIL!

    • Eh

      This is a very good point. My BIL and SIL are having a hard time understanding why people are upset with them since their actions, that is, causing drama around our wedding, wasn’t directed at these people (it was directed at us). We have patched things up with my BIL/SIL and now they want to be involved with the extended family again and they are getting a lot of push back. Their actions may not have directly impacted the extended family but they saw how much it hurt us (and my MIL).

      As for the Bride/Wife being blamed – this is a huge issue with my in-laws. They blame my SIL (their other DIL) for everything since their son can’t do anything wrong (he is their favourite and they don’t hide it) or because it’s part of her “wifely duties” to make sure he looks good. I have pointed out this scapegoating before to my in-laws (e.g., your sons said that, your DIL did not; don’t put words in her mouth – their response is that she must have put him up to it). I have also pointed out to my husband how his family always waits for someone else to do something (meanwhile they stew and complain about how the other person hasn’t called them or the other person never visits – pick up the phone, go visit them!).

  • Nic

    I never know where the line is between placating family and enjoying MY OWN wedding. At what point do the compromises become too much?

    Right now my entire wedding is being rescheduled due to the unexpected pregnancy of my sister (the MOH). And that makes me really sad, but I want her to be there next to me.

  • Kelly

    I think you should include her. But ask her (either directly or via someone else) if she wants to be included.

    I’m having so much trouble with my own sisters. I want Sister 1 to be MOH. Sister 2 is gunning for the position – telling me over and over that it’s her “turn” because she’s never been a MOH, sending me long emails saying how hard she’d work for me, etc.

    I don’t want to pick Sister 2 because of this behaviour. And I can’t make them both MOH because I have Sister 3 who would then be left out. Argh! Any advice?

    • Rachel

      No maid of honor and they’re all equal as bridesmaids (assuming they’re all bridesmaids). In my experience, giving a particular person the title isn’t worth all the drama it can cause.

  • Totes McGotes

    I agree really strongly with Liz’s advice. My husband has a brother and sister. When his brother got married the only attendants were their sister and the bride’s brother (her only sibling). So, the ONLY sibling not in the wedding party was my husband. He and his brother have a good relationship and even used to be roommates, so it was baffling and hurtful that he was not even asked to participate in any way, and it really felt like he was being actively excluded. They did not even proactively offer an explanation (i.e., “Heads up, this is what we’re planning; we just wanted one attendant on either side”), so we were just left to speculate and to assume the worst, since we thought it would be rude to confront them about it. To this day we don’t know what motivated the choice.

    PLEASE don’t include all the siblings but one. Even if it’s not meant to be a statement of anything, it is likely to feel like one to the excluded party. At least ask her to do something else for the wedding.

  • I have so many feelings … First, I want to echo what others have said – having a ‘special role’ for all siblings is so not necessary. My brother and fiance’s sister are not in the wedding parties, and it is totally fine, and they are still special to us, being our siblings.

    That said … Choices you make about your wedding can say/mean a lot. When my fiance’s brother got married a year ago, I had a terrible experience at the wedding. I was really isolated and alone in the days preceding the wedding (as fiancé was best man and was commanded to do lots of errands and was really busy). I definitely expected to be in some family pictures, but on the actual day, when the photographer called out for family photos, I felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to overstep, having been included in nothing up to that point, so I had fiancé ask his brother if I should join the picture, and he said no. So I wasn’t in a single family photo. In fact, there’s *one* fucking picture of me from the wedding. And I think that the bride was unaware and thought they couldn’t find me, and I know things are busy at weddings, and they had a big-ass wedding. But. While I have a generally good relationship with my future brother and sister in law, and we all make an effort …. I will never forget being excluded. It was so painful. Their wedding will never be a happy memory for me. It really sucks. I wish I could be a dick and exclude them from stuff at my upcoming wedding. But I know that will accomplish nothing, and that I can’t do that. Sigh. It’s just still a painful memory and sore subject for me.

    • Sarah E

      I hear you here. When my FSIL got married, I had been with my partner at that point for. . .3 years? We had moved in with each other across the country at that point, and were definitely committed. I was at all the family reunions, etc. But I wasn’t included in any formal portraits after the courthouse ceremony. I didn’t expect to be in ALL of them, but not one? Given that it was a courthouse ceremony with only immediate family– I was literally the ONLY non-blood relation there. And I did the bride’s hair. and I get along great with everyone. It definitely stung. Knowing that the bride ended up hating the family portraits from that session. . .and later divorced. . . . I know I have great, inclusive family photos in my future at my own wedding. I just definitely feel you on the sting.

    • Eh

      Wow this sounds so much like my BIL and SIL’s wedding. My MIL was so pissed that I wasn’t in ONE family picture. (I even helped the guys get ready and I’m not even in any of those pictures. You can see me sitting at the ceremony – that’s about it. My SIL actually told the photographers to not take pictures of me.) My SIL said that they were paying for the pictures and that would have meant getting a family picture with me in it and one without me in it since she didn’t know if I was going to be sticking around which would have cost more (I assume she means to have two pictures printed). She also mentioned that having pictures of me at their wedding might upset my now-husband if we did break up. To make things worse, my family has a massive family get-together every summer on the weekend they got married. The whole time I was at their wedding I was thinking how I wasn’t having fun and how crappy I was being treated and how much I wanted to be with my family.

  • Meg

    Weddings can be a time to heal and to repair relationships. Unless the person is truly toxic I think including them is a good idea. It’s a day we’re at our best.

  • elysiarenee

    Gosh this gave me a bunch of feelings for some reason mainly because I disagree with the advice even though perhaps my personal experience suggests that I shouldn’t disagree with it!

    We had a bunch of people standing up with us at our wedding and for me I think it WAS a statement, and once that had thematic resonance for the entire way we felt about the wedding: as an act of acknowledging those who we choose to be ‘family’ . this is not to say that we somehow disregard or ‘unchoose’ our biological family but that the whole act of marriage is about formalising a bond with someone who is family because of feelings and choice not blood. So while I agree that weddings are not the appropriate place for making some kind of statement that’s cruel or selfish I think there is a place for them to make other statements about community and choice and a range of other things -a wedding is after all a ritual and rituals all have some kind of narrative whether acknowledged that way or not- also I don’t think non-inclusion in certain roles should be read as a statement of active disclusion nor that we should assume people will read them that way.

    We each chose who would stand for us although we only had folks that we both knew well, the most difficult aspect was that one of my husband’s sister’s was easily one of my best friends in the world while I had not built up that kind of relationship with the other (which is not to say I don’t adore her because I do) as they are each half siblings to my husband from different parents they are not related to one another and have a sort of passively antagonistic relationship so I was very worried about the other sister reacting badly. My husband also has a brother who he wasn’t having standing with him and I have 2 siblings and a whole bunch of lovely nieces and nephews that I didn’t include in the posse and including them all as if we were following some kind of unwritten siblings must be in bridal parties rule just felt really false to us. Their important role was Being Our Siblings they didn’t need to be acknowledged as additional-family-of-our-choosing because they were already family dammit, the real-regular-genetically linked-priveleged-historically associated kind.

    Including the only sibling we expected to create drama about not being included seemed really disingenuous and disrespectful to our other immediate family members. In the end I left it to my husband and he suggested that including her in this way would be ‘rewarding negative behaviours’ of jealousy and dramatics while everyone else was standing there for the ways in which they’d supported and cared for us beyond what is required of friends and that we trusted to do so in the future.

    And she was annoyed and I understand and it is saddening because I love her and she’s family. but i wouldn’t change that choice. So I don’t know what the lesson is here. Except that I’m damn glad about choosing every one of my large gang that stood with us. It felt special having them there and special seeing my family’s faces in the front rows.

    Furthermore we gave people contributive roles in the wedding as it suited their personalities: one friend who I would otherwise have had stand with me I had as the emcee at the reception which was actually a bigger ‘job’ and for which she had the best skill-set out of anyone we love. I chose my sister for one of our readings because she’s the closest person to me in a long term marriage so she’s like a marriage mentor. we chose nathan’s dad for another reading because he’s an avid poetry reading and we had him read a poem that he’d had at his own wedding almost a year before to the date.

    There’s a handful of people we love dearly for whom we didn’t have the right ceremonial roles and for the most part I think they understood. Weddings are literally the only time when having too many beloved people is any kind of problem. They are also only one day and the roles people have in your lives are ultimately more important than the roles they have in your wedding; For us it certainly wasn’t possible for the roles in our wedding to perfectly reflect all of the roles people have in our lives and I think that’s probably often the case.