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Miss Conduct

Advice for when your family doesn’t like your spouse

What to do when a significant other is no longer welcome at family gatherings. Plus, a real invitation or a baby shower gift grab?

Lucy Truman

My sibling requested that my spouse no longer attend family get-togethers. My sibling stated that my spouse creates tension and causes others to be on edge and uncomfortable. The fact is my sibling is correct. My spouse does not like to visit or host family but says we should be together on such occasions. Should I share this request with my spouse?

Anonymous / Boston

If no one, including Spouse, enjoys having Spouse attend family gatherings, it’s difficult to see why a lonely little “should,” shivering out there on the vast impersonal plains of protocol, ought to have much sway. But let’s dig a little deeper.


You don’t say why Spouse makes your family uncomfortable, but it matters. If your family is discomfited because Spouse is of a different race or the same sex or has a disability, then make your loyalties clear: You won’t belong to any club that won’t have Spouse as a member. Stay in contact with Sibling and others on a one-on-one basis, if you choose, but don’t attend gatherings where Spouse isn’t welcome.

It’s a different story if your family welcomed Spouse with open arms, but now no one likes Spouse because Spouse is antisocial and won’t meet anyone halfway. In that case, Spouse needs to either drop the sense of social obligation that leads Spouse to feel you “should” attend family gatherings together or nurture it into a full-blown set of social skills so that said gatherings aren’t an arduous torment for all concerned. (If Spouse has a similar chilling effect on your friends and colleagues, consider couples counseling to figure out how to keep your social networks as well as your marriage intact.)

Present a softer version of this choice to Spouse if the disconnect is mutual but no one’s fault, exactly. You’ll coach Spouse through the important family events, but Spouse can stay happily at home during less formal get-togethers. Sooner or later, deaths or emergencies will bring your family together, and it’s always good to have had some practice hanging out with a person before you have to do it in the emergency room or the funeral parlor.


My brother-in-law’s new wife’s oldest daughter from a previous marriage whom I’ve never met (10-plus states away), and who has never even contacted me before, sent me an invitation to a baby shower. Is it just a gift grab?

S.A. / Southborough

You have an impressive ability to convey many degrees of separation in the fewest words possible! You should write recaps for Game of Thrones.

As far as your ex-step-niece-in-law, if I’ve got that parsed right, RSVP your regrets with a few insincerely sweet words about how you hope you meet her at some unspecified event in some unspecified future, and don’t waste your energy getting a gift or taking offense. Some people adopt a “fishing expedition” approach to issuing invitations — at least invitations to events like showers and BYOB parties at which the hosts and honorees are likely to at least break even. Miss Conduct does not approve of this, but she understands it. Creating a guest list is hard, full of compromises and somewhat arbitrary distinctions, and social media has made it impossible to tactfully withhold information about parties from the uninvited masses. Small wonder some folks throw up their hands and throw open the doors to all and sundry.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

ARE YOU STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF A DISPUTE BETWEEN FRIENDS OR FAMILY? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com.