Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: After almost two years of counseling, my husband and I decided this year we'd be happier apart. We've been married 22 years and have two adult girls. We are all in a good place. He and I will always be family, and we function well as parents and friends.
For the last 15 years or so, I've been one of those people who sends out the Dreaded Christmas Letter. Only mine isn't dreaded. People look forward to it. Yes, really. This year, I won't be writing one. Our separation isn't public knowledge, but we're not hiding it. It just doesn't feel like something we need to announce, in a Christmas card or anywhere else.
I know quite a few friends will wonder about the missing letter. What do you feel is the best way to handle inquiries?
Answer: "I'm taking a year off - too much going on."
To you, the annual letter is a Symbol of Everything, but when you consider its impact on recipients - a fun read, a happy tradition, even - and the fact that it's not the divorce you're talking about, but only a letter, I think you'll see it's really just a gnat to brush away. Follow-up questions are a bit more of a challenge, but you can either ignore those by changing the subject, or you can joke them away - "Too much pressure!"
Comment: The thing that always bothers me about annual Christmas letters is they present an airbrushed, Facebook-worthy branding of a family.
I would get ahead of the story by sending a letter that briefly lays out what's happened, how the family's doing well, and that it's too soon to answer any questions.
If the writer doesn't send a letter at all, after 22 years of them, people may call, worry, intrude to find out why. There's nothing shameful about admitting the family has changed. In fact, I would venture to guess the recipients of an honest letter would be more inclined to understand and be compassionate. Why not get real instead of going silent?
Reply: I like this, thanks, though I'll defend the honor of people who send honest Christmas letters. They're out there, I've read them, and they're wonderful.
It's also possible the wife has been honest about ups and downs in past years, but is staggered by this latest plunge.
Getting out in front of it is always worth considering, and I agree the news might be better received that way, but I also believe people who have been through the wringer are entitled to give themselves a break.
Question: My boyfriend has given me the silent treatment for so long (three weeks) that I have decided our relationship is completely over. Do I have to actually tell him, "It's over," or can I just continue the silence and move on?
Answer: It's OK; a silent response to a silent treatment is not a silent treatment. You have no further obligation here. Carry on with your life; enjoy the company of people who can say, "I'm too upset to talk. I need a day or so," and who, in a day or so, come back and talk.
Chat with Carolyn Hax
online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.