My partner (he/him pronouns) and I (she/her) have been together for 7 years and are getting married this summer. Our wedding will be a week away in a different state than we live, and we are so excited to spend the time with our family and friends. My partner’s sister is an alcoholic and drug addict with many coexisting conditions. She is abusive to my partner when she feels he isn’t “there for her,” and he went no-contact a while ago and told her to get sober if she wanted a relationship with him. She tried to kill herself on a camping trip with us one summer, and someone nearly drowned trying to save her. We cannot have her at the wedding. She is a danger to herself and others when alcohol is involved, and we do not trust her not to drink. She has made no efforts towards recovery and just last month got a DUI. She has been hospitalized multiple times in the last year on involuntary mental health holds, and was arrested for attacking a nurse. In our state, she has gotten off relatively easy. The state we plan to marry in is much less forgiving. If anything happened over the week the family is staying, she would be stuck very far from home and possibly imprisoned. She trashed her last apartment and was evicted, but was taken in by their mother. Due to her living with mom, we have seen her on rare occasion. At the last family gathering, she spoke as though she was coming to our wedding, and not wanting to rock the boat at their mother’s engagement dinner, we did not correct her. I feel some degree of manipulation is involved, as she was *not invited to the wedding*. Now we plan to write a letter to her laying out the reasons she can’t come along, but she will be crushed and angry. We intend to word it in the most respectful terms possible — on one hand we are dealing with a textbook addict, but on the other we have a family member with severe mental health issues that we want to be sensitive to. I am also afraid of the fallout. Mom wants to do a family sit-down and give it to her, but that seems cruel to me as there is nothing up for discussion. I would rather she process our decision on her own. How do we break it to her?
Just want to relax during my wedding
Dear Just Want To Relax,
I’m usually all for direct sibling communications without a middle-mom but I would probably love your Mother-in-Law forever if she would be the “Honey, I’m sorry, but they didn’t send you an invitation and that means you aren’t invited” news-deliverer. Since she’s requesting a family meeting to handle this, I’m guessing…no? There’s no chance that the lack of invitation can stand as “you’re not invited” without a letter or follow-up? I mean, it’s not a surprise that she didn’t get an invitation, and it’s not a surprise that her brother said “Let’s talk again if you ever get sober...”
…Yikes. Welp, my younger brother thought an invitation to my wedding was also an invitation to perform the ceremony at my wedding even though a) we’ve talked less than 5 times in 10 years b) I don’t share his religious beliefs at all and he was fixin’ to go full pastor-mode c) I kept saying “we’ve got that covered but thanks for the offer” until I had to say “I DON’T WANT YOU TO PERFORM THE CEREMONY OR TALK AT ALL DURING THE CEREMONY.” (The dude delivered a 30+ minute extemporaneous “testifyin'”prayer at my Grampa’s Catholic funeral and yes, I’m still mad).
You might want to run this by someone at Al-Anon (an organization for families & friends of addicts, different from AA) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (free helpline) first but here’s my take:
There’s no good way to say “We’re so sorry, we can’t invite you because we know that it won’t be safe.” Her feelings will be what they will be (hurt) (possibly an excuse to rehash every old disagreement and slight) and your decision will be what it will be (the right one for you), so, keep it short and keep it from your Partner (a message from ‘the both of us’ sound will sound patronizing even though that’s not what you intend). Skip listing all the reasons (she lived through the reasons and telling her about them will only make her feel bad or give her ammunition to try to negotiate). Instead, focus on communicating the decision:
“Dear Sister, I haven’t invited you to the wedding because I know that it won’t be safe to have you there while you’re still using. I’m sorry, it hurts to think of not having my sister there, but I know this is the right decision. I wanted to tell you directly so there wouldn’t be any confusion.”
I think this can be handled in an email or text or a phone call – something about sending a letter on the good stationery to disinvite someone from a wedding is too much like a wedding invitation. If she hates that it’s an email or text, she would have hated it just as much as a formal letter, trust me. I wish you all the luck in the world with composing that message. Also all the luck with figuring out a plan B for if/when she shows up anyway.
If you do send a letter or email (or text), send it to her so that she can read it alone and process her feelings alone. Trust your gut on this one! Make sure her mom knows when it’s coming (ugh, poor lady). Absolutely no family sit-down for two reasons:
- Your partner is lo- to no-contact with her and you’re right, it would be cruel to re-open that just for the sake of rejecting her from a family event. Cruel to your partner, too!
- There’s nothing to negotiate here. She’s not invited. “Talking through it as a family” won’t change that.
Also, if her mom has access to sister’s mental health professionals and thinks it would be good to call in the cavalry, it probably would be.
Finally, if it makes you feel better, my younger brother wasn’t at my wedding and I’m okay with that. (He’s not a drunk driver or a danger to himself and others, he’s just really irritating and bad at boundaries and we are not close at all.) There’s a temptation to play happy families because “wedding!” but you do not have to. Your partner has enough information to make a good decision about including his sister, so, trust his gut and your own. You don’t owe people infinite chances or the benefit of the doubt when they have a track record of getting into dangerous situations.
My heart breaks for everyone involved here but I hope your marriage and wedding day are as happy as can be.