Ask Amy: Divorcing parents wonder why daughter is laughing

Dear Amy: Many of your readers seem to have issues similar to my own, and it’s great to know I’m not alone.

I’m having a unique problem.

My husband and I just announced to our 13-year-old daughter that we are getting divorced.

We expected anger or sadness. Instead, she laughed. After laughing, she went into her room to FaceTime her friends, and we overheard her still laughing.

She refuses to speak to us.

I’m not sure if this is just her expression of discontent, or perhaps something deeper.

Have you ever seen a case like this?

— Concerned in Suburban Chicagoland

Dear Concerned: I’ve never seen a case like this (I’m not a caseworker), but I’ve been a case like this.

And by “case,” I mean: an adolescent basket case coping with divorce.

Adolescents have overlapping emotions that spill out in often unexpected ways. They lack the maturity to sort through their reactions in advance, and so, when faced with really big feelings, sometimes, they — laugh.

Adolescents also wear their awkwardness and embarrassment very close to the surface, and, having laughed — they more or less commit to it.

Your daughter is currently refusing to speak to you.

Now you’re finally getting somewhere. She’s angry.

Talk to her together. If she doesn’t respond but sits there looking hostile, or rolls her eyes, talk anyway.

If she runs to her room, talk through the door. Write her a note and slip it underneath. “When you’re ready, we want to talk. We also promise to listen.”

And then — give her time. Be gentle with her, even if you’re frustrated. You should attempt to comfort and reassure her, even if she doesn’t ask for it.

To her, your actions likely seem very selfish — even if you believe this is for the best.

Remember that the question hovering over anyone’s reaction to stressful news is: “But what about me?” She has valid reasons to worry about her own future. Offer her gentle and honest reassurance.

She may have an easier time opening up to another adult — an aunt, grandparent, teacher or counselor. Offer all of this to her, and love her through this very difficult time.

Her FaceTime friends are also a lifeline. Don’t discourage her from connecting with them.

Dear Amy: I am in a relationship with a great guy. He is supportive, caring, and everything I want and need in a partner.

I want to spend the rest of my life with him.

I am debating whether I should tell him about the sexual abuse I experienced as a child.

I’ve worked through it and am no longer a victim of the trauma, but it does explain a lot of my behavior and habits associated with it, as well as some choices I’ve made in the past.

He’s very empathetic and I know he will hurt for me.

I don’t want that, but I also don’t want to keep secrets from him.

Should I tell him?

— To Tell or Not

Dear To Tell: Ultimately this decision will be yours alone to make, but when you’re contemplating a long-term future with another person, disclosing important aspects of your past will be one step toward intimacy.

Your disclosure will be revealing, and so will your partner’s reaction.

I think it’s vital for you to realize and anticipate the possibility that he could respond along a wide spectrum ranging from hurt and compassion toward you, to what might feel like confusion or shame.

One way to have this conversation is to prepare by saying, “I have something important to tell you, and I want to make sure you’re in the right place to hear it.”

After you make this disclosure, you should prepare yourself to listen to your partner, and to answer questions with as much (or as little) detail as you feel comfortable giving.

Even if you’ve worked through things, various aspects of this trauma will surface at different times in your life. A therapist could help guide you.

Dear Amy: “Hurt and Puzzled Aunt” was being excluded from a niece’s wedding, and she didn’t know why.

If the bride still remains petty and unapologetic, the aunt’s family should all refuse to attend her wedding.

The aunt should then ask her son to disinvite this niece — his cousin — to his own wedding, as it will obviously create unnecessary tension for her.

— Upset

Dear Upset: This aunt was not suggesting any retaliatory exclusion, which I thought was wise. This immediate issue aside, retaliating is how long-standing family estrangements become established.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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