Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR HARRIETTE: I was really looking forward to seeing my brother and his family for the holidays, but I just learned that they decided not to visit this year. It turns out that my brother and his wife are getting divorced. They have been married for 18 years. They have three kids, and they really do seem like a happy couple and family. I had no clue. I talk to my brother frequently, so I don't know how I missed this. I feel like he should have told me. My feelings are all mixed up. I'm sad for them and mad that he kept it a secret. I feel like calling him and cursing him out. I know that's the wrong thing to do. What should I do? -- Beyond Sad, Washington, D.C.

DEAR BEYOND SAD: When people in a family get divorced, it definitely affects more than the husband and wife. It is one of the most difficult crises that families suffer. And yet, it is the main concern of the couple. They probably are choosing not to visit family because they are not ready to talk about the demise of their marriage. Typically, when people break up, they aren't on the best of terms, which makes it even harder to attempt to communicate clearly with others. They do not want to be judged or interrogated. This is likely why your brother did not tell you; he shut down.

Yes, you can reach out to him, but only in love, not with a barrage of questions. You can call him or write to him, letting him know that you are sorry for his situation and that you love him and want to be there for him in any way you can. The only question you should ask right now is if there is any specific way you can support him. Otherwise, wait for him to come to you. During your family time, suggest that family members respect his privacy during this sad period and be willing to offer love without talking about details that they don't really know or understand anyway.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have always gone to the same holiday party with my family forever. We went when we were just out of college, and we still go, even into my 50s. Well, my husband doesn't want to go anymore. He said enough is enough. He loves my family and tolerates the range of people we "make nice" with at the event, but he wants to do other things with his time. I know my family will be disappointed. How should I handle this? My husband is still coming to be with the family over the holidays, just not to the party. -- Enough, Portland, Ore.

DEAR ENOUGH: Family traditions can be wonderful, and they can sometimes be stifling. Your husband's change of heart suggests that this activity no longer works for him. Tell your family that you two will not be attending, but then be fully present at the events where you do go. Show that you are as connected to your family as before, just differently.