Weddings: An Invitation to Uncertainty

Source: By Belinda, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The media storm is picking up speed ahead of Harry and Meghan’s wedding day on May 19th. There has been extensive coverage of every detail of the day, from the flowers to the page boys and the dress. Another aspect of the wedding that is generating  a great deal of discussion and debate is the guest list. Specifically, the fact that some of Meghan’s family members were not invited, but may be present regardless.

The decision as to whether to invite certain family members to events is one that many will relate to. This is especially true for those who have a distant relationship with a family member, in terms of contact, communication and/or emotional closeness.

In a report published by the charity Stand Alone, which explored the experience of 807 individuals who were estranged from a family member, 66% reported that weddings were a time when the experience of estrangement was particularly challenging or difficult.

Weddings might be particularly challenging because they are events in which there is an assumption that family members will be front and centre. Depending on the country and culture in which the wedding is set, tradition might influence the role of family members in numerous aspects of the ceremony and the reception, from the wording of the wedding invitations to the order of the speeches at the reception.

Surprisingly, little research has explored how individuals negotiate family occasions like weddings. But what we do know is this: weddings have the potential to be awkward or stressful for the bride and groom who are sending the invitations, as well as the guests who are receiving them, or find themselves uninvited.

In order to avoid potentially difficult interactions, sons and daughters who have initiated estrangement from a parent sometimes choose not to attend family obligations and interactions altogether, avoiding all contact with nuclear or extended family members (Agllias, 2017; Scharp & Thomas, 2016). And when they have been invited, disagreements and conflict on the day itself have the potential to be “a final straw”, cementing of confirming a decision to maintain distance from that family member (Scharp 2016).

For parents who are estranged from an adult child, family occasions such as weddings have been found to be stressful, and for some, a potential source of hope for contact or reconnection with their adult children, which can then lead to disappointment (Aglias 2013).

Family weddings are not only stressful for those who are estranged from a parent or from an adult child. In a study of adult children whose parents had been divorced for twenty years and had a conflictual or hostile relationship, family events were described as distressing and confusing (Ahrons, 2006). The men and women in this study took different approaches, from not inviting parents to events, inviting one parent but not the other, or inviting both and instructing parents to be civil and hoping that their parents would not spoil the occasion.

Weddings can be a potential source of joy and connection and an opportunity for family members and friends to come together. Yet they also have the potential to create debate, tension and disagreement. Difficult decisions about whether to invite certain family members to weddings are experienced by many, although few of us will have to navigate these decisions under the glare of the media from around the world.

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