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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Open Marriage Etiquette + Other Dilemmas

Thursday, April 30, 2015


What to say when your husband wants an 'open marriage.' What to call Bruce Jenner? How to tell the boss his wife is a bully and why sometimes a condolence card isn't enough. 

What to do About the Office Bully -- If She's the Boss's Wife

We are employees at a family-owned business who have a major problem with the owner's wife, who is bossy, critical, and cruel. There is obviously something off and odd about her. Her comments and actions are inappropriate, mean and way off-base. She'll pat one of us on the butt and laugh. She's started making jokes about one of us gaining weight by pointing to his gut and making a lewd comment. She has asked one of us to pick up her dry cleaning and another to take her cat to the vet to have her claws trimmed, neither of which is in their job description. The part-time HR person is her aloof daughter, so is it proper protocol to talk to her or can we talk to the crazy woman's husband, our boss?

It isn't just the personal attacks. She forgets important things related to the business and then blames one of us when she's shirked a responsibility. How do we handle this delicate matter politely? We really like our boss. We don't want to lose our jobs by complaining.  

~Anonymous, Portland, OR

If your boss's wife is as wacky as you say, her husband and daughter won't be surprised to hear what you're telling me. Decide which one of you will make an appointment with your boss. Whoever is elected to the task should start the conversation by saying he has been delegated by some of the other employees to speak to him.

Have a mental list of examples to illustrate the problem of his wife not being able to follow through on her responsibilities. Then gently bring in the other incidents. Your boss will realize that his wife shouldn't be coming into work any longer. Tell him that your team is sympathetic to the situation and that you cover for her, but, collectively, you think her behavior is impacting the office culture negatively. He will understand that it took a lot of courage to take the lead in talking frankly to him and, at some point in the future, he will show his appreciation.

Things may not get better immediately because your boss may have to observe his wife's office behavior more closely and question some of your coworkers. The images of those personal incidents may well influence the outcome. Prepare yourself for another eventuality: looking for a new job. 


Etiquette for an 'Open Marriage'

My husband and I moved to Manhattan from Illinois last year so he could take advantage of a job opportunity as head of a department at a prestigious school. We have a new baby, so at the moment I am a stay at home mom. My husband just asked me if we could have an Open Marriage. We are Born Again Christians and I love him very much. What is the etiquette for an Open Marriage? 

~Anonymous, Manhattan

An 'open marriage,' or polyamorous marriage, can work or it can become tragically dysfunctional. The problem is that you cannot predict the outcome -- which makes it so risky. Especially when you have children. Children thrive on normalcy and if daddy has a girlfriend or boyfriend and/or mommy has another partner, you can imagine how confused a child would be ....

As I am not familiar with the vows of Born Again Christians, my best suggestion is that you seek counseling through your church or explore the option of working with a marriage counselor. The school psychologist can refer your husband to a reputable couple's therapist.

That said, etiquette-wise there are many happy and healthy open marriages. It is sometimes essential to broaden the way we observe marriage vows. Nevertheless, researchers are just beginning to weigh the pros and cons of a consensual non-monogamous marriage.

The big question for you is whether or not you can emotionally sustain an open relationship.

Will it become a competition? If your husband has a steady boyfriend or girlfriend, will you want one too? Will a non-monogamous relationship enhance or destroy your marriage beyond repair? What happens with trust issues? Will you be able to handle an alternative within your marriage? Will a third adult in your marriage share vacations and holidays with you and your family? Will you begrudge your husband for spending money on the person with whom he is having an affair?

Picture this experience. You are sitting alone in your new home on a Saturday night after a week of laundry, cooking and taking care of your baby while your husband is out wining and dining his lover.

Setting boundaries may be necessary to preserve the intimacy of your marriage. How will you handle his affairs without divorcing? What if another woman has a baby with your husband, will he have to support it? What is the financial impact?

Because your husband is being honest with you in telling you he wants an 'open marriage,' you should confront this challenge head on and seek professional couple's counseling before making a decision. Or is he trying to tell you that there is something wrong about the way your marriage is now? 


What to say about Bruce Jenner

We're having a debate in our office about gender identity vs. sexual orientation. If someone like Bruce Jenner identifies as a woman (gender identity) and he says he is attracted to women (sexual orientation), does that mean Bruce Jenner is a lesbian? 

~Anonymous, Providence, RI

Your guess is as good as mine. Wouldn't it depend on what the person calls himself or herself? Etiquette-wise, you would take the lead from him or her as to what they call themselves. 


What to Say in a Condolence Letter

Recently a very good friend hinted that I hadn't written to her after her parents' death. Despite the fact that I had sent her a card after each funeral. But she wanted more. Apparently she had wanted me to tell her an amusing story about the parent and elaborate on how wonderful each was. She had wanted me to delve deep into the parent's character. I am not comfortable writing letters like that. I thought it was enough to send a card in which I added a heartfelt note. What is the proper etiquette for writing a condolence letter? 

~G.L., Far Hills, NJ

In a perfect world, you would have written a one-page letter with at least three paragraphs. Starting by regaling the deceased's parent for being a memorable person in your life. Using their name along with any adjective that came to mind. Followed by offering your deepest sympathy for their loss.

The third paragraph would consist of an amusing anecdote illuminating one of the parent's fine qualities. Or a colorful account of a dinner or car ride with the parent while you listened to your friend bantering about this and that. You could recall an incident about the Thanksgiving when you and your friend's mother walked into the kitchen to find the family dog gnawing on the turkey and how the two of you conspired to keep it a secret from the rest of the family.

In the end, what you really want to come across is how deeply sorry you are for your friend's loss, because it is terrible to lose a parent. The next time you see this good friend, give her a big hug and tell her that you think about her parent with great fondness and let her know that the parent was indeed a wonderful person.

Once the brouhaha from the funeral passes, we often forget that is when the real grieving begins. For many of us, writing such an intimate letter opens a wound of our own not yet healed. In the years to come, gently bringing up your friend's parents in conversation from time to time will make up for the fact that you didn't write condolence letters. 


Do you have a dilemma about love, family and life in general for Didi? Go ahead and "Ask Didi."  If your Question is used, we can withhold your name and/or location.


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