I’m getting married but my father isn’t invited. How can I ensure he doesn’t crash the wedding?

<span>‘Your dad might just have to find out you don’t want him at the wedding,’ Eleanor Gordon-Smith writes. Painting: Before the Altar by Firs Sergeyevich Zhuravlev.</span><span>Photograph: Universal Images Group North America LLC/Alamy</span>
‘Your dad might just have to find out you don’t want him at the wedding,’ Eleanor Gordon-Smith writes. Painting: Before the Altar by Firs Sergeyevich Zhuravlev.Photograph: Universal Images Group North America LLC/Alamy

I am getting married next year. For various reasons, including his treatment of me and my siblings, I do not want my father at my wedding. If he is there he will ruin the day by shouting at me for some perceived transgression. He holds grudges like no one else I’ve ever met and he doesn’t accept who I am. He refuses to acknowledge I am disabled and thinks I’m making it all up for attention. He has not met my fiance and I have no intention of introducing them.

The difficulty is that my mother and brother live with him. I’m very close to my brother and I desperately want both of them to attend. I worry my father will either invite himself or create such a row that neither feels able to come. They both know I’m getting married but my father does not. I have no idea what I can do to make sure my wedding isn’t ruined.

How do I ensure my father doesn’t come to my wedding but my mother and brother do?

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Eleanor says: I’m sorry your dad hasn’t behaved in a way that means he deserves to be at your wedding.

You might hear that you should just let him come because, go on, it’s family. Don’t. Start your marriage the way you mean to go on. That shouldn’t include doing things you don’t want just to appease others.

You asked a practical question: how can you make sure he doesn’t come while your mother and brother do?

Sometimes I think we seek advice in these hard moments because we’re hoping there’s a secret solution we haven’t thought of. We’ve looked at the problem but all we see is a small set of possible solutions and they all seem high-conflict or painful or risky. So we pass the problem to someone else, hoping they see some secret pathway that doesn’t require that conflict or risk or pain.

Frustratingly often, there’s no secret way out. When there are difficult problems, our options tend to shrink. We’re left with binaries where both options suck: “Tell them, or don’t”; “Have the conflict, or keep expecting the problem.” End of menu.

I fear this might be one such situation. Your dad (and mum and brother) might just have to find out you don’t want him at the wedding.

You could, in principle, try to conceal it from him. But the cloud of fear that he’d find out and act up might cast a lot of shade over what should be a joyful day. Outside a Hugh Grant movie, hijinks and ruses aren’t actually much fun on a wedding day.

Navigating this with your mother and brother might be the real challenge. You’ll have to rely on them not to let him “just come along” and to have the resolve to attend even if he does give them a hard time. Unfortunately, you can’t give them that resolve.

The most you can do to try to influence their behaviour is to be clear about outcomes. “If he comes, he won’t be let in”; “If you don’t come, I’ll be very sad that he was able to keep you away.” Not “here’s why”, not “please see my side of things”. Just: “If this happens, this is what I will do.”

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People try their luck at things like inviting the uninvited because they gamble that the cost of resisting is too high; surely they’ll let him slip in up the back. To block this, you need to extinguish the hope that you’ll absorb trespasses without consequence. Be as maddeningly and immovably consistent as a bureaucracy.

And one last word about families and weddings. The reality is we can’t cordon off every weird dynamic on a big day. Even if you pull this off perfectly, and just your mum and brother attend, part of you might be on high alert.

It might be nice for you and your partner to do something small on your wedding day away from your families, just for each other – a symbol at the start of your married life that, at least between the two of you, you don’t have to play games or feel fear. To start your married life the way you mean to go on, that might also mean some precious time away from managing your family.

This letter has been edited for length.

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