Dear Captain and Crew,
Ten weeks ago I asked my husband why sex and some other things hadn’t happened on a long weekend at home. He out-of-the-blue responded, “I’ve been thinking I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” It took several days to sink in, by which point we were out of town on vacation. On the seventh day after his announcement, I couldn’t stop crying and texted my sisters, one of whom called back immediately and saved my sanity.
After we returned home and visited our couples counselor, I put an aggressive self-care plan into effect of daily exercise, masturbation, journaling, and eating well plus weekly time with friends, my personal therapist, massage, etc. The self-care is working. Most days I keep myself balanced on the two positive long-term possibilities: 1) we end up with a stronger happier marriage or 2) we head off to separate new adventures, reconnecting as friends after a break.
After an exercise break due to illness, I’ve been teetering, sometimes to optimism that he’ll stay based on his “I love yous,” warm hugs, and clear attraction to me and sometimes tripping into the short term “14 years, he doesn’t want to be with me; I can’t share this incredible pain” mud.
So far the only friends and family who know of our limbo are my sisters, his mom, his sibling, and one of his friends. I’ve waited to tell my parents, afraid mom will say “I told you to get a handle on your mood swings years ago,” or “Where’s your faith that he’ll stay?” instead of comforting me. Yesterday husband announced he bought a plane ticket to spend Mother’s Day with his mom, so my mom will want to know why I’m coming alone to visit her that weekend.
And I don’t want to be “the woman who cried divorce” asking for friend help she didn’t really need or to bias my friends against husband if he does stay. In a month – he says he’ll decide by then – a good chunk of far-flung Team Me has our annual gathering. I am really looking forward to it, but also wonder whether I should tell my friends about our marriage-limbo.
1. Do you have any script suggestions for when/what to tell my parents?
2. Do I wait till/if we separate to tell my closest friends? Is it self-centered to want to tell them before the annual fun times, even before I know for certain, just so they can support me? Is it fair to my recently widowed friend to feel sad in her presence about my Schrödinger’s husband?
(P.S. I have read 250 and 16, several times, which helped me to draft the letter to Team Me for if we separate of please this/not that.)
“Losing love is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart”
-Paul Simon, Graceland
First, may I point out how well you are taking care of yourself around this? You’ve been dealt a really hard hand, and you are handling it beautifully and being just lovely to yourself as well as more than generous to your spouse.
Second, a question: Do you want to go home for Mother’s Day this year? I know the trip is planned, and your mom will be disappointed if you don’t show up, but if you’re feeling fragile and you don’t think being around your mom will help with that right now, I give you permission to bail in the name of self-care.
Third, “Husband went to see his mom, so he won’t be joining us” is a perfectly cromulent script for why he isn’t coming with you. Give facts, don’t worry about reasons.
Fourth, if your mom usually reacts to sad news in your life with derailing questions and blaming you, then there is no right time or way to tell her. She will make whatever it is that perfect combination of All Your Fault and All About Her no matter when you do it and how you say it. So, what and when works best for you? Maybe “when a decision to definitely split up has been made” is the right time to loop her in, and maybe it’s best presented as a fait accompli. If she does know sooner, and if she says crappy stuff, there’s always “Wow” + leaving the room, as well as “Mom, I was already feeling crappy, but thanks for letting me know I could always feel crappier about things by telling you about them.” (+ leaving the room).
Fifth, if you want her to know now, consider having your sister lay the groundwork through the family grapevine so you can save yourself the conversation. “Sister, can you let our folks know what’s up with Spouse and me? I want them to know the general landscape (that we’re considering a separation), but I don’t want to have the conversation myself or go into too much detail.” Ask your sister to help be the buffer as much as she can ; I’m sure you both have experience helping each other with this.
Sixth, you can use the same strategy with the upcoming friend gathering if you want: Confide in a close friend or two, and ask them to spread the word so that you don’t have to (or ask them to NOT spread the word if that’s what you want, too). You can make specific requests – “I want people to know what’s going on with me, even if I’m not really up to talk about it yet. I could use hugs/photos of puppies/distraction/brunch/movies.”
Seventh, you can tell the truth without telling all of the truth to every single person. “Spouse and I are having some issues, and I could use a lot of TLC right now” might be a way to get what you need without inviting a lot of commentary you don’t want while things are still being decided. You can be specific about that, too – “I want people to know what’s going on with me, but I can’t handle a lot of commentary from other people while we’re in the middle of deciding what to do. Just be here for me and support me, ok?”
Eighth, close friends may indeed have a knee-jerk “YOU ARE GREAT AND HE IS A TURD” reaction when they hear all about what’s happening. You don’t have to eschew seeking comfort or telling people in your life what’s up with you in order to save face for your spouse. You also don’t have to control everything about how your friends react. “I appreciate your support, but I’m still hoping we can work it out, so hearing his worst qualities is not actually helpful right now. Can you save the judgment and just hang out with me?” If your spouse decides to stay, he’s going to have to do some work to convince you that it’s safe to relax again and some work to win back your friends, and that’s as it should be. You don’t have to control everything about this, or protect him from every consequence.
Ninth, as for being “the woman who cried divorce,” you are being harder on yourself than almost anyone in your life (with the possible exception of your mom) would ever be about this. Relationships only work if they work for the people in them, and in the end I’d bet that the people on Team You want you to be happy, whether you are coupled or un-coupled. You don’t owe the universe a tidy, linear narrative. Go ahead and cry if you want to.
You deserve nothing but kindness, and I’m proud of you for giving it to yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for it from others, and to carve out the space you need.