Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Sept. 14 2009 3:04 PM

Will Therapy Change His Woman-Bashing Ways?

Prudie counsels a woman with a sexist fiance—and other advice seekers.

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I don't know how to tell people, even my parents. I've kept our struggles quiet and have felt isolated from friends, so it might seem out of the blue. I don't want to rehash everything with everyone. And part of me feels like a huge failure. I'd like to just send a mass e-mail to friends (not to my parents and sister, of course) explaining things once and without many details.

Is this OK? Is there a better way?

Emily Yoffe: You don't have to rehash everything with everyone, but you certainly need people to listen and offer comfort—surely you know people who have divorced and can help you see you'll make it through the worst parts. So start opening up to select friends. You can also decide how much you want to reveal, then tailor that for your audience. In general, you can say, "Dave and I have realized we're making each other miserable and it's affecting our son, so, sadly, we've decided separating is for the best." Obviously, with your family you want to give a fuller explanation, but no one is entitled to the gory details. You don't have to send a mass e-mail—just start telling people, and you'll be surprised how quickly the word gets around.

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Washington, D.C.: My best friend just announced, out of the blue, that she's getting divorced. She said there's no precipitating crisis—no affair or abuse—just that they are bored and fight about little things. We're both in our mid-30s with small kids, and I know how stressful marriage can be at this point, but I think she's making a big mistake. (And with a husband who's a divorce lawyer, I have some perspective on the matter.) How can I convince her to give it another shot?

Emily Yoffe: I don't know if this is for you, letter writer above, but this is how it may look from the outside. First of all, don't set out to convince her, but listen to her. As you listen, you may discover there are more profound problems in their marriage than at first appear. But after you listen, you can then surely encourage her to pursue every step available to preserve their marriage. Say your husband brings home every day stories of how devastating divorce can be and that you hope that if her reason is boredom and picking at each other, that she and her husband do everything they can to get through this rough patch together.

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For Huntington: I never felt the "need" to get drunk in the middle of the day, but I definitely didn't know my limits when going out with friends. I'd also sneak massive glasses of wine up to my room so that my roommates wouldn't comment on my drinking alone. This pattern continued for a while and landed me in the hospital on a couple of occasions. I could have gotten help a lot sooner but didn't at any given time because I didn't feel READY.

When I finally hit my rock bottom, I knew I needed help. Sounds like your friend is going to WANT help before help is effective, but I would try broaching the subject with her (and if she gets defensive, it's very likely she's embarrassed because she knows she has a problem).

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For what it's worth, today is my 26th-month sobriety anniversary (two years, two months), and I'm 26. First-hand experience right here!

Emily Yoffe: Congratulations on your sobriety. You're right that people who aren't "ready" aren't going to be receptive to their friends' message, but the friends have to deliver it all the same. Doesn't "hitting bottom" mean you realize you can no longer ignore what everyone has been telling you?

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Washington, D.C.: I am a third-year graduate student at a large university. One of my responsibilities is to serve as a teaching assistant. I run four discussion sections of 50 students each per week in addition to grading their papers, holding office hours, etc. The other day, I encountered a situation I did not know how to handle.

I am morbidly obese, though I'm working very closely with a nutritionist and dietitian to make healthy changes in my life. My weight makes me extremely self-conscious because I feel I'm constantly judged on it. During a discussion section on Friday, I heard a student make a derogatory remark about my weight to another student when I turned to write something on the chalkboard, and before I knew it, the entire class had heard the joke and was laughing. I was mortified. I didn't know how to handle it. I tried to get the class back on topic, but I was visibly shaken and any effort to regain control of the class was futile. The last 15 minutes were miserable, and I actually had to let the class go early because I just couldn't focus.

How should I have handled that situation? And how can I go back in the classroom this week?

Emily Yoffe: Hmmm, don't you have the power of grading the jerk who made the comment? OK, I'm not suggesting you do that, but just keep it in mind when you feel that idiot has the upper hand. If you know who made the remark, you can pull that student aside and say you heard what he or she said, and that insulting people is not allowed in your classroom. It's also more than likely this week's class is not going to be a replay and everyone will be slightly embarrassed at themselves. So you can just try to put it out of your mind and go on with the class. But if you sense there is a continuing awkwardness, or even barely suppressed levity, disarm them by bringing it up yourself. You can say something like, "Last week, I noted that there was an observation in class that I'm overweight. I didn't pursue that as a topic of discussion because it's self-evident that I am. So let's talk about things that you're actually here to learn."

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San Francisco: I have a friend who recently adopted a beautiful baby girl. She seems to be having a really hard time adjusting (very similar to postpartum depression), and I'm trying to figure out the best way to help her. Her husband and mother are being supportive, but they're both overwhelmed with how rough of a time she's having. Any advice?

Emily Yoffe: Having an infant is overwhelming, and some women get more overwhelmed than others. It does sound like your friend might be experiencing the equivalent of postpartum depression, and you should suggest she talk to her pediatrician or gynecologist about this. If she's not amenable, mention it to her husband and/or mother. Help is available, but when you're in a downward spiral, it's hard to recognize you need it.