Is it time to update the etiquette for addressing a married woman?

A few years ago, my sister addressed an envelope to my dad and step-mom as “Mr. and Mrs. John Clise”. That is the proper way to address an envelope to a married couple. However, my step-mother was not pleased with being called “Mrs. John Clise”. She stated she has her own identity separate from my dad. My sister meant no offense and was simply following envelope addressing protocol.

I understand my step-mother’s outrage. The tradition of addressing women by their husband’s name seems very old fashioned and sexist. Much has changed since Emily Post wrote her bestselling book “Etiquette” in 1922. I have been grappling with how to approach this.

When a married couple does not share the same last name the proper way to address an envelope is “Ms. Jane Smith and Mr. Brad Jones”. That seems perfectly modern and appropriate because each has their own identity. But how do you address a married couple that has the same last name? “Mrs. Jane and Mr. Brad Jones”? “Mrs. and Mr. Jane and Brad Jones”? “Jane and Brad Jones”? “The Jones”? “Mrs. Jane Jones and Mr. Brad Jones”?

And that begs another question. Do women still want to be addressed as “Mrs.” or is “Ms.” just fine, thank you very much?

I posed the question to the World Wide Web and I saw many iterations, much disagreement and some heated comments. Many women were very uncomfortable with being addressed by their husband’s first and last name. However, many women were OK with it.

Here is what I think. If the married couple is older – as in in their 60s or older – and you know they are traditional, I would go ahead and address the envelope as “Mr. and Mrs. Brad Jones”. Everyone else I would address thusly: For a formal occasion, “Ms. and Mr. Jane and Brad Jones”. It doesn’t seem as clunky to me and honor’s a woman’s identity. For an informal occasion, simply, “Jane and Brad Jones”.

What do you think? Would you be offended if you received an invitation addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Brad Jones”? Married women, do you prefer being called “Mrs.” or “Ms.”? Do you agree with my suggestion or do you have others?


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Author Arden
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35 comments
ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

Kris and Lark, I think that's a good attitude. You're right, I don't think people mean to offend. I think it's either they don't know, or aren't sure what name to use. My husband and I have different last names and my in-laws would address mail to Eric and Arden Mamroth, I think because they didn't know my last name, not out of spite or tradition.

Sometimes it's best to assume people mean well.

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Lark
Lark

Honestly, I really don't care.  I am who I am no matter how someone addresses an envelope to me.  I'm a Miss but I get Ms. all the time which says "divorced" to me.  I am not divorced; I've never been married.  Whatever.  People who know me know who I am and I'm not going to fuss about those who don't.  

Kris
Kris

I really try hard not to have something like an address on an envelope offend me.  And, if people address me by my given name preceeded by Ms. or Mrs., I'm fine with that either way.  I don't believe their intent is to offend me.  As long as they are polite and respectful when addressing me, I'm happy. 

For older couples when I address an envelope I will use Mr. and  Mrs. John Doe.  For those younger I will use Mrs. Jane Doe and Mr. John Doe or less formally, Jane and John Doe, or their own last names if different.

However, if I get mail addressed Mr. Kris Hanson, I will toss it without reading because I think it is rather obvious I am a woman if you know me!

Lu
Lu

Got a letter this morning addressed to Mr & Mrs John Doe. As a Ms whohas kept her surname upon marriage I am offended by being addressed this way. Particularly as I lose my entire identity and name when addressed in this manner.

A second item to note is when you have specifically told them that you have not changed your name, yet they insist on referring to me as Mrs

Teresa
Teresa

Hello.

Please forgive me for being very blunt, however, I am a thirty-something, and I consider NOT addressing me as Mrs. Doe or Mrs. John Doe as being very rude. Banks, cashiers and the like address me often by my first name, and I feel upset, but since it is not lady-like to make a fuss, I rarely say anything.

When it comes to filling out forms and the like, often I am unable to address this. Many forms do not even ask if I am Miss or Mrs. anymore. When I have the chance, I leave the signature of Mrs. John Doe on all non-familiar correspondence.

If you will forgive me stating, I do not find that the 2nd Wave Women's movement has done my country any favors. Certainly, I feel feminists have ruined things for women like myself. Overall, I think society is weaker, and especially ruder, as a result of feminist take-over. Sometimes, I think perhaps I have been born in the wrong era.

Perhaps I would not feel so strongly if traditional ideas were presented "equally," as it were, along with more liberal ones. But that is not the case. Even growing up in a rather strong conservative background, it was both directly and indirectly implied that I was a failure in life if I did not pursue a career and "make something of myself." My husband was "cultured" to think the same way. It took time for both of us to understand that we both prefer me giving full attention to bringing happiness to our home and our "next generation."

I do not begrudge women who want to have a career, but I do feel it isn't right that a select few get to change the rules for everyone else. While maybe not as many want to stay home as I do, clearly many women do not have an issue with the traditional addresses of marriage.

Bert
Bert

After using this article several times over the past couple years to inform people how offensive it is to some of us when we are addressed as "Mrs. husband's name,"  I must add my comment. I disagree strongly with this statement which appears in the article: " If the married couple is older – as in their 60s or older – and you know they are traditional, I would go ahead and address the envelope as 'Mr. and Mrs. Brad Jones' ".  In fact, among the women I know (some of whom may appear to be "traditional") just the opposite is true.  Many of us in our 60’s and 70’s, because we were so involved in the struggle for women’s rights and gender-neutral language, feel more strongly about such things than do younger women. I find that younger women, who weren't around for that fight, often don't understand why it matters so much to us. I have found the following to be a very useful resource on the subject of addressing women and couples:  http://www.emilypost.com/forms-of-address/titles/96-guide-to-addressing-correspondence  

b bells
b bells

I am honored to be called by my husbands name on a formal invition or any kind of written correspondence, probably because I think he is a better person than I and the association of being his wife would automatically make me look better, right? However, I get really peeved when he introduces me by saying "this is MY wife...." I realize he doesn't mean it as ownership, I just dont like the sound of it.

cloistergirl
cloistergirl

SOOOOO offended to be Mrs. Husband's Name... especially when my in laws are SO concerned with the appropriate title for my husband's Naval rank, yet I don't even get named.

Amanda
Amanda

I am stil lin my 20's and while i agree that we are not our husband's property. I love the idea of being called Mrs. his first and last name. I don't lose my identity by something written on a piece of paper. I make my own identity, and part of my identity to be his wife. Just as he is my husband and has mentioned that he wouldn't be offended if someone referred to him as Mr. my first and last name. I understand when a woman wants to keep her maiden name, especially if she marries after her career is established, and in a professional sense would prefer to be referred to as her maiden name.. but it's just not for me. 

rocknthepumas
rocknthepumas

I was just married. I did not take my husband's last name. It was a personal choice. I am attached to my name, and it is who I identify myself as. It doesn't have anything to do with taking a feminist stand, not being committed to my husband, or being an offense to his family. My husband would love it if I would take his name, but (tries to) understand(s) my feelings. Both of us have already had to defend my choice. I have a feeling that this will be a lifelong, exhausting battle. People assume I have taken his name, which I suppose is understandable, as it is more common. Already mail is pouring in addressed to me by his name. 

Now it is time to finally start sending out thank you cards. I am ordering them now, and would like to put both our first and last names on the card. I have asked for others' opinions, and received several negative comments. Mostly insinuating I am being rude or offensive. I just want to keep my identity, and let people know I didn't change my name. Is this a rude way to do it? 

Thanks for for any advice. 

Brooke

Sara
Sara

I was actually hurt when I receieved a greeting card congratulating us (the whole family) on the birth of our second son, last March and it was addressed (both on envelope and card) to Mr and Mrs (my husband's first name) and surname. This was from some of our Nigerian in-laws who know well both my name and my husbands and really should feel no need to be so formal!   I understand that this is common practice in Nigeria, since they're generally more old-fashioned - but boy did my hormones ( a week after birth) get a chance to rev up properly! It's not the first time these people have addressed me in this manner - as if I didn't exist - and especially when YOU as a woman HAVE GIVEN BIRTH and you get a greeting more addressed to YOUR HUSBAND than yourself,  then you have reason to be...slightly livid. I generally though just detest being called anything but my own name, which is a double-name, both my maiden and my married, and no title please - but if you just need to put one, please do call me Ms. I'm not one of my husband's possessions - which is originally how Mrs. came about ''Mr's''.... This should be obvious, shouldn't it?????

Cathy
Cathy

I am a strong advocate for changing the way married women are addressed -- or more correctly, not addressed. When I got married, I did not change my name. I got married later in life and as an attorney, known by my maiden name professionally. But after several years I decided to change my name mainly to avoid confusion and just frankly make things easier with kids. As soon as I took my husband's name I found that my identity virtually disappeared and I was relegated to merely a Mrs. I am a supporter of many nonprofits but am always listed as "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith" even though my husband has had nothing to do with the donation I might have provided. As a family I'm happy to have him listed with me, but am so offended that in this day and age I still have to contact the charity and ask them to list my name with his. Have we really come that far if Emily Post and Miss Manners still insist on dropping the woman's first name unless she is a doctor? Isn't this the classic women keeping women down? As women continue to struggle to make salaries that are equal to men's, it's little things like this that subtly contribute to women being something less than men. And frankly, who makes the decisions about how married couples are addressed? I'd venture to say it's 90% women! In other words, it's wholly within the female collective power to change it. Honestly, how many men are even going to consciously notice the change. But it's time to change -- it's just plain bad manners not to.

Jolee
Jolee

Thank you for this article. I have been wondering about this. I'm in my mid-30's and kept my own last name. I remember graduating from high school and addressing announcements. My aunt insisted on using the "Mr. and Mrs. Husband's First and Last Name" style, and even back then I thought it seemed incredibly outdated. I totally understand when people mistake me as Mrs. Perkin (my husband's last name) because most women still do change their names and people who don't know me don't know better. However, I think that by now, after 5 years of marriage, our family members should know my last name! My MIL was writing me a check recently, and asked me what last name I use. A few months ago my husband's cousin sent us a graduation announcement adressed the old fashioned way, and I was pretty offended. My identity is important to me, and I'm proud of my family history. I got that the cousin was trying to do it "properly", and didn't mean offense, but since then I've been wondering if etiquette has changed. My other question is this: if people I know continue to mistake my name, what is a polite and gracious way of informing them of my true name? And by the way, I prefer "Ms.", never "Mrs.". I find it interesting that society is concerned enough with a woman's marital status to create a different title, but that men have the same title no matter their marital status.

Anita
Anita

As a married woman (about to turn 57) who did not take her husband's name upon marrying 21 years ago, I much prefer that I am addressed by my first and last name and with the honorific "Ms." I like my name very much, thank you! My husband is perfectly content with my choice, as he is completely secure in my love and commitment to him. I'll say that the only problems I've had are with members of my husband's family who are very conservative and (fundamental) religious. They refuse to address me as I wish, which I view as extremely rude.

Danielle
Danielle

I am curious to see what you would say about sending someone a birthday card/gift card and addressing it as Mrs (husbands first name) last name. For the past 2 years, my MIL has addressed my Birthday card as Mrs. (her son's first name) and our last name. I have been completely offended. My husband says that is etiquette, but I think it is a dig. I do not mind at all if a letter is addressed to both he and I if it is his name, but I think on my birthday, my parents gave me a beautiful first name and I already took her last name, that my name should be on the card.

Emily
Emily

if i didn't want to be addressed by my husband's name, then i probably shouldn't have gotten married in the first place. Just because an envelope is addressed that way doesn't mean you are anyone's property but your own. It just means you are a FAMILY!

HeyRed
HeyRed

Wow, I can't believe someone actually posted that when you become married, you become your husbands property. Maybe 100 years ago, but definitely not now. I will definitely not be my future-husbands property. That is for sure. We have a partnership and I pity that individual if they do not. Whew, sorry, I had to get that off my chest. I originally wanted to post my thanks because I was having a really hard time trying to figure out how to address my save-the-dates and wedding invites. I feel as though it is really sexist to be addressed and to address someone by their husband's name. Not enough so to throw an embarrasing fit about it, but still be seriously annoyed. So, I was really uncomfortable about the possibility of maybe having to cave and do it. I am really digging the Ms. and Mr. Jane and Brad Jones. Even if I have to traditionalize it a bit and go Mr. and Mrs. Brad and Jane Jones, I would still be cool with it. Again, thanks a bunch. I was seriously agonizing over this.

TT
TT

When you become married, you become the property of your husband. If you dont like it, dont get married. Its that simple.

Arden Clise
Arden Clise

Hello Anna,

I'm so glad you found me and took them time to comment.

Congratulations on your engaagement and impending marriage. I hope you have a lovely wedding. I'm glad my advice was useful to you for the announcement.

All the best to you.

Anna Beth
Anna Beth

Hello,

I'm so glad I stumbled across your blog during my internet search for the "proper" way to word my and my husband to-be's names. I've decided to take his last name, but I am not ok with being Mrs. Man's Name. I wouldn't throw a rude fit if someone sent us a formal invitation with his name only, but whenever I am in control of the situation, I expect my first name to be stated. Thanks to your wording suggestions, when we are introduced as a married couple in 19 days at our wedding reception, the DJ will announce "Mr. and Mrs. His Name and Anna Beth Last Name."

I look forward to reading your blog for future etiquette advise!

Arden Clise
Arden Clise

Hello Robert,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are right, writing each name as a unit follows the protocol of situations where one person has a title or rank. It's a little more cumbersome to say Ms. Jane Jones and Mr. Brad Jones, it makes sense to keep each name and title as a unit.

I appreciate you taking time to comment.

Robert Hickey
Robert Hickey

The issue of how to write a couple's name is a hot one.

However a basic of names, titles, and form of address is to write each name as unit -- rather than mixing all their names. '

There is an established pattern used for writing joint forms of address when one person has a rank or official title
The Honorable Jane Jones and Mr. Brad Jones
or military rank
Captain Jane Jones and Mr. Brad Jones

So better than: Ms. and Mr. Jane and Brad Jones
Is: Ms. Jane Jones and Mr. Brad Jones

Each person get's their full name a unit and it's more respectful.

Arden Clise
Arden Clise

Hi Louise,

Thanks for piping in. I think the reason they have you select a title when you're signing up for an account or what have you is so that if they get a gender neutral name like "Chris" or "Arden" they know if you're male or female and can address the letter "Ms. Clise".

That's really annoying you weren't given the option of a "Ms." Come on, how long has that been an option? Forever!

Louise
Louise

Actually, I don't like titles at all, any of them. I am "Louise", not a Mrs., or a Ms followed by my husband's or my name. I know that for something formal like a wedding invitation, I expect it, but I don't like it when setting up an account & I am required to select a title. The cruise line we often go on doesn't even have a Ms., they only have Mrs. & Miss. Grrrrr....

Arden Clise
Arden Clise

Lesie, it's so interesting that your grandmothers loved it and you don't. I think back in their day a woman's identity truly was through her husband because so few women worked outside the home.

I didn't take my husband's last name although funny enough, we will sometimes get mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Arden Clise (my husband's last name is Mamroth). So they obviously think Arden is a male name and I'm the Mr. My husband loves (not) that one.

Tiffany, I don't think you are alone, even in your generation that you like being addressed as "Mrs. husband's first and last name". That's what makes this all so interesting.

Alyssa, I agree, the gender bias can be off putting and I like that you try to follow being considerate and courteous to all. I don't think the gender differences were meant to not be equal, I think they were based more on where women were at the time. You didn't say "congratulations" to a newly married woman because it could sound like "congratulations, you finally landed a man!"

Back in the day, it was a rare woman who didn't get married right away and in her early 20s so as not become a spinster. Women were dependent on men's incomes before we started to have work options, so getting married early and well was paramount.

Wow, so much food for thought. Thanks everyone.

Alyssa
Alyssa

If it is someone of my generation (I'm in my 30's) who addresses me as Mrs. My Husband's Name, it is a bit curious, but I don't take it personally. If it is someone older than me, I understand that they are observing an protocol from another time and I take no offense. I will not refer to myself as Mrs. My Husband's Name and would only find it truly rude if someone else insisted that I did. I also think it is outmoded to do the "best wishes" to the woman versus "congratulations" to the man. A lot of manners are based, unfortunately, in gender bias and inequity and I try to follow the rule of offering consideration and courtesy unilaterally.

Tiffany
Tiffany

I love being addressed as Mrs. David Nielsen. I take no offense; in fact, I like seeing it written on an envelope. It's cute and it doesn't happen often so I like the surprise!

Leslie Evans
Leslie Evans

I've always DESPISED being called "Mrs. Christopher Evans". It was hard enough to change my last name (I wasn't forced, but I struggled with the decision) now I don't get a first name, either? However, my grandmothers all took great pride in being called "Mrs. Stanley Irish", "Mrs. E. Arnold Evans". Perhaps it's how we're raised? Great topic, Arden!

ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

@Lu I understand your anger. As I stated to the commenter Teresa below, who prefers being addressed as Mrs. John Doe, we are a diverse world and we must be respectful of people's preferences. You might politely and kindly remind others that you have kept your surname and prefer to be addressed by it. Sometimes it takes people a while to make changes. Be forgiving.

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ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

@Teresa Thank you for your comment and your perspective. From the comments on this post, it is clear that we are a very diverse world with very diverse values and beliefs. One woman thought I was being rude by giving a suggestion that if a couple is older and more traditional then it's probably best to address them as Mr. and Mrs. John Doe. Other commenters are incensed by being addressed that way and want to be addressed as Ms. and their first and last name.

As woman have moved into the workplace, often out of the necessity of a two income family, it has caused a shift in how we are addressed. I don't think it's just feminists that have caused the shift. I also very much disagree that feminism has made people rude. People are rude on their own accord, feminism has nothing to do with it. In fact, I would argue that feminism has helped make it so that women are treated more equally and with more respect, which is really what feminism is all about.

I also don't think a select few are changing the rules. The work force is now made up of 50% women. Would it make sense to address a woman in the workplace as Mrs. John Smith? No, that would be silly. Professional women need to have our own identities. We can still choose to be addressed as Mrs. but we do need a name, not our husband's name, at least in the business world.

The bottom line, as I've stated before, is we need to be respectful of people's preferences. If I know someone wants be addressed traditionally then even if I disagree with it, I must honor it. And if a woman has kept her surname, it is important to address her with it rather than assign her husband's last name to her. When we honor and respect people's preferences and values we are being polite.

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ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

Hello Bert,

 

Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your perspective and understand your outrage. I am in favor of getting rid or Mrs Husband's first and last name completely. It's outdated and sexist. Where I goofed was to make an age specific comment. Because, you're right, age has nothing to do with it. I know both young and older women who prefer being addressed by their husband's name and vice-versa. 

 

The Emily Post article is very helpful. However, she too has the Mrs John Kelly option listed. I think the bottom line is to try to find out what people prefer. If I know someone wants to be addressed as Mr and Mrs Husband's name then that is how I will do it.

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ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

You sound like a lovely person. Your husband is lucky to be married to you. As far as how your husband introduces you it is really a personal preference. I like when my husband introduces me as his wife, Arden Clise. If he were to just say "this is my wife" I too would be offended.

ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

It sounds like your in-laws are following proper protocol. They probably don't know it's offensive to you. I'd suggest you nicely encourage them to address you as Ms. your first name and husband's last name. Tell them why it matters to you.

 

I know it's hard to not have an identity when you're addressed by your husband's first and last name. Many older people don't know it can be offensive.

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ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

You're not alone Amanda. I've heard from a few women who don't mind being addressed by their husband's name. I do think though, it makes it harder to have so many variations. If we simply had one standard for women it would make it so much easier when addressing us.

 

Thanks for commenting.

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ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

 @rocknthepumas

 Hi Brooke. I feel your pain. I too kept my maiden name and after 19 years of marriage we still get mail addressed to us by my husband's last name.

 

I. It's OK to politely correct people when they use the wrong name.

2. Yes, it's fine to have stationary printed with your first and last names for more formal correspondance. For more informal correspondance you would just have you and your husband's first names printed on the stationary.

 

The order on the stationary should be "Brooke Smith and John Carter" (I made up the names, obviously, but your name comes first.)

 

Congratulations on your marriage and good luck with all of this.

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ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

Hi Sara,

 

In your case, I do think your in-laws were trying to follow proper etiquette, but unfortunately it came across as rude to you. This is a heated topic and I think eventually the practice of addressing women as Mrs. Husband's first and last name will disappear just like corsettes did. But, it will take time.

 

Thanks for the history lesson on the birth of the term Mrs. it makes it even less desirable knowing that.

ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

Hi Cathy,

 

I feel your pain. It does seem rather backwards that married women are still being addressed by their husband's name. I'm all for changing it.

 

Change starts by letting people know your preference, as you are doing with the non-profits you donate to. I think it's also something we etiquette consultants need to discuss and start promoting a change.

 

Thank you for commenting.

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ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

 @Jolee

 Thank you for writing. It's a shame your relatives don't seem willing to recognize your given name. I do think it's probably them either not knowing what else to do or forgetting what your last name is.

 

I would suggest you make a nice request of your relatives. Next time you receive an invitation or letter addressed as "Mr. and Mrs. Husband's First and Last name" call or email the person to respond to the invitation. Thank them for thinking of you. Then say something like, "When Brad and I got married I decided to keep my last name. Brad was fine with that. Please feel free to address mail to the two of us as Ms. Jolee (Your last name) and Mr. Husband's First and Last name."

 

If they don't change their ways, let it go. While it seems they are being disrespectful, life's too short to worry about it.

 

Good luck.

ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

I was pretty attached to my last name too Anita. My husband, like yours, was fine with me keeping my name. We are both equals in the relationship and not having his last name does not make me any less committed to the marriage.

 

Sorry to hear your in-laws have a hard time honoring your wish. Try to let it go and know it's based on their beliefs, probably not something they are doing to purposely hurt you.

 

Thanks for commenting.

Anita
Anita

Well, we did have one other, pretty serious problem with our having different last names. When our first child was born and we filled out the paperwork naming him and providing parental information for both parents. When we received our son's birth certificate from our county's vital records department, only the mother's information appeared. We called to ask why and we told it was because we were not married. WHAT?! It turns out that the hospital staff took it upon themselves to assume that my husband and I were in fact not married so therefore omitted all of the father's information.Getting the birth certifcate corrected took some effort. But worse, the vital records department had passed on the original information --  sans-father -- to the Social Security Administration. If something were to happen to my husband, my child would not be considered his survivor. THAT really burned us up and THAT took even more time to correct. When our second child was born (at a different hospital), we were very proactive about making sure that the hospital got the vital information correct. That hospital's staff was professional and polite in all their dealings with us.

ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

Hi Danielle,

 

I think this is probably a case of your MIL being old fashioned. It is proper to address a married woman as "Mrs. Husband's first name and last name". If she were to write "Mrs. your first name, husband's last name" it would mean you're divorced. So she is following proper etiquette.

 

However, she could address the card as "Ms. your first name and husband's last name" and that would be OK. Or she could be less formal and simply address it as your first name and last name.

 

If it bothers you, I would suggest saying something nicely to her. Tell her how much you appreciate the cards she sends you and let her know you are OK with her being more informal by addresssing the envelope with just your first name and last name.

 

Good luck.

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ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

Hi Emily,

 

All etiquette changes and evolves. 60 years ago women usually didn't work outside the home so her identity was tied to her husband's identity. Many women appreciated that. However, now that so many women work outside of the home and have their own identities it is time we update this old fashioned tradition of addressing women by their husband's given and family name.  

 

For women who like being addressed as "Mrs. husband's first and last name", they should be allowed to be addressed that way. For women who don't want to be addressed that way we should honor that.

 

Thanks for commenting.

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ArdenClise
ArdenClise moderator

@HeyRed, I agree with you about the previous comment. That's a very outdated and sexist belief. A marriage should be an equal partnership. No one owns the other.

 

I'm glad my post was helpful as you get ready to announce your wedding. Congratulations! Good luck with the addressing. I hope you have a wonderful wedding.

 

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Anita
Anita

Say what?

 

My husband is my peer and partner, not my owner.