Ben Claassen III (For Express)
Express Advice Columnist

Don’t miss the next live chat: Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has been helping readers with Baggage Check since 2005, hosts a weekly live chat at washingtonpost.com on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. She discusses her recent columns and answers any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more. Join or read Dr. Andrea’s latest live chat here.

Q. My wife has started to act distant lately, and is now responding in emails and using my name. Like today, I let her know my first new sales account came through, and her response was, “I am very happy for you, Joe.” It sounded very formal and unlike how she usually responds. She sounds like someone I work with. This has been going on for a few days now, and she seems different. But I’m uneasy to bring it up, as it sounds silly. Any ideas?

What sounds worse: bringing up to your spouse a seemingly silly thing that has been bothering you, or continuing to be bothered by it, without answers, thinking something is going wrong in your marriage?

If your response is truly the former, then I worry there’s a dynamic here more concerning than her email syntax. Bring it up. If you’re worried about the mountain-from-molehill aspect of parsing her exact words in an email, then make your concerns more general — saying that she’s seemed a bit formal and distant in some of them lately, that her tone has felt different. Then remind yourself that the way to build a strong and healthy relationship is to sometimes have conversations about difficult, vulnerable things.

I’m afraid (and) I have to decline

Q. It’s been six years since I left my abusive husband. I was treated for PTSD for years after leaving and I am getting better. Not surprisingly, my triggers are anything that reminds me of him. Our son is graduating from college in May and he wants us both to attend a graduation party he is having because “most divorced parents can get along, at least for a couple of hours.” I truly have a sense of panic from even the idea of seeing my ex. How can I tell my son that I just can’t go to this party without telling him things about my reaction to his father that will just be painful for everyone?

I understand you don’t want him to know the extent of your suffering. But it’s reasonable to let him in a bit if you have to, to protect yourself. Convey to your son that you want to celebrate in the way he deserves, but forcing yourself to be at the party the entire time will actually take away from the celebration. Explain that there are physical and mental details of your situation that you don’t want to get into, but that you have potential logistical solutions. Stand your ground, then brainstorm together. Maybe he could get your ex-husband to agree to half-attendance where you each go at different times, or he might be OK with your skipping it altogether in favor of a special dinner with you. There are many ways to commemorate the occasion without setting you back after years of recovery, which wouldn’t help anyone.

Send your questions for Baggage Check to Dr. Andrea Bonior at baggage@wpost.com. She may answer them in an upcoming column in Express or in a live chat on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com.

Read more Baggage Check:

My wife has become such a slob, I’m thinking of moving out

Is my girlfriend’s wine habit a problem we should be talking about?

No, Mom, I’m not planning to give up my job after I have the baby