couple wedding guest

If you’re in the throes of creating the guest list for your wedding, you might be a little overwhelmed to say the least. One of the toughest issues pertaining to the guest list that many brides go back and forth over is plus-one etiquette, or whether to invite a guest to their wedding without his or her spouse. Is it ever okay? Here in the United States, the custom is to invited guests with their significant others, according to  Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, in Marblehead, Massachusetts. “In the olden days, this meant if someone was married or engaged, they were always invited with their S.O., but plus-one etiquette has evolved over time to include those with committed partners who are not married,” she says. “The general guideline is if someone is married, engaged, living with or seeing someone exclusively for more than a few months, they should be invited with their S.O.”

Maryanne Parker, founder of Manor of Manners, agrees that the appropriate and elegant way is for the significant other to be invited to the memorable event, adding that the only situations you shouldn’t invite the significant other are when the relationship is truly complicated or hard to handle and manage, “If you’re aware that the significant other might behave inappropriately, he or she should not be invited—and you should communicate this to the partner who is getting an invite,” she says.

Feeling a little confused about plus-one etiquette? Here’s a rundown.  

If a couple is married…

Whether or not you know someone’s spouse, if you want to invite him or her to your wedding, it is good plus-one etiquette to invite them as a couple. “Address the invitation to both of them and expect them both to come,” says New York-based relationship and etiquette expert, April Masini. “If you only know one of them very well, and don’t know the other at all, understand that their marriage trumps your experience with their spouse.”

If a couple is living together...

If you want to invite someone who’s not married, but who is living with his or her partner, Masini says this is a little trickier than if they’re married. When it doubt, it’s her plus-one etiquette recommendation that the live-in partner should always be invited. “Reasons not to invite a live-in partner might be a combination of a limited wedding budget and the fact that the partner is not someone your friend or family member is serious about,” she says. “If this is a roommate who is also a friend with benefits, and your friend isn’t clear on the label for his or her own relationship, it’s fair to only invite the friend, but if this is a living-together partnership, no matter how new, where the couple feels committed, romantically, respect the cohabitation and invite both members of the couple.”

If the couple recently got back together…

If your friend just got back together with an ex, or has reunited after a separation, Masini suggests asking your friend how they prefer the invitation addressed, and if they’d like you to invite them and their partner. “Explain that you want to be sensitive, but that you need to have a hard answer by a hard deadline,” she says. “That’s a fair trade off—their choice and your schedule.”

If the couple is divorced…

If you’re genuinely friends with both individuals, and it’s not going to create chaos to invite them both, Masini says to go ahead and do so. “If they’re going through a bitter divorce and having them both in the same room at the same time is going to cause a small war, however, you have to make some decisions,” she says. “Consider if either one of them is with someone new. If they are, consider if they are both with someone new or if just one of them is, and consider how long these post-divorce relationships have been brewing.” If one of your divorced friends is newly engaged, it’s only right to invite this new fiancé to the wedding. If budget concerns are at play, however, Masini says that you can politely explain that you would love to have them at your wedding, but cannot include their S.O.