DEAR AMY: I am currently separated from my husband of less than a year, due to some pretty serious rage and respect issues that snowballed immediately after we wed. My husband has voluntarily enrolled in a 52-week domestic violence course and is committed to recovery and discovering how to be compassionate and empathetic. On the recommendation of our marriage counselor, we have decided to remain separated for the duration of the course. We are still very much in love and committed to working through this tough time together, despite being apart. My question is about the holidays. Would it be appropriate for the two of us to attend family functions together during the holidays, even though we live separately? We both agree it would be weird for us and our family, but on the other hand, we are committed, still married and doing all we can to save our marriage. It would feel confusing for everyone if we showed up together, but it seems a shame to spend this time apart. Please help us decide, is there something we aren’t considering?
Wife-ing at a distance
DEAR WIFE-ING: My instinct is that it would not be wise for the two of you to jointly attend family events over the holidays. The reason isn’t necessarily because it would be “weird” for everyone, but mainly because the holidays provide an almost constant stream of triggers (including alcohol, family, in-laws, high expectations, disappointment, noise, late nights, stress, gift-giving and fruitcake). The winter holiday season can drive otherwise balanced people into a rage state.
I think it would be wisest to be low-key this year and avoid questions and the judgment of family members, who might want to confront your husband over his treatment of you. It would be best for him to complete treatment before facing your family in a group setting.
Perhaps you two could attend a church service or holiday concert together, followed by coffee and a private gift exchange.
Importantly, you should ask your marriage counselor for a professional recommendation. Your counselor knows both of you.
DEAR AMY: The holiday season has never brought me much joy, except when my (now young adult) children were young. Growing up, my parents always had epic fights on Thanksgiving and Christmas (their fights on all the other days were less epic). Fortunately, my family lives out of state, so we get together with my spouse’s siblings for holiday celebrations. I have longstanding issues with depression. I take medication and see a therapist for it. This year, due to a number of circumstances, I just want to skip the whole holiday thing, especially spending time with my in-laws. If I bow out, I will be harshly criticized. They don’t know anything about the issues I’m dealing with, nor do I want them to know. I guess I can buck up for the meals, but I have no holiday spirit whatsoever. How do I hold it together for the next two months for my spouse and kids?
DEAR HOLIDAY BLAHS: One thing you could do differently this year would be to stop holding it together for your spouse and (young adult) kids. Perhaps they could hold it together for you. You should be honest about the need for rest and space this year.
You have an illness (depression) which can be worse during the holiday season. Even if you weren’t depressed, your parents’ terrible legacy of waging epic fights on holidays would make this a tough annual dance.
Your therapist could help you to come up with a strategy to get through these next weeks.
If you think you can make it through the holiday meal, great. Drive separately, if possible. When you feel you must leave, thank the host quietly, say you’re not feeling well, and exit without fanfare.
If possible, plan something you enjoy doing, so that you can reward yourself for making it through. It might be driving to a favorite spot and listening to a podcast in your car, taking a long walk or sitting quietly with a good book.
DEAR AMY: The letter from “Upset Wife” concerned me. Her husband had become a “troll” on Facebook, posting offensive comments and content. She should definitely “unfriend” him on Facebook. She should also consider unfriending him in real life!
No Fan of Trolls
DEAR NO FAN: “Upset Wife’s” husband seemed to be revealing a disturbing aspect of his character. And, like the saying goes, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”