How to Tell Your Family and Friends That You're Getting a Divorce (Hint: It Sucks)

Many well-meaning people immediately asked me if we were sure. Uh, where was that doubt when I was spending thousands of dollars on my wedding?
Publish date:
September 25, 2013
life, divorce, advice, moving on

The Internet is an amazing place for brides-to-be. Most websites that aren’t cats or porn are tips on how to have the perfect wedding. And that’s great! Weddings are fun.

But, statistically, there is a decent chance that the thing that happens after the wedding -- you know, the marriage -- will fall apart. How many Pinterest pages are devoted to divorce ideas? Probably none. It isn’t cute. There were zero mason jars affiliated with my separation.

But it happened. I am a 31-year-old divorcee. There have been a thousand layers of difficulty involved, but I am the better for it. And you can be, too!

So. Let’s talk divorce.

One of the hardest things about pulling the trigger on ending the marriage is that a to-do list materializes immediately. Want to deal with your heartbreak? Too bad. You’ve gotta deal with a bunch of grown-up life shit. And not every part of it is governed by state laws or forms; navigating that complex process is weird and hard, but ultimately, kind of rewarding? (But still -- really hard.)

A little back-story on me: I got married in September of 2010. We separated in October of 2012. Our divorce was finalized in June of 2013. My ex and I had struggled throughout the second year of our marriage. We had poorly-matched temperaments that were exacerbated by our shifting life goals and increasing frustrations with our relationship. It sucked.

I kept it mostly to myself because I believed that I could fix things. Typical type-A woman right here, guys. Plus, I didn’t want other people to think less of my guy. If I confessed what an asshole he was being, they wouldn’t like him as much when everything got better. I didn’t want us to seem tarnished. I wanted to keep up appearances.

In hindsight, that was probably not the right approach.

It was already hard to be splitting up; telling other people who had no clue what was going on made it even harder. When I had announced our engagement a few years prior, everybody bathed me in congratulations. Nobody asked any questions. It’s different when you make the opposite life decision. Many well-meaning people immediately asked me if we were sure.

Like the un-marriage is the decision that has to be questioned? Uh, where was that doubt when I was spending thousands of dollars on my wedding?

Anyways. Here’s my approach to spreading the word. It worked as well as such things can work.

1. Girlfriends are easiest. Do them first.

After my ex-husband and I had that final conversation, I immediately texted my girlfriends. I’d kept them relatively informed of what I had been dealing with. They immediately texted back all the right things. They offered to come over, but I grieve privately, and they respected that.

2. Close family.

Talking to my family sucked way more. Like I said, I’d kept them mostly in the dark. I called my mom first. Many times. She didn’t answer. So I called my big brother, with whom I am very close, but not for like, feelings, or whatever. But he listened perfectly and said all the right, big-brotherly things. He talked shit. I felt empowered and mad and strong.

Then my mom called me back. I tried to stay strong, like how my brother had made me feel, but after months of shielding a lot of pain, I couldn’t do it any longer. I let myself be sad. Like, so, so sad. The saddest.

And it broke her heart! Because she had no idea the degree to which I was struggling. My mom and I are close, too, and she would have listened and given advice for months if I had let her. Part of me wishes that I had. Another part of me is glad that I spared her worrying about me for as long as I did. I don’t know. I’m not a mom, so I don’t understand mom feelings, but while I felt like I was doing her a favor, in retrospect I can understand how I was not.

I cried and I cried and I choked through about 95% of the awfulness of the prior year. (Moms don’t need to know everything.) And guess what she did? She loved me. Because she is my mom and she did not care that she’d helped pay for my wedding just two years before. She turned quickly from “Are you sure??” to “I will do anything you want me to do and be there for you in whatever capacity you need.”

While having that conversation is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, I felt so monumentally free for having had it. We hung up after an hour, when I was all cried out, and I managed to sleep soundly for the first time in weeks. At last, I had been honest. It was a tremendous relief.

3. Work.

I had to go to work the next day. Thankfully, I work for a female attorney who was going through a divorce herself. She let me quickly and tearfully give her the update and then did not bother me while I worked with my office door closed for the rest of the week. The nice thing about working with only one other person is that there is zero office gossip. It’s ideal for life trauma.

4. Extended family.

I called my grandma soon after. It devastated me to hear her be sad for me. I had to hang up the phone quickly so as to not subject this extremely loving 93-year-old woman to my crying, but I knew that she knew it was happening.

I’ve got lots of aunts and uncles and cousins; I wasn’t going to have that conversation a dozen more times, so they got an email. They all offered me and my dog and my cat a place to stay, and the ones who had been divorced themselves assured me I’d be better off. The time between deciding I was getting a divorce and telling my loved ones about it took less than 72 hours.

5. Web presence.

Isn’t it lame that is something we have to think about in these modern times? While, yes, I am writing a piece for a popular website right now, I am a very emotionally guarded person. I couldn’t make big proclamations to the world at large. I quietly changed my name on Facebook from my hyphenated married name back to just Jones. Some people noticed. Most didn’t.

After a few more weeks, I started mentioning my divorce on Tumblr. A few weeks after that, once most of my tears were dried up for good, I was able to start making jokes about it on Twitter. I let most people just kind of figure it out. I had plenty of other stuff to deal with; I did not owe every person the sob story.

I can’t tell anybody how to handle any difficult thing. I am a stranger; you are you. But I will say this: being honest and open about my crappy marriage has made me feel more like myself, at the age of 31, than I have in years. Maybe more than ever.

Opening up my heart to my friends and loved ones has proven to me not only that I am strong enough to be honest, but that my people are quality people. I’d kept waiting for my ex-husband to love me as much as I wanted him to when I had all of these other great people with better, realer love just waiting for me to let them in.

If you’re afraid of getting a divorce, I totally hear you. It is daunting and hard. I can’t say it was a learning experience that I’m glad that I had. But I survived. You can, too. People who love you will continue to love you.

And now I’m a divorcee! Sounds kind of sexy, doesn’t it?

Yeah. It’s not so bad.