Ben Claassen III (For Express)

Live chat: Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has been helping readers with Baggage Check since 2005, now hosts a weekly live chat at on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. She’ll discuss her recent columns and answer any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more. Submit questions for next week’s chat at


It is my first Christmas since the death of an older half sister I was very close to. My husband’s family is big into celebrations and we usually spend a lot of time with them in December, but I am not up to it this year. I love my in-laws and don’t want to hurt them or make them feel they have to take care of me. — Still Grieving

I’m sorry. The ugly underbelly of the tra-la-las is the marking of time that accentuates grief and loss. But I think more and more people are understanding of that. And “a lot of time” suggests leeway — to opt out of certain events, leave early, come late or even spontaneously hole up someplace comfortable and alone when overcome. The key is clear communication, and your husband can help. Lay out expectations in advance so people are less likely to feel surprised and stung, which would add to your stress. Sample script: “With the loss Jane’s been going through, she needs lots of time for quiet reflection and healing. I know you all understand that she won’t be able to attend as many of the festivities as usual, but she sends her love and will be there in spirit.”

Dad’s back in the back seat

My father is dating a controlling woman. My deceased mother also was somewhat controlling, so I think this is what Dad is familiar with. This woman discourages him from seeing friends, she redecorated his home and she determines how he spends his time. I have pushed back subtly but I worry he will choose her over me, which breaks my heart. — Very Concerned Daughter

Are your protests so subtle he can brush them off, or so pointed that it makes him push back harder? There’s a sweet spot somewhere, so choose your battles. It’s not about rolling out the red carpet for her manipulative behavior, but rather about choosing tangible specifics to address. Don’t make it seem like an all-out attack against her. Prioritize your worries (the friends piece seems uber-important), and couch your complaints in a message of love and concern that seeks to keep him happy, not necessarily to break them up. In the meantime, stay in contact with communication that is not about her (your life, shared interests, your fandom of Steve from “Stranger Things”) to keep your connection strong.

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

Read Dr. Andrea’s latest live chat here:

Baggage Check Live: “Those potatoes won’t burn themselves!”

Read more Baggage Check:

My girlfriend uses her anxiety problems to get out of whatever she doesn’t want to do

My husband’s going on a ski trip with 10 women and I’m not fine with that

I used to be a scantily clad server at one of ‘those restaurants,’ and I’m tired of the insults