Is it shame, for the kids, or for other reasons that some choose to hide their divorces?
Our personal life, including the details of our marriage or divorce, is ultimately our own business. Human curiosity may prompt others to wonder what goes on inside our home; but, the decision to announce divorce or any of the details surrounding it belong to us alone. If we divorce, it’s inevitable that the news will have to be shared, at some point, and at least to a few others. As much as we might want to consider a relationship, and even a divorce, “ours,” the events of our relationship have an influence on others, whether we like it or not.
Think about divorce within a family system. The break-up of a marriage will send cascades of movement to everyone else connected to that couple, much as the tiniest movement on a spider web alerts the spider of some activity along the threads.
The specifics of why that couple split may not ever fully come to light, but every friend or relative who spends any amount of time with the new singles will feel the vibrations of the event, and at least need to know that they should address the parties in a different way, that they no longer live together, and so on. We value privacy, it how fair is it to set someone we care about up to feel like a fool by sending a joint invitation, asking about our former spouse, and so on because they assume we’re still together?
Sadly, the stigma of divorce prompts some divorcees to try to hide their new status, even from close relatives!
“Julie”, a 45-year-old mom to two college-age sons shared with me, in the strictest of confidence, that she and her husband are secretly divorced (for over 15 years!); yet, they still live together, parent together, and function in such a way that no one from the outside would know they’re no longer married, and she swears that she will go to her grave with her children not knowing that their parents only appear to be married!
“Julie’s” story stems from a stormy period of her marriage when she decided to divorce her husband, and had every intention of going their separate ways. They very quietly went through with the legal process, and soon after decided to reconcile, at least for the benefit of their boys to assume mom and dad were still married. She credits her “ex’s” religious beliefs as the driving force for the big cover-up. She still wears a ring, uses her married last name, and essentially lives as a married woman!
Very few of us can probably relate to the very unique circumstances of “Julie’s” situation, but it works for her, which is all that matters!
Ken and Gloria’s tale of divorce remained hidden for very different reasons and resulted in a different outcome for them and their family. After 37 years of marriage, they secretly separated without their adult children and grandchildren (all living out of state) being aware. Months later, the divorce was final, and still, no one knew that Grandma and Grandpa weren’t together. The holiday season came and went, and everyone assumed they lived together and were ringing in the new year as a couple!
In March of this year, Gloria showed up at her daughter’s front door with the shocking news that she and Ken divorced a few months prior, that he had moved to another state already, and now Gloria needed to move in with her family! One might think that this earth-shattering news might have prompted an interstate family phone conference; but, instead, her daughter and daughter’s family were sworn to uphold her secret even longer.
A second daughter was notified by phone a month later but urged not to tell her children. The third child finally learned that her parents were divorced (and had been separated for more than a year) only because a family reunion was planned for a special event, and there would be no way to avoid the topic. Grandchildren, belonging to the second daughter, discovered the big family secret upon attending the family event; yet, were forbidden to tell their siblings who could not come.
The news of a divorce belongs to the people making this huge life change; yet, there is no escaping the fact that the situation has a ripple effect on everyone attached to the couple! Everyone who divorces has their own personal reasons to share or not share. Most of us will have to alert co-workers, neighbors, organizations we do business with, and especially friends and family because everything from our name, address, account numbers, and emotional state will soon change!
Why would someone hide the fact that they’ve divorced?
In the case of Ken and Gloria, they were burdened with deep shame and conservative views about divorce. They felt that it was necessary for them, yet they were fearful for how friends, colleagues, and mostly their family would react. They perceived divorce as a failure to the values they subscribed to and tried to instill in their children. Their religious convictions and friends they associated with through these beliefs seemed to magnify their disappointment.
Gloria acknowledged that she felt as though her shame with a sort of karmic punishment for her attitude toward her own daughter and others when they divorced.
“Quite honestly,” she said “I was harsh to my daughter when she announced her divorce. I blasted her about the moral ramifications of her decision to leave her husband without realizing that I may have to eat my words later. I’ve had a taste of my own poison in realizing that sometimes divorce is just an ugly thing we must do, and I didn’t want to show myself as a failure and a hypocrite!”
Gloria and Ken’s reaction to the end of their marriage may be understood by husbands and wives exiting long-term marriages into gray divorce. In many ways, they may have thought that they escaped the threat of divorce after so many years together, then discovered that their marriage was in danger. As parents, they still felt accountable to set a good example for their kids, even though now adults, and felt that divorcing would send the wrong message or cause disappointment and sorrow to their family.
What Gloria and Ken did not consider is the fact that their secret could cause as much, if not more, division and pain for their family as the divorce itself!
The news of a divorce must come to the surface eventually, in almost every situation. The choice, in that moment, is to decide who will control the narrative of the events? Will we be the one to share the details about this big event including the facts that we know to be relevant, or will we leave the events up to the imaginations of those who stumble upon the knowledge of our situation?
Would we rather our news become fodder for the gossip mill and allow speculation to run wild about why everything’s hush hush or just pull off the bandage and get it over with?
It’s undeniably hard to speak the words that must be said to announce our divorce; however, most people who really care about us will accept the announcement by ultimately accepting that it’s our life and our decision, even if they are shocked, saddened, and don’t agree with it. In the end, it is us who must live with the decisions we make in life; so, although we may regret letting anyone down, we can’t live simply to satisfy others!