I love your column and would really welcome your advice on the following.
During a recent phone call my nephew told me that himself and his wife were splitting up.
As they live quite far away, I only see this family about once a year, but we keep in contact through phone calls and text messages.
I don’t know how to handle this situation going forward and I am not sure what the expected/accepted response is?
I am very fond of them both and was saddened to hear the news. I did not know they were having any difficulties and though I feel they are making a ‘mid-life crisis’-type mistake, I don’t think it would be appropriate to interfere with my tuppence worth!
My problem is I don’t know how to handle this situation going forward and I am not sure what the expected/accepted response is?
Is it the ‘done thing’ to phone his wife to sympathise? I never had a phone relationship with her and I think it might be odd to start now. I would usually send the family a Christmas card and small gifts for their two children, but I don’t know what to do this year. I can hardly put all their names on the card as if all is well, but I definitely don’t want her name to be the only one left out.
I really want to be sensitive and not do or say anything to make things worse
Maybe I am over thinking this, but I have no previous experience in dealing with this sort of situation and I really want to be sensitive and not do or say anything to make things worse. Have you any advice?
Dear Confused Aunty,
Thank you very much for getting in touch. I am sorry to hear of your relatives’ circumstance. Family breakups are very difficult all around.
Firstly, it is clear from your letter that you care for this family very much. It is apparent through the fact that you don’t want to say or do the wrong thing, thus hurting them further.
I would always say in these situations listening to your gut and being truthful is the best way forward. Sometimes if you don’t know what the right thing to say is, say that. Being honest and saying to either or both parties, “I am really sorry about what happened. I don’t really know what the right thing to say is, but I am here if you need anything and I hope you are doing OK” is the best option.
You are also right about keeping your “mid-life crisis” thoughts to yourself, so fair play on staying stum on that.
I think she would appreciate you reaching out
Personally, I do think you should contact your nephew’s wife in some way. Although you haven’t had a phone relationship with her in the past, I think she would appreciate you reaching out. Gauge yourself as to whether a phone call or a text would work best with her.
I would phone and if I didn’t get an answer, follow up with a text. Just keep it short and simple, saying what I have outlined above. She will appreciate the gesture and you needn’t have a long conversation.
In contacting her also you will be alleviating your Christmas situation, as you will already have spoken. With the Christmas card I would just put the family’s surname on it, both on the address and inside the card. Just say To the Bloggses.
I know things seem difficult now, but they will get better
I am confident you will navigate this situation very well because your heart is in the right place. I know things seem difficult now, but they will get better.
Wishing you all the best,