Here's How to Talk to Parents and In-Laws About the Guest List

We spoke to an expert about navigating this part of the planning process.

Couple standing in the kitchen making the wedding guest list
Couple creating wedding guest list.

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Creating the wedding guest list is not easy. Especially for those having a smaller affair, it can be stressful to figure out who in your life makes the cut. The couple getting married likely has strong opinions about who they want surrounding them on their big day, and parents and in-laws often wish to have a say as well—especially if they are paying for all or part of the festivities.

To help you navigate the delicate process of creating the wedding guest list we turned to Jenna Miller, Creative Director of Here Comes the Guide, a wedding planning website that provides advice and resources for couples. She talked us through different strategies for figuring out who you should invite to the wedding and what to do if any conflicts arise while making a list and checking it twice. With her advice, the process can be smooth and fun rather than stressful.

Meet the Expert

Jenna Miller is Creative Director of Here comes the Guide, a wedding planning website.

Who Gets a Say in the Wedding Guest List?

Here's the big question: Does the couple getting married have the final say? Or does the person paying for the event get to decide? Matters are made more complicated by the fact that almost every dream guest list has to be trimmed. "The thing about your guest list is that it’s ultimately determined by your total budget and the size of your venue," says Miller. "So while there are many people you and your loved ones will want to invite, it’s not always realistic to have that many invites available,"

Miller explains that it's ultimately up to the couple to figure out who they want to be with them when they say their views. After all, this is their big moment. "We say that the most important thing is that you're surrounded by people that you love on your wedding day, so the final say should be up to you and your soon-to-be spouse," she says. "This is especially true if you and your partner are footing the bill yourselves."

But she also notes that it's best to be as inclusive and sensitive as possible. "Every couple's wedding-planning situation is different," she says "But if you're close with your parents, guardians, in-laws, or have different parties contributing financially to your big day, it's a nice gesture to let them also contribute to the guest list." While it's your wedding, this is a big day for your family members also, and they want to be able to enjoy it with the people they love.

How to Make Wedding Guest List Discussions as Smooth as Possible

While it might feel uncomfortable to have something that resembles a business meeting with your own family, it will help the discussions, says Miller. "We recommend having a formal, sit-down meeting with your parents or in-laws to talk about two big-ticket items: your wedding budget and your wedding guest list. These two things go hand-in-hand, and they really do require a serious conversation—especially if your parents or in-laws have offered to chip in," she says. "Let them know that you’d like to sit down to discuss wedding finances in order to nail down your budget and guest count."

Before the meeting, agree upon an ideal guest count with your partner and allocate a certain number of people to each side of the family. "One piece of advice is to let parents, in-laws, contributing parties know about the max guest count you have in mind," says Miller. " Allot everyone a specific and fair number of invitees along with a due date to turn in their list to you." You can have one big discussion with both sets of parents, or you can break it up and talk to each side separately.

How to Deal with any Conflict

There is no set way to deal with a disagreement over the wedding guest list, explains Miller. "This is going to be case by case."

With in-laws, for example, some people feel more comfortable than others addressing conflict head-on. "If you’re super close with your in-laws, it’s easier to have a direct conversation with them to address any conflicts or concerns," she says. "If you’re not particularly close with them, you may rely on your partner to handle these tricky conversations." In other words, you might want to speak with your parents, and your partner might want to work with their parents.

Miller said the most important thing is to be on the same page as your partner. It's your wedding, and you want to be comfortable with who is in the room with you. Therefore, it's important to come to the discussions as a unified team. "The biggest tip is to get on the exact same page as your partner. Agree on a guest count, how many people your parents or in-laws are able to invite, and any stipulations on who can be invited e.g. only people you and your fiancé have actually met in person," says Miller. "By presenting a united front, it’s easier to have these types of conversations and to lay the ground rules upfront so that this whole situation goes smoothly."

It's also helpful to keep in mind that your parents or in-laws might have strong opinions about who should be at the wedding because they are proud of you and excited about the wedding. It's a compliment that they want their friends and family there.

Lastly, don't forget perspective. You are family, and your relationship is for life. As Miller puts it, "Just remember that the relationship with your in-laws extends far beyond the big day, so keeping that relationship solid, intact, and respectful is key to a happy family dynamic moving forward."

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