The Who, What, When, Where, and How of Talking About Divorce
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May 29, 2015

Is sharing our divorce stories always a good thing? Shouldn't we understand the who, what, when, where and how involved -- so we don't inadvertently damage our futures and embarrass our children, not to mention make others wildly uncomfortable?

And the "why?"

Exactly what are our reasons for sharing divorce stories?

Sometimes, it's to help each other. (Isn't that what we do here?) Sometimes, it's a means to articulate experiences that we're struggling to understand.

DM Woman with serious face 2.jpgSure, there are times when the "why" couldn't be more clear. Talking about our challenges helps.

For example, we're contemplating divorce and we need the trusted ear of a friend. Or we're in the midst of legal proceedings and talking about our problems eases the sadness and confusion. Or we're in that first challenging year of co-parenting friction and our options feel like ulcers, antidepressants, or venting.

So what about the "who?"

Who we share with? Is that something we should consider?

In our calmer moments, we all know the answer to that.

As for who we should and shouldn't be sharing with:

  • Don't spout off in an email exchange to a child's teacher!
  • Don't whine to the ex's boss who lives in the neighborhood!
  • Don't pour out your heart to anyone in the vicinity who is willing to listen!
  • Most important: Don't tell your kids things you know they shouldn't hear!

Nyet, nyet, and nyet!

And if you do? Apologize if it makes sense, try not to do it again, and otherwise, don't beat yourself up.

Believe me, during the worst of my legal proceedings and the misery of those long, adversarial months, my anger seeped out in inappropriate places. (No, not in emails. No, not to the ex's boss. Yes, occasionally, to strangers in a Starbucks line.)

After one more crazy attorney's bill (for yet another action that accomplished nothing), or after a nasty call with my spouse (leaving me shaking and in tears), anyone I might come in contact with was likely to be on the receiving end of my negativity, my fear, my indignation -- a neighbor, a friend, but generally not my children.

And the "what?"

There were times I shared too many details with friends and I imagine they wanted to turn and run. But if you haven't already "gotten the memo," here's important qualifying information: Those who have been through divorce themselves were (a) more empathetic; (b) more patient; (c) more interested.

And looking back, I get it! Depending upon the stories we are telling and how wrenching they are for us and our children, divorce is very threatening, and understandably so. It is especially threatening to anyone who is married and possibly feeling vulnerable in his or her relationship.

As for the "what" in other realms?

Don't use your attorney like a therapist! There were moments I did (without realizing), he certainly never stopped me from doing so, and in the process I added to his billable hours at a very hefty hourly rate. 

Sharing the gist of our stories is useful with some people, and directing our questions, asking opinions, or expressing our hurt or anger or fear is fine -- depending on the circumstances.

Over time, I honed my skills at putting on the public face. While I won't say I was cheery, I managed to be pleasant and hold my tongue, but the gap between how I was and how I said I was -- I confess -- was enormous.  

"When" you share divorce news

The timing of telling others about divorce, not to mention telling our children about divorce, is something we each have to grapple with.

Likewise, the timing of relating the latest gnarly chapter in your second year of legal battles, or the drama you have with your ex's third wife, or anything related to highly personal information that anyone other than your inner circle really doesn't care about.

  • Don't bring up divorce in a job interview!
  • Don't share private or disturbing details at a dinner party!
  • Don't discuss your ex's bad habits on Date 1, Date 2, Date 3... and so on!
  • Don't blurt out indiscreet or hurtful snippets when the kids are around!
  • Don't say anything in social media or email at any time that you might regret, especially if you're still in an adversarial position with your spouse.

And birthdays? Holidays? Try to be nice!

A good rule of thumb?

Take a breath or a pause before you speak or push "send."

"Where"-with-all... And "how"

I suppose the "when" bleeds into the "where," but to me the bottom line is this.

  • There are professionals who are paid to help us deal with the deepest hurts.
  • Both professionals and close family / friends may also be equipped to provide emotional support.
  • Don't forget to focus on guiding children through their feelings and these transitions.
  • Do be sure that teachers are aware of changes in family structure.
  • Don't bad-mouth your ex with your date or your new love.

And we must remember that the ways in which we communicate about divorce may change. What feels right (or inevitable) in the midst of court proceedings transforms as the family adjusts over time. The who, what, when, where, how and why of telling our stories is never a one-time, one-shot deal; for many of us, it's a process. And for some of us, that process goes on for years. 

That's when our maturity and common sense kicks in. 

How to say whatever you're going to say?

Stop. Filter. Consider if you were on the receiving end. And always, always consider your children and how they would react to any communications that are in any way public.

 

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