Thursday, November 22, 2012

Holiday Etiquette for New Married Couples

The holidays are upon us like a zombie at a Mensa conference. And for some families, it's the first holiday together for the 20-something children and his or her new spouse.

Many people say the holidays are a relaxing time. But they are filthy, rotten liars. These people also give parenting advice even though they don't have children, and think "working hard or hardly working?" is funny.

Holidays are anything but relaxing, especially for the "outside member" of the newly married couple. Once you hit about year 10, your in-laws will begin to thaw a bit and welcome you into the family. But until then, you're in for a tension-filled-don't-say-the-wrong-thing holiday season.

As a veteran spouse now on his 19th Thanksgiving and Christmas, let me give you some etiquette and advice for young married couples, both husbands and wives.

1. If you're not married, don't kid yourself. At this point in your relationship, you're still expendable and replaceable. While that may seem harsh and uncaring, keep in mind this is an escape option for you as well. Especially if your spouse-to-be's family is more than a little on the wacky side. And not the good kind of wacky either, where Aunt Tilly lives with 12 cats and shouts at the mailbox. The bad kind of bats--- crazy that involves alcohol, fisticuffs, shouting and tears, and where the night's not over until someone gets their head shoved into the cranberry sauce.

2. Never discuss moving away. You've already stolen their baby, and while they may say they like you, there's still something hidden away in the deep recesses of those pasted-on smiles. Moving to a new city is a sad topic on what is supposed to be a happy-on-the-surface-bitter-underneath day. Save the news for an email.. After you've moved.

3. Never, ever compare your mom's cooking to your mother-in-law's. Don't talk about differences. Don't talk about memories. Don't talk about how your mom slices up canned cranberry sauce instead of making real cranberry sauce. Even if your own mother is a lousy cook, and you think it's funny to regale your new in-laws with how awful your mom's food is, don't. For one thing, it shows that you're disrespectful to your own mom, and moms will stick together over the strangest things. For another, your mother-in-law will wonder if you and your spouse say the same things about her when you're with your parents. Even though you do.

4. Go along with family traditions, especially if one of the traditions is parking it in front of the football game with your father-in-law. This is especially true for the women. Even if you don't like football, find out who your father-in-law is backing on game day. Then, spend 30 minutes reading about the teams, and pick up a couple pieces of trivia on the premier players (usually the quarterback). If you can talk football with him, he'll love you forver.

5. Help out in the kitchen, or at least offer to help. This is especially true for the women too. Yes, I know it sounds sexist, but here's how new marriages work: if you're the woman, your mother-in-law doesn't like you because you stole her son, but your father-in-law is glad his son found someone to put up with him. If you're the man, the opposite is true. So, offer to help in the kitchen as a way to make peace. Ask about her recipes and adviec. And do NOT ever suggest something new or different. See rule #3.

6. Avoid topics of politics, sex, and religion. Especially sex. The last thing you want to discuss with your spouse's parents is the state of your sex life. Or that you're "trying" for children. Because "we're trying" is just code for "we're having more sex than usual. Just thought you ought to know."

If the conversation starts turning that direction — mostly because your spouse's younger brother or sister an idiot/evil and brings it up at dinner — divert attention away from the topic by saying, "Gee, that's a bummer about your candidate not winning his election. Guess that was all part of God's plan, huh?"

This holiday season, don't travel into hostile territory unprepared. Study these tips a few days before your visit, and once again on the ride over. Remember, the life you save may be your own.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is now available. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

My other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out.

You can get both of them from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or for the Kindle or Nook.

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