Social Etiquette and Good Manners/family birthdays


Good afternoon. I would like to ask your thoughts on my husband deciding to send $60 to each of his sisters for their birthdays. He has 5 sisters and no brothers. We have been married for over 20 years and many years ago we  stopped the gift giving. It got very laborious, was unappreciated and expected and their gift giving was often never reciprocated. Well the last few months there have been birthdays and my husband sent them an email gift  card and birthday greeting. He says this is what he wants to do and will not discuss it with me. I am a bit confused by this.
Is there set etiquette on family  birthdays and gift giving?
How should a couple decide on this matter?
Any additional thoughts on this are very appreciated.
Thank you

Dear Annalyse;
There is no fast etiquette rule about gift giving to family members.  Each person, couple or family makes that decision on their own depending upon their relationships and feelings of Good Will they have towards each family member.  Usually though, in the interest of keeping the peace within the family, gifts are generally uniform in nature - costing approximately the same amount for each recipient.  Sometimes it is an all or nothing decision as it seems to have been recently for you and your husband.  For the sake of keeping expenses in check, some families decide to give gifts only to children until they graduate from High School or College and not give to any of the adults.  This is often done regarding (excluding the adults) because of the possibility of hurt feelings if one relative gets "more" than another and to keep expenses in check.

Gift giving is a personal decision and what and how you give is entirely up to the giver, not the recipient.  It is also not a "tit for tat" gesture.  You should always give with no expectation of reciprocation.  You should, however, have the expectation for gratitude for your gift.  A thank you call or note is appropriate.  At the very least acknowledgement that the recipient received the gift is mandatory.  In my work, I know of so many who have stopped giving to people, family and others, who never even acknowledge their gifts.  Maybe it's because I am an etiquette expert and our family and friends know this, my husband's and my gifts are always acknowledged by a written thank you note.  Most others are not so lucky to have such classy friends and family.  

To address what you should do about your husband giving gifts to his sisters, I would like you to consider this and share it with your husband.  By proper etiquette standards and the law of the land, a married couple is considered one unit - not two separate individuals living together separate lives.  This is the truth of the institution of marriage and a state you agreed upon by getting married.  Therefore, if your husband gave a gift card and birthday greetings to his sisters, in reality, so did you.  I hope your husband was classy enough to include your name on the card.  If not, I suggest you share this with him for the next time.  The money spent on the gifts is family money (both of yours) unless you have agreed to have separate bank accounts and are not required to share with each other what you do with your money.  This would have to be a rule in your marriage that both parties understand and agree to.  Otherwise, it is mutual property and both parties have a say how it is spent.  If you had agreed upon one action and another was taken, it was an unkind gesture towards you.  Not acknowledging that you have the right to an explanation beyond "I want to" is hostile and the remedy for hostility in a marriage is not what I offer as advice.  I know there are experts in marital relations on this website and I suggest contacting one of them for further assistance.

I will offer this advice...whether you get annoyed or angry about your husband's gestures of kindness towards his sisters is entirely up to you.  Your question was posed because it seems that you don't think the sisters are deserving of a birthday gift from either of you and your husband decided to be kind anyway and give them one.  For marital harmony and to be the kind, civilized woman you are, I suggest you let it go and discuss what the rules are for the future so your feelings don't get hurt again the next time a similar situation comes up.  

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

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Cynthia W. Lett


Proper manners with friends,family,colleagues,neighbors and everyone else you know.


I have been an etiquette expert teaching and consulting on the subject worldwide since 1983. I started and serve as the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and am considered a leader in the field of etiquette and protocol training and execution. I edited "Etiquette for Dummies" and have recently written "Lett's Talk - Everyday Etiquette Dilemmas and What to Do about Them". My book, "That's So Annoying:An Etiquette Expert on the World's Most Irritating Habits And What To Do About Them" was published in 2009 and is available wherever books are sold. I taught the Business Protocol class to Master's level students at the George Washington University, Washington, DC for seven years I served as Chief of Protocol for MCI Telecommunications for three years.

International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals, ASTD, PCMA, National Speakers Association

I have been quoted over 700 times in the past 5 years worldwide. Publications include Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, NY Times, Washington Business Journal, USA Today, Associated Press, London Times, Newsweek Japan edition, Newsweek US edition and many many more.

I am a Certified Etiquette Professional (CEP) and Certified Protocol Professional (CPP) earned by examination through ISPEP. I have a Master's degree in hospitality law and undergrad degrees in Restaurant & Hotel Management and Public Relations/Interpersonal Communications from Purdue University.

Awards and Honors
Who's Who Worldwide,Who's Who of American Women, Distinguished Darden Professor (Purdue University).

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