When in session, the Maryland General Assembly is 90 days of political intrigue and unrest that can take a toll not only on the legislators but also on their families. With that in mind, veterans of the General Assembly -- the spouses of lawmakers, that is -- joined newcomers recently in sessions designed to ease the passage into the often choppy waters of political life.

The program, organized by the state Department of Legislative Reference, gave those new to the Annapolis political scene a chance to meet one another, learn more about the legislative system and tour the governor's mansion. The advice they received ranged from a tongue-in-cheek warning not to trust news reporters to a fanciful suggestion to limit the officeholders' household chores until spring.

"It was an interesting preview," said Amy Donoghue, wife of John P. Donoghue (D-Washington). "I imagine a lot of the wives didn't know how a bill started, where it went and how many people's hands it was in. This was a chance to meet and exchange ideas with wives of existing delegates. They were very helpful, and stressed the need to maintain family values."

Donoghue also took away this nugget of wisdom: "They said, 'Write him off the first three months. Even though they're home, their mind is not there . . . . "

Donoghue will have her hands full. Besides caring for three children, ages 4, 3, and 18 months, she works full time as chief technologist at Hagerstown Medical Lab.

The Donoghues are fairly typical members of a group of political couples described as young and well-educated by Ellen Taylor, information specialist for the Department of Legislative Reference.

This year's General Assembly has among its members 45 new senators and delegates. Most already have long histories of civic and political activism -- and spouses who are accustomed to their demanding schedules.

Neal Conway, husband of Anne Healey (D-Prince George's), said the orientation sessions were a good opportunity to learn how others have handled situations he may soon face.

"The best part was getting to meet other people with experience who could say, 'This is what we do,' " said Conway, a percussionist in the Marine Band.

Conway said he plans on taking the couple's two children -- Teresa, 10, and Robert, 7 -- to some of the legislative sessions. "They're anxious to see Mom at work," he said.

The two-day program included advice from reporters on how to deal with the media. Richard Tapscott, a state government reporter for The Washington Post, and Ted Venetoulis, a CBS political analyst, first had to lis-

ten to horror stories of misquotes and media hostility before providing their own guidelines for dealing with the media. Among the most memorable was Venetoulis's light-hearted warning, "Don't assume that a member of the press is a friend; they'll do anything for a Pulitzer."

Julie Madden, wife of Del. Martin G. Madden (R-Howard), said the session was unsettling. It did not paint "a pretty picture of political life. That was a little bit scary," she said.

Ardath M. Cade, wife of Sen. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel), moderated a panel discussion with spouses who know well the perks and pitfalls of political life. The Cades have been married 17 years, and Ardath Cade has worked full time during the 16 years her husband has served in the legislature.

Based on her experience, she suggested that newcomers read their spouses' bills and learn the language of the legislature.

Panelist Maxine Counihan, whose husband, Del. Gene W. Couniham (D-Montgomery), is beginning his third term, also offered advice. "Come early, they're talking English. Come late and they're talking numbers," she said, referring to the practice of calling bills by their assigned numeral.

Counihan's other tips included teaching children to take phone messages and this final suggestion: Don't expect to sit with your spouse when dining at the governor's mansion.