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Miss Manners: How should spouses handle fighting when they’re hosting guests

Dear Miss Manners: Our marriage has its ups and downs, including some heated arguments. But our social life continues, and that sometimes involves having guests in our home.

To date, we have not ever had a mid-gathering blowout, but I cannot say it would never happen. If it does, what do you suggest we do once we have calmed down and regained our composure?

Allow Miss Manners to introduce you to a useful military concept that dates back to the 14th century: the truce.

However much you and your partner may enjoy this volatile relationship, it should not be inflicted on guests. As entertaining as it might be for them, and as productive of amusing gossip, watching hosts fight puts them in an untenable position.

If they pretend not to notice, they look stupid, and may even be unwelcome in the future — in the case that your quarrel is forgotten, but you don’t relish witnesses to your discord. If they take sides, they antagonize at least one host, and probably both.

Forget the possibility that they might not gossip about this. Why should they be discreet when you are not?

So if you and your co-host cannot control yourselves, you should suspend entertaining until there is a clear winner. The only alternative is to have a firm policy that when others are present, there will be a total truce.

That means acting as if nothing had happened, and restraining yourselves from shooting off what you think of as subtle darts that your guests will not understand. They will.

Dear Miss Manners: When someone invites you to their home, are you supposed to wash your own dishes, or is the host supposed to pick up your plate when you get done eating and then wash the dishes?

Just asking what the proper thing to do is, when you’re at someone’s house and they say you have to wash your own dishes before you leave.

Why? Were you snacking at your parents’ house and leaving a mess?

Just asking. When a question — especially one that is asked twice — involves such a clear transgression, Miss Manners cannot help wondering if she has heard the full story.

Of course guests should not normally be asked to do housework, although a thoughtful guest would try to lessen the host’s burden — at least to the extent of cleaning up any self-created mess, if not offering to pitch in. The way to deal with thoughtless guests is to refrain from inviting them again.

But it would not be untoward to ask an intimate of the house not to leave dirty plates all over the place.

Dear Miss Manners: Do you wrap sympathy gifts?

What you call “sympathy gifts” typically take the form of food or other necessities that would help relieve the bereaved from necessary chores. You would not surprise a new widow with diamond earrings unless you had something besides sympathy in mind.

So indeed, Miss Manners would consider festive wrappings out of place.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

©2022, by Judith Martin

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