January is often referred to as divorce month because attorneys frequently see a spike in filings at this time. And once you’ve filed it’s hard to keep the truth about your marriage a secret any longer. You’re going to have to start opening up to what’s going on. So what makes going public with your divorce SO hard?
Well, chances are you’ve never had to do this before so you’re figuring out all the logistics, working through the fog of overwhelm and panic all while grappling with the fear of being judged by others and coming to terms with your own judgments about divorce.
In this episode of Conversations About Divorce, I’m joined by New-York based divorce coach Karen McMahon. Listen to the podcast as we give you the tips on:
- When is the right time to start telling people
- Who needs to know what
- If you really need to coordinate with your spouse
- What not wanting to tell people often means
- How to handle those inevitable unwanted questions
Here’s what Karen and I think is why going public with your divorce so hard.
There Is No Right Time
Because every divorce is different (did you realize that?) there is no universally agreed moment in time, that we can point to and say, this is when you go public. You’ll need to consider the tone of your divorce – where on the hostile to amicable scale does your particular situation fall? Do you have minor children? Are you a person who guards their privacy? Are you someone who is super active in your community? Do you and your spouse run a business together? Is one of you moving out? Are you selling your home?
Just because there isn’t an agreed right time doesn’t mean you can or should just start sharing details of your situation. Like many aspects of divorce this deserves careful deliberation, identifying the potential fallouts and consequences, especially when it comes to your children.
Everyone Thinks They Should Know First
We’ve all seen the celebrity divorce announcements such as Gywneth Paltrow’s and Chris Martin’s Conscious Uncoupling, Kim Kardashian’s split from Kris Humphries and Michael Douglas’s and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s break up. While those announcements may have taken us by surprise, we were among the last people to know and mostly because there was no need for us know before the public announcement.
But there were people who knew what was happening long before the press releases and while you may not have celebrity status, you will have your small inner circle of friends with whom you’ve been sharing confidential information for months. These are the people who you trust and feel safe with. They’ve been helping and supporting you. These few confidantes are the first people you tell.
A common fear of going beyond this inner circle is that news of your breakup will become a source of gossip and it will spread like wildfire, that you won’t be able to control it. If this is one of your fears, then your next step is to talk with those people who are your second ring. These are the people who you’re comfortable won’t judge you and who won’t gossip. It could be the neighbor you stand with at the school bus stop, it could be a work colleague, it could be a fellow coach on your child’s sport’s team.
Be aware that if you are telling people and asking them not to share the news with others, you are placing a heavy responsibility on them. Even the most discreet person can make an unintentional slip.
By the time you’ve shared your news with your inner sanctum and your second ring, you’ll have a different and hopefully higher comfort level with talking about your breakup. That will prepare you for announcing it more broadly.
You Have To Tell Your Children
There is no way to avoid to this and if you’re like me, then you want your children to hear about the end of your marriage from you and not from anyone else. This makes it important to have this hard conversation with them before you share your news with your second ring and absolutely before everyone else hears it. Ideally, you’ll want to co-ordinate this with your spouse but in reality, this is not always possible and you and your spouse may end up having separate conversations.
Your children may not know you’re getting divorced but they are intuitive and perceptive. They almost certainly will know that something has changed, that something is going down. Bringing them into the inner circle in an age appropriate manner, may enable you to secure their trust while giving them the opportunity to ask questions and voice their fears.
Your Spouse Is Not Easy To Work With
Here are those words again … in an ideal world, you and your spouse will work together on who tells who and you’ll agree a script. This works particularly well when you are both friends with the same people and you want to avoid those people having to making a choice of remaining friends with either you or your spouse. It also creates a sense of a shared mission and a balance of power. Being able to do this is a positive sign for your on going parenting relationship.
But, most of us don’t live in an ideal world and it doesn’t happen this way. You and your spouse may be struggling to communicate on even a most basic level and that will make agreeing on a script impossible. In this scenario, you’ll be going it alone. Think about what will work best for you and then speak from your perspective. That means no we, us or our and simply me or I.
Another common scenario is one spouse urging the other not to share the details of what lead to the divorce. This is particularly true for sex-related concerns such as a sexless marriage, a change in sexual orientation, an addiction to pornography or infidelity. But you are no longer the keeper of your spouse’s secrets. You are free to tell your story and doing so can be critical in your own healing.
A word of caution: if you are going to be in an on-going parenting relationship with your STBX you do need to consider the damage telling all will do to your ability to work together for the good of your children. You’ll also want to weigh up how your children may be impacted by the unfair judgments of others.
People Will Be Upset
It’s inevitable – someone will be upset with you. It could be that they didn’t hear about your divorce directly from you or you told others before them. They could be interpreting it as a measure of your friendship. They could also be expressing a judgment. Whatever it is, remember that their reaction is more about them and their stuff than you. Don’t get defensive, you have to do what is best for you. Try responding with, “I love you, I value our friendship, you are a good friend. This is a difficult time for me and I’m doing the best I can.”
People Will Be Nosy
Many of the people I’ve spoken with about divorce have expressed being shocked by some of the blunt and insensitive questions people, even friends have asked when they’ve heard the news. What happened? Who filed? Who wanted it? Is there someone else involved? Are you keeping the house? Will you have to go back to work?
I like to think that most people are well-intentioned and are simply trying to engage in conversation on a subject that most people find extremely uncomfortable. They’re not deliberately trying to pry or be nosy but faced with these questions it’s easy to get caught off guard. You end up sharing more information than you wanted and regretting it later.
The solution to this is to develop your script or mantra, to practice it, rehearse it and stick to it. Keep it brief and simple and don’t go into details. Get one of your trusted friends to help you or contact me.
And then go one step further – develop your response for questions you don’t want to answer. It could be something like, “Thank you for your concern. This is really painful for me and I’m not ready to talk about it.” If you say it once and your friend asks another nosy question, repeat it and keep giving it as a response until they get the message. Again, being prepared with a response will make it less likely that you will share more than you want.
You Have To Say Divorce
Well, maybe you don’t have to say the D word. Some people have the hardest time bringing themselves to say it and honestly, it is possible to go through this without saying “divorce.” You can say you’re splitting up, you’re breaking up, you’re ending your marriage and people will understand what you mean.
However, that you can’t bring yourself to say “divorce” is a flashing neon sign about your self-judgments around the end of marriage. Exploring this with the help of a professional such as a coach or a therapist will likely make your path through divorce much easier.
As difficult as it is going public with your divorce, you will likely feel relieved once you no longer have to maintain the facade. An already stressful situation will become a little less stressful and you’ll find that you’ve opened to the door to offers of help and support.
Karen McMahon offers a free webinar, Stepping Out of Chaos: Transforming Pain to Possibility taking you through Three Essentials to step out of the whirlwind of pain, anger and uncertainty that is so prevalent during divorce, and into a calmer, clearer state of mind.