Eat, drink and be very careful

All year you're a professional, with your own domain, be it office or home. But for one night in December, you're obliged to assume the title of "partner" at a work Christmas party that isn't your own.

Is it possible to be the plus-one without anyone coming undone?

"I actually enjoy her Christmas work parties better than my own," says Brad Disher, a Melbourne sales executive married to a high-flying finance executive. "They're fairly well-funded affairs at nice places and I get on well with the people she works with. It's a bigger stress for her – she thinks I'll get drunk and say something stupid."

He hasn't yet. But drink, dress and demeanour are the potential demons of the well-meaning but socially obligated spouse. There's got to be a reason other than the GFC why partners are increasingly unwelcome at end-of-year celebrations. A slip of the tongue here, an indiscreet dance move there, and festivities can take on a different meaning. Brawls – or boredom – can ensue.

"It's better if partners aren't invited – then you can just be yourself and not worry about someone else and making small talk," says Mel Liu, a Sydney accountant married to a telco commercial manager. "These people spend five days a week together – more time at work than at home – and then you bring someone else in."

Alcohol is a social lubricant with as many negative effects as positive ones. "The only time we used to fight was at his work party," says the wife of a building industry leader.

And the big boss is not immune. "Her husband gets plastered – he does it every year," says Anna, a bank branch manager. Anna's plus-one is the offended party and he said no to this year's bank bash. "His tolerance is quite low because he was a policeman."

Opportunities for misunderstandings and misalignments abound, but there is the chance for good, rather than evil, to stem from the plus-one invitation.

The scientist wife of a senior bureaucrat reckons she saved him from a final performance warning by meeting – and observing – his boss at a Christmas gathering.

"I sussed out what she was like. I said 'wear a shirt and tie and look smart, no one else does it, and drop the family hours for normal hours'," she says. "His next report said his performance had improved outstandingly."


- Bland or bumptious: the choice is stark. If you value your marriage and your partner's income, stick to the former.

- Dress to blend. This is not your night to make a statement; leave that to the person who actually works there and has been gagging to do it for some time. Make a statement at your own do – if you must.

- Eat. Preferable to drink.

- Drink what you like – well, it is Christmas – just not as much as you'd like.