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Modern manners: My in-laws let me down on my wedding day!

By Catherine Newman, Real Simple
February 28, 2013 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Should in-laws go above and beyond their formal wedding obligations?
  • Break up with your hairstylists in a gracious and upfront way; they're professionals
  • Telling the truth about your condition can help chip away at the stigma of mental illness

Editor's note: Real Simple's etiquette expert, Catherine Newman, offers her best advice on your social quandaries. This month she tackles inter-family drama, ending a feud between neighbors, and more.

(Real Simple.com) -- I recently got married. My mother and sisters threw my shower and helped with the DIY wedding. My mother-and father-in-law were in charge of the rehearsal dinner, but they did not lend a hand in any other way, including cleaning up after the wedding. My husband and I never even received a gift or a card for our big day. I am very disappointed with them as a result. How can I broach the subject? -- Laura H., Rochester, New York

Catherine Newman: Congratulations, and welcome to married life—complete with a new family that does things a bit differently from what you're accustomed to. Your own kin sound delightfully helpful and hands-on, while your in-laws appear to be more traditional: They met their formal wedding obligation and pitched in no further.

But remember that the Y in DIY stands for yourself. You can't expect everyone to take on the work of a homemade wedding, even if you wish they would. You might feel upset about that, and, yes, a present or a card would have been a thoughtful gesture, but remember: Their expectations and behaviors are not the same as your family's, and it will be easiest for you (and them) if you get used to that idea. So don't broach the subject at all. Instead, move forward by focusing on the generosity they have shown and the fact that they gave you the greatest gift of all: your husband.

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About six months ago, I had a falling-out with my neighbor. Our relationship is now cordial but chilly. However, our sons (mine is three; hers is five) enjoy having playdates, and her child comes over to our house frequently.

Recently this neighbor hosted a party with lots of kids from the neighborhood. My son wasn't invited, and he was hurt and confused. I know we're not entitled to an invitation, but would I be wrong to ask her for a heads-up the next time she's planning this type of event so my family can clear out beforehand? -- Andrea Lundberg Lincoln, Nebraska

Newman: Your poor son! You can certainly ask for a heads-up, to help spare him future misery. But I think there's a bigger underlying issue here.

This particular situation—a party at your neighbor's house to which your son is not invited—is not likely to occur more than a few times a year, so I wonder if the real reason you would mention it would be to let your neighbor know that she has hurt your son's feelings (an understandable impulse). Or maybe you're hoping to inspire her to extend to your son the same hosting-playdates-in-spite-of-it-all civility that you grant to hers (another reasonable wish).

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Instead of asking for notice before the next party, I suggest you consider the root of the problem: the feud between you and your neighbor. If you're willing, approach her to make amends. You can say, "I can't believe we've let our disagreement come to the point where our kids are caught in the middle. I'm sorry for my part in this. Let's try to get past it." Hopefully, that will do the trick.

And if either of you doesn't wish to make up? Then give a straightforward explanation of the situation to your son, while reminding him of his blamelessness. Tell him, "Our neighbor is upset with me, but it has nothing to do with you, and I'm sorry you didn't get to go to that party." It's essential that the children not become collateral damage in this grown-up quarrel.

I adore my hairstylist, whom I've been seeing for the past six years. But recently a close friend of mine opened a salon. I brought my daughter there for a haircut and was impressed with my pal's work. I would like to start having her do my hair as well. What is the proper way to end the relationship with my current stylist? -- Tiffany Jones, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Newman: More than one friend of mine has used the word cheating to describe what she's doing to one stylist with another—or has grabbed my arm to slink guiltily past this or that salon. But your impulse to be open is more commendable: It's just plain nice of you to be considerate of your stylist's feelings. Share your plans with her in a gracious but direct way: "A friend of mine has opened her own salon, and I want to support her with my business. But thank you so much for six years of fantastic haircuts."

Don't worry: She's a professional, and this sort of thing probably happens to her from time to time. In all likelihood, she won't be heartbroken; she'll just be grateful for your candor.

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I was diagnosed with a mental illness a few years ago. Since that time, I have been unable to work. Those close to me know why I'm not employed, but casual acquaintances do not. (I'm married, with no children, which makes me a more unusual stay-at-home wife.) If I had cancer or lupus, I would most likely tell them the real reason. But because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, I am unsure about what to say. -- Christine Venice, California

Newman: You can tell whomever you like whatever you wish. And, of course, you have the right to keep your condition private. In that case, you can simply say that right now you are focusing on volunteer work or painting or yoga or whatever it is that you enjoy doing.

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But it sounds as if you would prefer to be honest and are keeping quiet out of fear that people will react negatively to your disclosure. While such a response is possible, of course, consider this: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one in four American adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. You are in good company, meaning your acquaintances may be much more understanding than you think, and your courage has the potential to help many people.

I suggest that you come up with one brief explanation to use anytime this subject arises: "I'm in treatment for a mental illness right now, but when I worked, I did XYZ." Then ask the other person what she does for a living.

She may have follow-up questions about your condition or be willing to move on with the conversation. Either way, realize that each time you tell the truth, you chip away at the silence and anxiety that surround you as well as other sufferers of mental illness. Real Simple: 16 ways to save on wedding expenses

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