The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: When do you share hard-to-hear news?


Adapted from recent online discussions.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

What’s your take on deciding whether to share hard-to-hear information?

My close friend, “N,” made the difficult decision to end her marriage because she wanted children and her husband said he didn’t. I just found out he is engaged to another woman, who is pregnant with his child. N is still single and becoming very impatient about starting a family of her own. I hate to pile onto her stress, but if I don’t tell her, she is likely to find out soon that I have known about this for some time and haven’t told her.


Assuming you’re correct that she’ll find out and be upset you didn’t tell her, clearly you have to tell.

Not to get too wild with speculation, but there could actually be good news in this painful package. If any of your friend’s stress arises from second-guessing herself about leaving her marriage, or beating herself up for failing to foresee that the kids issue would be a deal-breaker, then this development will let her off both hooks.

That’s because this news will tell her it wasn’t about kids/no kids after all; it was about their just not being right for each other as a couple, probably for a lot of different reasons. She saw that he was the wrong guy and did what she had to do.

Of course, it could be the fiancee’s contraception failed and the guy still doesn’t want to be a dad, but that’s their problem now. (Here’s hoping they solve it before it becomes the kid’s problem.)

Re: Ex With Baby:

Please tell your friend. I was in that situation, and am forever grateful that a loved one told me in private. I went through a range of emotions and eventually ended with the realization that it was the wrong guy, not the babymaking, as Carolyn says, but can’t imagine having had to process that in front of others. As luck would have it, I heard the same news from a malicious gossip shortly after.


Great point, thanks, one that extends to any decision about sharing bad news. The question to ask yourself is this: If you aren’t the messenger, then who will be?

Dear Carolyn:

My sister caught her husband cheating last year and they have had a volatile relationship since then, including fighting in front of the family and threats to walk out (on both ends). All us bystanders agree they would be better off apart, but they are holding onto the scraps of the marriage for some unknown reason.

Do I have to invite this man, who I now can’t stand, to my upcoming wedding? There will be no love lost between him and my family, but I know it would put my sister in an awkward position.


Invite him. They’re still married, and your sister needs all the normalcy she can get right now.

Not that this is why you should do it, but weddings have a way of giving things a push — be it toward marriage, divorce, reconciliation, rehab, new adventures, whatever. Milestones force reflection. No guarantees of course, but, something to help you embrace the idea of including your brother-in-law. (Yes, say it: brother-in-law.)

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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