#904: “My husband is moving away. None of my friends know we were even having problems. How to tell the news?”

Dear Captain,

My husband is suddenly moving abroad. Unilateral decision. Expected me to follow with the teenagers even though I said, before he made plans, that I had no intention of moving abroad and that it was terrible timing for the children. I have many, obvious, practical reasons to not move abroad (like a business) that he glossed over with wishful thinking. He made no practical considerations. Just got a job and a plane ticket. In the space of three weeks. He leaves in a few days.

I’ve been too stunned, confused, full of various emotions, busy with practical considerations, and uncertain of their responses to want to tell my friends. Our long-standing marriage troubles and previous attempted solutions, such as therapy and mini-separations, have been kept private. Except once when I tried to mention something minor to one friend who was rather unexpectedly and hurtfully self-focused, dismissive, and judgmental.

Well, now he’ll be gone, I can’t hide that, I would love moral and practical support, but I expect they’ll have some questions and I don’t know many answers. Nothing is certain about future plans. (We will have a legal agreement concerning finances and such that I’m happy with.) I’m not sure how friends will react. I’m not too worried about acquaintances at the moment, but I don’t know what to say to my closest friends. (None of us are on Facebook and one of us isn’t online at all, so social media and mass email announcements are out.) Can you help me with a script and ideas for when to deploy it?

Thank you, Captain!


Window in my Heart

Dear Window:

If a close friend told you: “Spouse is moving overseas, I’m staying here, he made the decision unilaterally in the space of less than a month. I’ve got whiplash from the changes, and I’m so absorbed with being a suddenly single parent that I don’t even know how to feel or what to do next,” how would you react?

I think you’d be compassionate and kind. You’d listen, without judging. You’d ask what you could do to help – Do they need the kids watched once in a while, do they need a freezer full of casseroles, do they need all the friend-troops gathered and told, do they need a barn raised, are they ok for money, do they want to come to yours for holidays? You’d ask them hard questions, like, “What do you want to do?” or “Do you need the number of a good divorce lawyer?” but you’d do it gently and you’d wait for their answers before diving in with advice. You’d remind your friend that they deserve better treatment from their spouse. You’d probably check in pretty often – once a week, once a month – to say “I love you, Friend. Can I see you/help with anything?

You deserve the same compassion, offers of help, honesty, and listening from your friends. You don’t owe it to anyone to preserve the picture of your marriage that your friends imagine in their minds. You don’t owe them answers! You are allowed to be In The Uncertain Middle of Stuff! If someone says “But I thought you were so great together!” or  “But why didn’t you tell me you were having problems, I had no idea!” try to see it as the surprised, off-guard reaction of someone who wants to know what’s really happening with you and feels guilty for being out of the loop. People kinda suck when they feel guilty, and sometimes you have to show them or tell them how to be there for you.

Your best strategy is the truth. Don’t hide. Don’t fake it. Don’t wait until you’ve made all your decisions and tied things up with a bow. Call your nicest and most trusted friend and tell them The Thing. Once you’ve done that with one person who is close to you, you can relax a little. The news is out there.

Things have been rocky between us for a while. We went through a few rounds of couples’ counseling. It was important to me to keep all that private while it was in process – I didn’t want to jinx the chance that we could work things out by airing my grievances too widely.

Could we not talk about what my marriage looked like from the outside or how to fix the marriage – I am not sure it is fixable – What I need from you is (a little help with the kids)(for you to just listen and not judge me)(an occasional sounding board)(dinner and a movie  – anything to get me out of the house and distract me for a few hours)(an extra set of hands to help me conquer this file monster at work on Saturday).

I am really struggling with telling people. I feel a lot of shame and uncertainty around this. Could you help me out by spreading the word to (Mutual Friends) so I don’t have to have this same conversation over and over again?

If someone is self-focused and judgmental, give yourself permission to write that person off for now and focus on the people who can handle a little vulnerability from you. Also, if you don’t have a counselor who is just for you, this might be a good time to bring one in.

I’m wishing you all the support and love in the world. What a hard thing to have dropped on you! I’m glad you told us. Now tell Team You and we’ll all bounce together into Graceland.






106 thoughts on “#904: “My husband is moving away. None of my friends know we were even having problems. How to tell the news?”

  1. LW, I’m so sorry this is happening. Jedi hugs for you and the kids if you want them.

    I think the Captain is right on target. I would add that you should start with a friend who has traditionally been your friend rather than a friend to you both. (Not that this person should be hostile to your husband, but you want someone who’s closer to you than him for this.)

    Don’t be afraid to ask for exactly what you need. “I’m not up for rehashing what led up to his decision right now; I want to focus on what will happen moving forward.” “Please go with me to that stupid non-romantic comedy in the dollar theater so I can laugh for a couple of hours.” “You. Me. Furious knitting. Now.” Or whatever.

    Give yourself permission to feel whatever needs feeling in the moment. This is a monumentally shitty and selfish thing your husband has done and it has completely upset the fragile peace of your life, and it’s going to take you some time to sort yourself out around it. I would suggest that friends who try to tell you how to feel in the moment aren’t helping as much as they might think they are, and you can feel free to say that: “I know you think I should be pissed at him, but getting on me because I’m not is not actually helping right now. Maybe I’ll be mad later, but right now, I’m just sad and stunned.”

    And, while it sounds like you’re on top of this, as you assemble Team You, don’t neglect Team Your Kids. As teenagers, they’re going through their own stuff and now this landed like a meteor right in the middle of their lives. You know your kids best and the sort of support they’re likely to need, but this is a time when they may look to you for help in the “right” way to react to things. If you show them that this is a BFD and it is totally normal to be confused and discombobulated and, yes, scared, it will help them navigate things better. If you’re comfortable talking to their close friends’ parents, you might call and give them a heads up so they understand if your kid is over there more than usual or seems to be generally pissed at the world.

    Again, I’m so sorry this happened. It sounds like you’re doing as well as could be expected. We’ve all got your back, LW. Please write back and let us know how things are going.

    1. That’s a really compassionate and comprehensive comment and I have nothing to add save an offer of more jedi hugs for the LW and her kids if they want them ♡

      1. Definitely Jedi hugs. I’d also add the more specific suggestion of therapy for the kids Right Now, and parenting should probably involve special emphasis preventing the kinds of mishaps that kids with family problems get involved with; drugs, pregnancy, STDs, and poor school performance.

    2. Another possible suggestion for the kids, only if this works for your particular kids. If they have a teacher they like a lot, especially one they spend lots of time with like a coach or a director, or one that they had in a prior year but still go see for a chat, email the teacher and give them a heads up. I have parents do this from time to time, and not only do I not mind, I love that they know I’m looking out for their kid. It probably wouldn’t have to come with direct instructions unless you want, like “Please talk to Kid about this” or “Please don’t mention this to Kid, especially that I told you.” If your kid likes the teacher, it’s because that teacher handles things the way they need. And taking a thing or two off your plate will help immensely, not to mention putting one more person on Team Your Kids.

  2. I’m sorry for your emotional roller coaster of awfulness. As always the cap had excellent advice. I think that when you tell your friends about it you can start of by saying “husband moved away. I am now feeling _____ I need you to respond with_____/do ______ for me” that way it takes off a lot of pressure for the both of you about how to respond

    1. I’m a little resisting the “I need you to X” phrasing, especially if it’s a particular kind of social/emotional response and not a concrete action, because I don’t like the paradigm that my response is a need of someone else. (If you need me to watch your kids and I can’t, or you need me to be happy for you and I can’t, that puts me in a really awkward situation–I either have to fake a response or transgress a boundary of my own, or stomp on your needs.)

      But “I’d like you to X” or “Can you X” would be rephrasings that I’d be on board with (and I think are closer to what’s meant, anyway).

      1. Also, “I need you to do X” can have the problems you mention, but I think it would be reasonable for the LW to say things like “I need to not hear any advice right now” or “please don’t tell me that I’m better off without him or what I should have done to prevent this.”

        1. I think my knee-jerk reaction was mostly about “I need you to [emotional response]” or “I need you to [non-trivial action],” and I’d be quite happy to believe that it’s idiosyncratic. My, again probably idiosyncratic, experience is that the “I need” phrasing is frequently deployed in abusive relationships, often in the context of “you are expected to manage my emotional responses for me,” and one of my personal defenses is that I have a boundary that says that the only people who are allowed to “need” things from me are helpless dependents (minor children, pets, very ill or elderly relatives). Other people can ask things of me or want things of me but they don’t get to need things of me; I am not responsible for them in that way.

          With that said, your examples wouldn’t set me off. I just wanted to say something because it can be really easy to slip into “I need you to be happy for me” or “I need you to not make a fuss” or whatever and that’s not something I think you can require of someone.

          1. I get this. I had a former boss who was very fond of the phrasing “I need you to” “what I need for you to do” “what I need from you”. She was an awful boss, and so for me also it’s hard to hear this phrasing without gritting my teeth.

          2. I don’t think it’s that idiosyncratic. Telling someone that a particular reaction is unhelpful is perfectly fine, but ‘I need [specific emotional response] from you’ seriously rubs me the wrong way as well.

          3. Okay, thinking it over, I think I know why that sort of phrasing bothers me so much: it’s an implicit order. ‘I need help with [X], can you do that?’ is expressing a need, and allowing someone to decide whether or not they can meet it; ‘I don’t want to talk about [X], let’s change the subject’ is expressing a boundary. ‘I need you to [X]’ is an order phrased as an I-statement.

    2. I was going to suggest something similar. I’ve had good results with being upfront about kind of reaction I want / don’t want during a personal crisis.

      And I’m grateful when friends do the same, because it makes it less likely that I’ll put my foot in my mouth.

      One of my best friends was in a terrible car accident and survived without any permanent injuries. The first time we talked after her accident she told me that she was sick of everyone telling her she was lucky to be alive – she knew that but she was also in soooo much fucking pain that she wasn’t feeling very lucky. And I was so glad she told me that before I unintentionally hurt her by saying something similar.

  3. LW, you mention that electronic communications are not an option, but if you don’t feel comfortable discussing this face-to-face or on the phone, letters are an option too. Maybe also text messages, if you and your friends use mobile phones? The written medium is useful if you’d rather mull the narrative for a bit till you’ve composed a message you’re satisfied with.
    A possible script for talking on the phone or face-to-face could be:
    “Friend, I’m going through a rough time and I need your support. Will you listen to me without talking while I get the whole story out?”
    And then you tell your story and ask for what you need: comfort, coffee, a hug, going out for a walk, a patient ear/shoulder, for them to drive your kids somewhere or to pick up some groceries…
    Be very gentle with yourself and your kids while you all find your footing again. Take all the time you need. And remember: it’s okay, even healthy, for your kids to see that you are sad or hurt or scared. As long as you show them that you love them and that you’re doing your best to keep you all going, you won’t lose any respect in their eyes for not keeping a perfect facade that things are okay. If anything, being honest with them will win you points.
    You can do this.

    1. “it’s okay, even healthy, for your kids to see that you are sad or hurt or scared. As long as you show them that you love them and that you’re doing your best to keep you all going, you won’t lose any respect in their eyes for not keeping a perfect facade that things are okay.


      LW – Jedi hugs if you want them, and I hope you can centre yourself, and that you can make your “new normal” just as fulfilling and rewarding as the old one.

  4. Jedi hugs, LW. One addition to the comment about the kids—from someone who also experienced an abrupt divorce complete with sudden and total departure of the ex.

    Remember to strike a balance. Certainly don’t try to put up a facade: it’s ok (and in fact very good) for them to see you have been crying, and for you to verbalize that you’re sad/hurt/etc. That tells them it is ok to grieve. Just make sure that you also do these two things: (1) Provide them reassurance that everything will be ok, even if things suck right now. (Your kids still need you to be mom and take care of them.) (2) Do not make the kids your confidantes. It’s ok for them to know you are upset, but they should not have to shoulder the burden of making you feel better, nor should they hear any details of your love life that you wouldn’t normally share with kids. Find a friend you can vent to, write in a journal, etc.

    You’ve got this! You will get through, and in time your kids will really appreciate that you were the one who was there for them.

    1. Very important advice! I’d add (3) Make sure they understand that they are not at fault in any way, that no way-no how should they feel responsible for this happening. This did not happen because they did anything, or because they didn’t do anything.
      As teens, they’re more likely to figure that out on their own than younger children, but they still can use the reassurance.

      I cannot imagine what you’re going through. Hang strong, and good luck. And jedi hugs, if you want them.

      1. Especially because your conversations as a couple about the possibility of moving abroad included ‘this would be terrible timing for the kids’ — the kids may have overheard that or may just pick it up from the air. It’s fine for them to know that you care a lot about their continuity in school / friendships etc, but just be careful about letting them imagine that this is the main reason the family didn’t pick up and follow your husband. Teenagers can turn information into accusation, and accusation into a self-esteem crash, faster than almost anyone else.

      2. I am not sure how I would have done things differently, but when I left my marriage, I chose not to tell my daughter that it was because her father had turned physically abusive and seemed determined to escalate. She spent 20 years blaming herself, because I didn’t feel she needed to know that about her father, who is actually a wonderful man outside of our hyper-toxic dynamic (just as I am an awesome woman outside of that marriage– I dunno, relationships can be weird), because “if it hadn’t really been [her] fault, [we] would not have needed to tell [her] it wasn’t.” I didn’t tell her the truth until she was in her twenties, and I feel terrible that she lived through that, thinking that about herself.

        I can sense that someone is about to tell me they are sorry to hear I went through that and I don’t deserve it. That’s true, but I’m over it. What I feel horrible about is having opened the path to her decades of self-recrimination. Her father was abusive toward me, but I abused and neglected her, with the very best of intentions, and there is not a thing I can do to make up for it.

        1. And no shame out there to parents who are doing the best they can! You’re awesome. I think I may be the only self-aware sucky parent in the history of ever…

          1. Telling children of divorce it isn’t their fault is pretty standard, isn’t it? And not telling kids about the other parent’s bad behavior is generally recommended, even if it didn’t work out in this case. Whatever else happened, those particular two things were neither abusive nor neglectful.

    2. Seconding “don’t make the kids your confidantes.” My mother made 14-year-old me her confidante during her divorce from my father and it really affected our relationship for years and years afterward. I’m now a single parent with a teenage daughter of my own, and I can understand the impulse to talk to that person who knows you so well and lives right there in your house, but when I feel the urge coming on, I remember how uncomfortable those conversations with my mom were and stifle it. Journals are always a good option if there’s no one else you trust.

      1. Oh god; my great-grandmother died when my grandma was in her late twenties and my great-grandfather got a girlfriend shortly after that. Only last year, my grandma again told me about how horrifying it was for her to have her father tell her how great his new girlfriend was in bed! That was 53 years ago and she still hasn’t forgotten that or forgiven him. Take note, people.

      2. My husband’s late mother thought it was OK to call him when she and his dad were fighting and she had locked herself in the bathroom. She thought it was OK to tell him how miserable she was with his father (which any rational person would be, to be honest). She thought it was OK to share with my sister in law that her husband forced her (she had COPD) to perform oral sex on him.

        My husband thought it was normal for his mother to share this stuff.

        I don’t know if it’s normal, but it is not healthy.

        1. Gold Digger, I was so sad that Sly died after Doris. My grandparents-in-law were similar (although less alcoholism), and my husband’s grandmother got several happier years (and slightly improved relationships with her grandkids) after her husband passed. I wished for that for Doris.

        2. “Thought it was okay to call [her adult son ] when …she had locked herself in the bathroom” during a “fight” and to tell her adult daughter she’d been sexually assaulted by her husband?

          Sure, she could have called emergency services from the bathroom and a hotline about the sexual assault. But should she have hidden these events from her adult children? And was their first concern “Ew, don’t tell me that,” or “I’ll be right over, and can I call the police for you?”

          1. I mean, basically, yes. The adult children probably already know about the father dynamic, so it’s not really “hiding” it, but they certainly do not owe their mother their intervention.

            In situations like mine, where I was my mother’s main confidant about her relationship with my father, she manipulated kid me into some pretty shitty emotional states. There was literally nothing I could do to help, but she forced me to bear the emotional burden for her and really drove a wedge into my relationship with my dad.

            Now that I’m an adult, she continues to try to do this, but I have the ability to say, “Well, that sucks. I hope you can figure out what to do next. I’m done talking about this.”

            Sure, my dad is actually a pretty good guy and wasn’t abusing my mom. The dynamic of being the sole confidant and fixer-of-things should not fall to someone’s offspring, and if it happened often when the adult child was young too, there can be a lot of pent up resentment towards the mom.

            I do not owe her any attempt to fix her life and I do not owe her a captive audience to whatever she’s dealing with.

      3. Being my mother’s confidante during my parents’ breakup made me suicidal. I tried to be her rock but I am not a rock, I am a person.

      4. Thirding this. My mom made just-turned-18-me into her confidante about during her divorce from my (absolutely horrible) stepfather, and I still have anxiety issues stemming from that. And it caused a rift between me and my brother b/c he didn’t know as much of what was going on as I did, but I didn’t feel like I could tell him any of it. I had to keep it all to myself. It was just a mess, and I really wish she had gone to a friend with that stuff. I know why she trusted me, but I really wish she hadn’t; it was enormously stressful on top of everything else that was going on.

    3. Yes to this!!!! As a child of divorced parents I was recruited to be mom’s confidant, therapist, sounding board, the one who’s job it was to makw wverything better and NO just NO. The pressure I felt to be all the things and the guilt I felt at being unable to stop my mom’s tidal wave of sadness and solve all her problems was engulfing and now I barely talk to her.

      1. Also yes to this. In my case, my mother stayed with my father “for the sake of the kids” and used me as her confidante. Looking back, I have compassion for her situation (trapped in a small town not of her choosing, with a social circle who were not really her friends and who were liable to blab anything she confided in any of them) but also great intermittent waves of anger that rise when I remember how she added to my unhappiness and isolation (I spoke on another thread about my sister’s perception of me as the favourite: this intimacy with my mother, to me unwanted and painful, was what my sister was seeing and envying). That said, it does sound to me like the LW is aware of this, and looking for ways to find support outside the immediate family.

        LW, would it be possible for you to see a counsellor? – perhaps practice some of these conversations with him or her first? I had brief conselling, just two or three sessions each time, at a couple of difficult times in my life, once when I had to stand up for myself over a medical issue, and once when someone close was dying and I was struggling for ways to talk about what was happening without inviting people to pry or lecture me.

        In the latter case in particular, a few counselling sessions really made a difference. For the reasons above, I tend to keep things that trouble me private, and it sounds to me as if you, for your own good reasons, have done the same. What I found was that just the fact of speaking the problems aloud to someone for what was really the first time, knowing that person would neither judge nor gossip, was much more help than I expected. And with that ice broken, the counsellor was able to help me practice some ways of talking about the situation that I was comfortable with and that would deflect unhelpful responses.

        I wish you and your kids all the best. Jedi hugs if helpful

  5. Your friends may be not as surprised as you imagine. I don’t think that the sort of man who’d expect you to abandon your business (!) to move overseas with him at the drop of a hat has been able to conceal that aspect of his personality from everyone.

    1. Yeah, I had a friend say, “I’m sure this is going to be a huge shock for you, but Joe and I are getting a divorce,” and I had to bite my tongue against the response that leapt to my lips, which was, “Actually no, I’ve kind of been expecting this for a while.” I mean, I didn’t say that, that would be insensitive. But I think especially close friends may notice more than we (we generally) assume they will.

      1. I Have said that, and now I can see how hurtful it was and how judged my friend must’ve felt. I thought I was empathizing. My social scripts are way off, but oh don’t I wish for the adult Aspie diagnosis and help that I need. Hard to find. Sorry I was so unknowingly toxic, world.

      2. I have actually been shocked by friends’ divorces, more than once. It doesn’t mean I blamed anyone involved, and even if I felt momentarily bad at being what seemed like the last friend to know, I got over it. Really. And frankly I’m a private person myself so if I was in that situation I probably wouldn’t tell almost anyone until the last moment either!

        This just to say that even if someone IS surprised, it doesn’t mean they blame you or something, more likely just that you caught them off guard and the world isn’t quite how they thought it is, which is a little unsettling. But they’ll deal with it.

    2. Oh my, yes. About six months ago, I found out that a couple who had been together since high school were separating. That lasted maybe a month before the wife decided that nope, it was going to be permanent, she did not want to be married to this guy anymore. I was…not shocked, and the husband was someone I had considered a friend (His post-split behavior, though, made me decide *not* to keep reaching out, as he was being really shitty about me and other mutual friends for no reason). I knew what kind of guy he was, and I was honestly surprised that she’d hung in there for fifteen years.

      Not that I said any of that, mind you. What was said was, “I’m here if you need anything, and I’m not judging you,” to both parties. Even in my un-surprise, I knew full well that I didn’t and couldn’t know the truth of their relationship and the day-to-day, so I didn’t feel it was my place to speculate or make pronouncements in the aftermath. Point is, for the LW, is that no one got judged for the breakup, and I knew it was time to “dump out” if I had any feelings (which I didn’t, really, as it’s not my relationship, but YMMV).

    3. Yes, this, definitely. I never told anyone about the problems my ex and I were having yet after I left him pretty much everyone was all, “Good for you! I was wondering when you’d finally leave.”

    4. BT/DT. I was dreading having to tell friends and family that I was divorcing–I was sure they would judge me, especially since I was the one initiating the breakup. Yeah, not so much. The reaction could best be described as a collective sigh of relief.

  6. LW, I have so much sympathy for you. There must be so much you are dealing with now, both emotionally and practically.

    When I was a child my father pulled a somewhat similar stunt on my mother – in his case 2:00 am phone calls from the US, where he was supposedly on a year’s secondment, ordering my mother to immediately sell up and prepare to emigrate to join him.

    i know a lot of people had trouble believing how totally unexpected and out of the blue this was and that a lot of people were saying things like, “but you must have talked about this before,” “but you must have known he was interested in emigrating,” etc. and generally giving the impression that they thought my mother was exaggerating her shock and confusion. I suspect you may be worried about similar reactions along with everything else.

    But you have laid out the situation very clearly and succinctly for the commentariat here – we believe you and want to support you. So will other people. Try not to feel you have to make excuses or give explanations for your husband’s behaviour. You can just lay out the facts and let people draw there own conclusions. It also likely that people, perhaps including your children and your in-laws will be expressing, confusion, disappointment and anger that really should be directed at him, at you, simply because your are there and he is not! There is no reason you shouldn’t point out to them how unfair this is – suggest they text, e-mail, facebook him with their questions and observations.

    Indeed, whether he knows it or not, this is likely the reason for the disappearing act – he gets a separation, you get to deal with all the fallout. By the time he reappears it will be old news, not worth giving him grief over. On the other hand their are probably a lot of people who will see his behaviour for what it is – lacking in all consideration for others.

  7. Eh, you can’t be sure. When my husband announced he was leaving me for his business partner and moving a thousand miles from his children last spring, I was surprised, but not totally. Everyone else was completely, but completely, shocked: he’d never been anything publicly but completely besotted with me and the kids.

  8. Oh LW, I’m so sorry. This has got to be really rough for you. I’ll be thinking about you.

    One thing I’d like to note: sometimes when people are surprised by something, they don’t respond great immediately. Sometimes they blurt something foolish, or just stare at you like you grew a second head until you feel like an alien. It has been a great, great ease to my anxiety to realize that when people do that, it’s often not because they actually think the foolish thing that popped out of their mouth, or because they really do think you’re a bonkers alien person. It’s because they just don’t know what to say–this isn’t part of the understood script. And we all have situations where we don’t know what the kind or appropriate thing to say is; if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have people writing in on a constant basis asking the Captain for scripts!

    It’s easy, from inside your own head, to know that when you gape silently or blurt something foolish that it’s not judgmentalness, it’s just an internal moment of crap, that was not where I was expecting this conversation to go, let me scramble for something to say that’s thoughtful! and not being able to do it off the cuff–but when other people do it to us, we assume that they’re in complete control of their responses, so if they’re staring blankly or say something weird, they must mean it the way it came out. It made a huge difference in my own ability to navigate these kinds of conversations to realize that the vast majority of people are, like me, kind of scrambling through conversations, and a lot of weirdness means nothing more than “I am a fallible human person who was caught off-guard; give me a few more seconds to wrap my head around this new information so that I can say something sensitive and helpful.”

    1. and a lot of weirdness means nothing more than “I am a fallible human person who was caught off-guard; give me a few more seconds to wrap my head around this new information so that I can say something sensitive and helpful.”

      Seconding this. I once had a friend come out to me – while I was rather desperately wondering if I had cancer. It was an awkward conversational moment. As I happens, I was in the clear, and a few days later, once I knew that, I explained to her why I’d been so distracted.

      All the hugs, LW. It’ll be tough but you’ll get through this, and in many ways it’s an advantage to have the ex a ‘plane flight away.

    2. Yes, definitely! I understand the advice of “when someone shows you who they are, believe them” but I wouldn’t take that to mean “if somebody says something insensitive or weird once, never trust them again.” I wonder if, for some people, it might actually be better for them to find out *not* in person from you? Either in an email, or from another person? I know when I went through something rough I did not want to tell everybody separately, again and again, so having one or two trusted friends “spread the news” was pretty useful.

      (this is from somebody who has blurted out ridiculous things and sometimes cringes at some of the internet forum advice which can sound a bit like ‘if this person said something unfortunate once they don’t deserve you’.)

      And sometimes there can be mismatched expectations! For instance, I am bi and most of my friends are LGBT, so when a friend of mine told me she was bi I didn’t realize she wanted more of a response than the one I gave.

      Or phrases that just particularly set someone off! Like, for me, I absolutely loathe “what do you want me to say?” because I had an ex use it to mean “why are you telling me this?” when I shared something personal. But somebody else could totally use that in a non-jerk way and I’d still have an instinctive negative reaction.

      1. Yeah, I’m the same way. I feel like “when someone shows you who they are, believe them” is sensible for consistent or repeated actions/statements, or actions/statements that are clearly premeditated, but we all know that many (most? all?) people sometimes have a “holy shit no idea how to reply to that” moment and say something “wrong” because of that, not out of malice or callousness. (Again, if that wasn’t the case, “can I have a script for this?” wouldn’t be so commonly-requested in letters to CA!)

        My horrible example is when my mother called me to tell me that my father was in the hospital after having two massive heart attacks. I blurted, “But what about Labor Day?” (We’d been planning to have a family trip to a national park for Labor Day.) It wasn’t because I was really so callous or awful that my vacation plans were the first thing on my mind–in fact it was the opposite: I love my dad so much, and I was so scared for him in that moment, that it was like my brain had just given up, static on the line, and the thing that came out of my mouth was literally the first thing my scrambling synapses could find. Fortunately, I was like, “Oh my god, mom, I’m so sorry, that’s not what I meant, I just was so surprised,” and she reassured me that she understood, she’d thrown a fit about hospital sandwiches that morning too, because extreme stress means that our ability to prioritize can go out the window. (He turned out to be okay, in the end and after much surgery, and a couple of years later we did make that trip to the park.)

        If I had a habit of callousness, if that kind of me-centric trivial response was something that happened normally, then yeah, it’d be fair to think that I was cold and self-centered. But the first moment after a surprise is a time when a lot of peoples’ brains don’t really work at peak efficiency, and it can be comforting to remember that almost everybody has dealt with this at one time or another.

    3. I know when I have that moment, I sometimes actually say, “Oh! That was unexpected; give me a second to process?” I find it slightly less awkward than just staring at them like they suddenly started speaking in tongues, even though that may be how my brain is reacting.

  9. LW, I am so sorry. This sucks for you and for your kids, and I want to start by saying I wish you all the very, very best.

    I have a friend to whom a similar thing happened–her husband took a job on the other side of the country (with her full knowledge and support) and he moved there first as planned, but then he told her that he didn’t want her to come, their marriage was over, and by the way he wanted custody of their daughter so please put her on the next plane. My friend told the bare bones of the story to a few people privately and then let word spread naturally; we were all SHOCKED but I think at least most of us were supportive and didn’t pry too terribly. She had a very rough time for a while–not longer after that happened she discovered he’d not been paying the mortgage and she ended up losing her house, which didn’t help matters–but now she and her daughter are doing well and thriving.

    Both Drew and Anonymous @ 12:15 had great advice about working through this with your children. Teenagers are not easy creatures in the best of times; this may be a good time to get each of them a therapist that specializes in adolescent issues, just to be preemptive. You’ll get through this, and I wish you many good things to come.

    1. @ LeighTX, may I jedi punch your friend’s ex in the throat? (i mean, jedi punch the way we jedi hug, not the way Vader does it.)

      Glad she’s doing well. What an underhanded, vindictive, cowardly way of doing things.

      1. Yes, you may for sure jedi punch him in the throat! It shocked EVERYONE who knew him; he was always the nicest guy, just a total sweetheart. Obviously there was stuff underneath that no one else saw.

        Funny aside: when this all happened my friend told me they’d been having problems for about a year. When I repeated that to my husband (to whom I’d been married over 20 years at that point) snickered and said, “Amateurs.” (And that sense of humor is how we’ve stayed married all this time!)

  10. LW, I’m so so sorry this is happening to you. Jedi hugs and virtual foodlove to you!

    This reminds me of a similar secret situation that a friend of mine recently disclosed: Very Close Friend has been in a relationship with an older human for 4+ years, but because that person was their boss, VCF had to keep it quiet. During one drinking evening about 6 months ago, VCF spilled the beans, and was clearly feeling very guilty about it. I was surprised, sure, and a little tiny part of me was hurt for not knowing. But my main concern was letting VCF know that I was happy for them, that I was in no way upset or judgmental toward them for keeping this thing secret, and to this day am supportive and loving toward them and their (still mostly) secret relationship with Boss. Contrast this with another close friend VCF told, who flipped out because this friend felt that they had been “misled” and “lied to” and basically hit the IMPLODE button on the whole friendship.

    This is the difference between the friends who are actually your FRIENDS, and those who are not. The Captain is right in that people will probably react awkwardly in the moment, but if they really care about you, they will make their support known after they get over the momentary surprise of the news. As my therapist frequently tells me, “emotions are information.” If someone starts losing their shit all over you (after the initial surprise/shock), they’re telling you that they are probably not going to be someone you can lean on. That sucks! But it’s good to know that now. Those people who really care about YOU, about your well-being, how you’re feeling, will let that love shine through in their words and actions.

    Again, I’m so sorry that things worked out this way. You have been incredibly strong in dealing with this and the previous marital problems! Now is the time to pass some of the weight of this onto those people who really care about you, and discard those people who don’t. You will get through this, and will emerge with a strong and powerful Team You. You deserve it!

  11. How your friends or your “friends” or your acquaintances or your enemies react isn’t something you can realistically control. Your friends will react how they will, and you don’t have any obligation to protect them or feed in to how they view their story of how you are or who you are. I realize your question probably comes from a fear of them having reactions that stress you out, so when you do tell someone and they have a reaction that is uncomfortable or something you don’t feel like dealing with–you don’t have to deal with it. You can hang up the phone/leave the room/delete the email as you see fit. This is a time in your life when you need to do a lot of caring about YOU and managing other people’s feelings and reactions isn’t one more burden that comes with all of this. I hope your friends react with kindness and compassion, but not all people can muster that in all circumstances, and since I don’t know your friends, I can’t predict how they will react. However, kindness and compassion is what you deserve, so remember it isn’t your job to endure any other kind of treatment.

    That said, if you want to keep any and all reactions at arms’ length, consider writing a letter (or email to those who have email) so that your friends can have their immediate reactions someplace away from you. Usually, good, reasonable people who respect you and want to be kind will treat you as such, but even those people may be taken by surprise and surprise sometimes makes people say things they otherwise wouldn’t. This is your news, and you can deliver it through any medium you wish–you don’t “owe” anyone a phone call or in-person retelling of the situation.

    1. I like Biancasnoozes’ advice about not taking on people’s reactions. It’s easier said than done—caring about your friends’ feelings is normal, because you care about your friends! But it can help to give yourself permission ahead of time.

      LW, if you email some of your email-having friends about this, remember to email them individually and/or use bcc. It’s good practice for group emails in general, but in this specific case it will prevent anyone who unfortunately chooses to center their own feelings from derailing an entire email thread. Best of luck!

    2. Seconding this. A friend of mine who I’ve known most of my life was short and to the point about letting us know about her separation from her husband when it happened (and yes, it was a surprise), but she didn’t want to talk through everything or to go into depth about the problems she was dealing with. She wanted friends for distraction, and that was how we helped out. Two years later I only know the basics of the story and not all the details – maybe she’ll want to talk about at some point, maybe she won’t. You don’t owe someone a particular timeline of delivering the news, and you don’t owe the whole story all at once if you’re not feeling it.

  12. Oh LW, I’m so sorry. This sounds horrifying. I hope that your friends will be gracious and understanding and give you all the love and support you need during this tough time! Sadly, it may be one of those things who shows who you who your Real Friends are, but let me tell you: one Real Friend is worth at least 30 Crappy Friends. The exchange rate may be even higher in especially awful situations, I’m not sure. All the Jedi hugs (if you want them).

    On a lighter note, Captain, you are the best for referencing Graceland! That whole album makes me so happy (my parents played it nonstop during my childhood, so I associate it with a lot of great memories). I’ve been dragging a little bit today, but I think that Spotifying the crap out of that album will make for a productive afternoon. 🙂

  13. Captain, I want to thank you for this:

    If someone says “But I thought you were so great together!” or “But why didn’t you tell me you were having problems, I had no idea!” try to see it as the surprised, off-guard reaction of someone who wants to know what’s really happening with you and feels guilty for being out of the loop. People kinda suck when they feel guilty, and sometimes you have to show them or tell them how to be there for you.

    Because I’ve been that guilty-feeling person, and that was a kind and understanding way of calling out that behavior.

  14. LW, I am so sorry about your current situation. How absolutely awful.

    I am not a lawyer, but my spidey-senses are telling me that you should probably get one. Even if you don’t divorce, this situation is going to affect your finances and your children’s lives, and I wouldn’t want to face that sort of situation without a solid knowledge of what my rights were as a parent, spouse, and business owner.

    1. Ooh, yes. This will definitely affect property, finances, and potentially custody, and you really want to know where you stand legally as early as possible. A consult doesn’t commit you to doing anything, but it gives you much more information to make future decisions more effectively and wisely.

      1. Yeah — getting a lawyer can feel scary, if you are having hopes of reconciling, it just feels like — oh that is going to kill the possibility, that makes this all real, I should wait, that would be combative to do. The thing is, lawyers know lots of things you probably don’t; they dispense dispassionate advice; they don’t know you and they don’t know your partner and how things have been and how things might be. They just say — here is what is, do what you will with it. It is the opposite of terrifying and doom-spelling to talk to somebody who takes that approach. It is calming and clarifying and thus very helpful in a time of shock and upheaval.

    2. seconding the need for a lawyer. Maybe one of the first things your friends can help with is with that–when you’re in crisis the process of researching professional help can be overwhelming. Even if divorce is not the ultimate outcome, legal consultation now can make sure the LW’s rights are protected.

      1. Thirding. You don’t want to wake up and find out he cleaned out all the joint accounts and took your name off everything.

    3. I am a divorce lawyer and I agree. You need to know where you stand and to take any action necessary to protect your position meantime. A good divorce lawyer won’t add to existing conflict or push you to do anything you aren’t ready for or don’t want to do.

      1. Yes, exactly. It’s interesting because I see this all the time in both relationship and employment forums–someone will get a hint that their partner might be not being totally honest with them, or someone might think that they have a legitimate EEOC or harassment case at work, and suggestions of “go get a consult with a lawyer” are met with “Oh no! I couldn’t escalate things or burn bridges or throw away chances for a reconciliation!”

        But it’s not like the divorce lawyer is going to go “MUAHAHAHAHAHA” and go file the divorce papers for you, or the employment is going to run off in the night and sue your company without your say-so, or something, and light those bridges on fire without you. A consultation with a lawyer is information, and the potential power to do something with it if you want to. Ever since I noticed this, I have been trying to gently but consistently push back on the idea that even asking a lawyer’s opinion is some kind of awful nuclear option that will Wreck Everything.

        (Not a lawyer, myself. Just someone who thinks that in many cases, it’s wise to get as much information as you can as you decide what to do, and experts are often the way to do it.)

        1. I agree completely.

          When I was getting divorced, one of the first things my lawyer told me during the initial consult was that if I wanted to try to save the relationship, she would support me in that aim as best she could. I was certain that I wanted to divorce but I appreciated her attitude.

          People should keep in mind that attorney-client privilege is strong protection and generally means that the lawyer won’t so much as hint that you’ve consulted them unless they have your permission (either explicit, as in a release, or implicit in the task you want done such as sending your tenant an eviction notice).

          Lawyers who are not models of discretion usually don’t stay in business long.

          1. LW says there’s going to be a legal agreement about finances, I got the sense a lawyer’s already been utilized?

          2. Theaz, it is completely possible to come to a legal agreement without involving even a single lawyer. For small matters where conflict is unlikely, not a big deal. For a matter that involves children and the possibility for conflict, not a good idea. Sometimes, in the shock of the moment, people lose their normal sense of perspective, make an agreement while in that state and later find they’ve agreed to something they really wish they hadn’t.

            I almost did that when I got divorced. When my ex told me he was leaving, I was so shocked that in the moment I agreed to a DIY divorce (legal in my state if there are no children involved). In fact, if my ex hadn’t been a ninny, I would have ended up with a vehicle with 110,000 miles on it after investing 17 years and close to half a million dollars funding my ex from high school dropout to Ph.D (student debt of less than $7000, incurred because I became disabled and lost all three of the jobs I was working at the time).. I agreed to that on the same day he told me he wanted a divorce. During our marriage, he said he couldn’t work and go to college at the same time, so his contribution was $17,000 (yes, an average of $1000 a year). Fortunately, my ex’s therapist told him I was taking advantage of him, so he filed for alimony from me and I then got a lawyer.

            Two morals I got from the whole kerfuffle: a) get your own lawyer and b) a therapist is not an adequate substitute for a lawyer. If his therapist hadn’t thrown a spanner in the works by telling him I was taking advantage of him by not paying him alimony, I would have literally sacrificed close to half a million bucks in return for practically nothing (a vehicle worth less than $6000).

            Tangential memory: in court, his lawyer argued that my working to support him through his Ph.D was a gift with no reasonable expectation of return or reciprocation. Like I had just picked a random guy off the street and given him a Ph.D! The judge did not think much of that argument and it may have been a factor in awarding me reimbursement for my legal fees (very unusual in my state; almost always each spouse pays their own attorney fees).

            The few times I’ve had to consult a lawyer (one divorce, a couple business deals), I ended up saving much more money than I spent on the lawyer’s fee.

            tl;dr Doesn’t hurt to remind someone who may still be in emotional shock that they can and probably should have a lawyer of their own (no lawyer sharing!).

          3. @Duly Concerned: your ex’s therapist told him *you* were taking advantage of *him* after you basically put him through school in the U.S.? (I specify because there are other countries where it wouldn’t be such a huge proposition.) That’s… bizarre. I’m glad it ultimately kept you from accepting an unfair agreement.

          4. Ldot Idot, yes and yes. I did forget my inherent US-centrism, I should have specified this was in the US.

            His lawyer’s argument was particularly insulting because after I helped him get his GED, he figured out that he wasn’t much more interested in the jobs that he could get with the GED than he was in the jobs he could get as a high school dropout. Then he discovered that he couldn’t work and carry a full time class schedule (neither of us realised it at the time but he had ADD, which increased his difficulties in studying). We agreed that I would support him while he got his bachelor’s, then he would support me to my bachelor’s. Which wasn’t exactly symmetrical because I already had 2 years’ worth of credits and I now see that as a signpost that indicated the general direction of our relationship. We agreed to keep alternating that way until we each had our Ph.Ds.

            After he got his bachelor’s, he still didn’t like his job prospects and he really wanted to go on to his Ph.D, so I agreed to keep supporting him and then he would support me to my Ph.D. I would probably lose some of my previously earned credits (some schools put a time limit on transferred credits) but that didn’t bother me so much that it would be a deal breaker.

            So to have his lawyer argue that our agreement had been a no strings attached gift was revisionist history, to say the least.

            Oh, the third moral? Get the best lawyer in your area. When I realised I needed a lawyer, I got the best one in our area. She was certified to argue in front of the US Supreme Court and she had won many precedent setting cases in our state.

            My ex’s parents had friends who had a daughter who had just gotten her JD and had a brand new law practice. When he dragged me into court (versus agreeing to a settlement), that was the first case she’d ever actually presented in court.

            Yeah. It was like swatting an ant with a 16 ton anvil.

            My lawyer observed to me at one point that his lawyer clearly had no control over her client and was allowing him to act like a jerk with motion after motion and not being able to get him to accept that if the matter went to court, there was no way a judge would let him get away with a blatantly asymmetric deal.

            He ended up paying me reimbursement alimony and my lawyer’s fees. USSC certified lawyers aren’t cheap but they’re worth so much more than a newbie JD who has never actually been in court. If he had stuck to our original agreement, I would also have stuck to it because I’d given my word (same reason I stayed in the marriage so long, etc). When he decided he didn’t want to accept our agreement, I no longer felt obliged to conform to it.

            I am still, lo these many years later, shaking my head in disbelief at just how far my ex would go to shoot himself in the foot.

          5. @Duly Concerned thanks for sharing your (quite amazing) story. I’m making a good note of your advice!

    4. She needs one NOW. If he goes over seas, he can drain their finances and make it VERY difficult for her. Ditto on child support.

      Also, to have a divorce, you have to serve someone the papers. Much more difficult if he’s in Timbuktu.

    1. Wow, thanks for the link! Chump Lady, where have you been all my life? (goes back to binge-reading archives).

    2. Ehhh, Chump Lady lives in an extremely black and white world and her advice is often not very nuanced or kind. Good for rage-catharsis but won’t really get you any further.

      1. Yeah, she seems very invested in a narrative that cheating is the Worst Thing Ever for everyone, that immediate divorce is always the best solution when your partner has cheated on you, and that it’s not possible to leave a marriage except with a big, adversarial battle. All of these things may or may not be true for any individual person (while cheating is not cool, plenty of people don’t find it to be their ultimate dealbreaker; plenty of relationships survive one partner having an affair; and plenty of people manage to have relatively civil and relatively fair divorces.) It’s fine if it’s true that if your partner ever cheated, you would automatically want to leave your marriage, but I think making the blanket assumption that everyone should isn’t very useful.

        1. The problem is not so much just the infidelity as the lying, gaslighting, blameshifting and financial theft that go along with keeping the infidelity a secret from a spouse. The other truth is time spent on infidelity really works as an abandonment of family time and spousal support towards the goals of the marriage. Antelope is right that plenty of people separate and divorce relatively amicably, but there are some devious selfish people who can pretend to be a good person and then shift after being married. I never would have believed it without personal experience. I got to learn about personality disorders through several years of increasing cruelty when I stopped supporting and started questioning every impulse my ex spouse had. It’s a real thing, how cruel people can be to intimate family members while pretending very convincingly to be a good person outside the family. Chump Lady helps beated down folks get some anger on to start saving themselves and their beloved family members.

        2. It depends entirely on your situation but if you are being screwed over by a narcissist, her advice is sound. Starting with LAWYER UP. Even if you don’t think you need one, you do.

        1. She referenced “disordered types” and then more or less goes on to state that high conflict divorces are almost always caused by one party having a personality disorder. It’s gross because neurotypical people are perfectly capable of behaving badly and people who aren’t neurotypical don’t deserve people automatically assuming they’re going to behave badly.

          It’s particularly jarring in contrast to the Captain’s advice which makes a point to focus on behaviour over any potential diagnosis.

        2. It doesn’t, which is why the talk about “untreated psychotics, and flaming personality disorders” stings so much. Just, like, what are some examples of awful people? Oh, I know! The mentally ill!

          Yeah, fuck off, lady.

          1. Yeah, her narrative is… um. Lots of unhelpful armchair diagnoses. She seems to believe that you must have ASPD and NPD to cheat, and in the comments, you see a lot of spouses whose partners were suffering clinical depression. They tend to be deeply hurt and very unkind.to anyone who claims mental illness, whether or not they cheated. The slut-shaming is off the charts, and there is a nauseous dance of glee that comes whenever any celebrity who has tried to patch up their marriage after an affair succumbs to divorce. They can be super-nasty about mixed-race couples, as well.

            It is, however, an excellent short-term recovery resource.when you are afflicted by zombie relationships, which will neither revive nor stay dead, and can be very helpful when blindsided by an affair— including the moment when you realize you don’t want to be the sort of person who revels in rolling in the Chumplady filth any more.

          2. *checks back*

            Oh. I saw “disordered” and didn’t think that referred to mental illness necessarily. Somehow skipped over the psychotics/personality disorders. Nevermind.

      1. And the comments are chock full of misogynist slut shaming. I poked around on the site and made the mistake of reading several comment threads on the post where Chump Lady asked her readers to share the story of when they decided to “stop being a chump.” Quite a few of them devolved into horrible rants that were more about critiquing and shaming the “other woman,” than saying much of anything about the *actual* person who broke promises to them. There may be some good stuff about recognizing gaslighting and untangling yourself from it, but you have to wade through a metric ton of BS to get it. No thanks. That site feels really toxic to me.

      2. Pretty sure Chump Lady herself has been banned from commenting here for similar stuff, too.

  15. LW, something that was true for me and a few other people I’ve known: coping with and working on a troubled marriage can suck up vast amounts of emotional energy, which leaves little left for other relationships like friendships. When this happens, when the marriage has been teetering back and forth for a length of time, it can have an isolating effect. Not necessarily because the spouse is an abuser, it’s just an effect of not having enough emotional energy left to invest in keeping friendships close and alive.

    So when the end is suddenly nigh, you look around and realise that if feels like all your friend relationships have become less close and while the concept of a Team You sure sounds good, you can’t actually name anyone on it who isn’t paid to be there (therapist, life coach or the like). You may realise that people you were formerly very close to slid out of closeness because you had all this other emotional stuff going on that you did not feel you could share, so the effect to those formerly close friends is that you have been slo-mo dropping them. You may even suddenly realise that you weren’t able to be emotionally there for some people when they were going through the vicissitudes of life and feel like you no longer deserve their emotional support.

    This may not be true for you specifically, LW. It’s just a possibility that is true for some but far from all people.

    If something in this rings true for you, though, here’s my suggestion: get in touch with your formerly close friends who are now just social friends and tell all. All about how your marriage has suddenly imploded and you realise now that it was taking up so much energy that you didn’t have much left for being a close, supportive friend and are they willing to listen to you despite that?

    There are no guarantees. You may well discover that some of those people are going through stuff of their own that you did not know about because of loss of closeness or that they have been feeling angry hurt with you and cannot put that aside. You may also discover that you have friends who say “just say the word and I’ll jump in the truck right now and drive 2000 miles to come hold your hand over coffee while you tell me about it” and absolutely mean it. You may have friends who say “I have to tell you that this is not exactly a surprise to me but I thought you didn’t want me to know. I just want you to know I’m here for you now.”

    Having a therapist on Team You can help immensely merely by being someone not emotionally invested to get a broader perspective from. You can also roleplay with your therapist to help you find coherent words to get you through something that can feel very primitive and incoherent.

    As my mama used to tell me, things always work out. Meaning that even though right now everything may feel chaotic and overwhelming, all you have to do is make small decisions right now and the right path for you will eventually become clear to you.

    1. This. I was very anxious and concerned when I reached out to a friend I hadn’t been in contact with in months because I had troubles occupying so much energy (not relationship troubles, but still life changing things). She was very understanding and kind and made me realize that good friendships get over periods of no contact very well, especially if there are reasons why it was hard for you to stay in contact. This is not the only friend either where the friendship first took a nap and is now fully awake again. I never had friends I am in contact with daily/weekly and I used to feel (especially in bad periods of my life) that I had no friends. However, every friendship is different and I know now that I have some really really great friends that are always there if I need them, even if we don’t hang out that often.My friendships grow stronger when we help each other through hard times and I’d never turn a friend down if they need my help, even if we have drifted apart. A lot of people are the same. Find one or two people you always connected to and felt like you could ask for support. Chances are they feel the same connection, no matter how close you are right now.

  16. Dear LW,

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    What you describe sounds so hard.

    As the Captain points out, though, your friends will want to support you and stand by you.

    Some of them, sadly, will want to rehearse mean thoughts they have about your husband (they will think this is supporting you: during my breakups- including 2 divorces- I have not found this helpful.) Most of them, I firmly believe, will say something that indicates they love you.

    Believe in your friends’ love.

    Use them for rants, not the kids.

    One other thing. You mention that you and your husband will come to a financial agreement that works for you. That’s good,. Even so, I highly recommend that you see a divorce lawyer for yourself.

    Again, Jedi hugs

  17. Sometimes people like LW’s soon-to-be ex-hubby are just cowards.

    A woman I know came home from a weekend away to find that her husband had moved out, taken his clothes and half the furniture. He didn’t have the balls to tell her he wanted a divorce, and she soon learned he had moved in with another woman. The woman who was dumped was a difficult person but after 30 years, she deserved better, as did the LW. Interestingly, the ex-husband lost most of his friends because they lost respect for him.

    Best wishes on your move forward, LW.

    1. My mother did this to my father. She moved us INTO THE HOUSE OF the man who not that long after became my stepfather.

      Then, six months later, she up and moved us a thousand miles away. I never saw my father again. I never, ever, ever forgave her, left home when I was sixteen, and do not speak to her to this day. I am not entirely rational on this subject, so I’m just going to withhold my entirely uninformed opinion of LW’s husband and add my well-wishes and encouragement to those already expressed.

      LW, think of it this way: you’ve just practiced this very difficult and awkward conversation on US. We, strangers on the Internet, wholeheartedly support you, amongst and despite our own varied baggage and snap judgments. Your actual friends who know and love you will have a variety of initial reactions too, but what matters is that they do know and love you and will support you (and the ones who don’t will sort themselves out very readily.)

  18. Much sympathy, LW. Although it sounds like you are well rid of such a self-centered dude.

    I’m a big fan of sharing news like this by letter or individual email, to allow the recipients to have their first reactions in privacy and have a chance to process before seeing me. If I’m already upset, and especially if I’ve been burned by people reacting less-than-supportively in the past, I’d really much rather give people the opportunity to get over their first reactions in private.

  19. This sounds incredibly difficult, LW. I also highly recommend literally telling friends as you inform them what you need from them. Honestly, a lot of the time, people WANT to help but there’s this weird expectation that somehow they just have to psychically know how and not ask. So just tell them!

    “Hey, XYZ thing is happening in my life right now. This might change because everything is changing, I dunno, but right now, what would help me most is if you gave me advice/distracted me with shitty movies & popcorn/helped me figure out schedules for picking up my kids/etc.”

    Sometimes people unintentionally get pushy in their effort to help by asking too many questions after you’ve made it clear you don’t want to answer them. Sometimes it helps to respond to that by saying, “Friend, I need you to let those questions go right now and trust me to remember that I know I can come to you if I need to, okay?”

    Good luck, LW.

    1. That last line is GOLD. It sets out a boundary and reinforces that LW values the friendship and counsel and will ask for it when/if she needs it. Well done.

  20. LW, I’m so sorry. This sounds so hard.

    Oh a wholly different scale, I’ve recently relocated away from my partner despite the wonderfulness of the relationship because Life Things. People have questions. My response has been to repeat “yes, it’s very new and complicated. We’re going to need time to figure out what it means/what happens next.”
    I find, delivered quietly and calmly, it takes only one or two rounds with even the least-thoughtful people before they stop offering their thoughts/feelings/outside interpretation of my life. “Oh but I thought you were… you seemed so…. but that must be… are you going to… what will happen when..” Yes, it’s all very new and complicated. We’re going to need time to figure out what it means or what happens next. My theory is emphasis on the “WE’RE” gently reminds people this is actually a situation *you* are processing, and they are not invited to process it at you, for you. And I like that it offers almost no personal information about what I think or am feeling? I share it with the people I want to share it with, but the rest just get the facts because it’s unavoidable, and repeating this softly shuts down the conversation.

  21. I’m really sorry this is happening to you.

    My husband has done this twice. Both times, I told people what he told me (financial reasons) and they expressed disbelief, questioning me heavily (Couldn’t he get a job here? What are you going to do? Will you join him there? Why not?). It was extremely painful and embarrassing, and I decided that I’m never doing that again.

    When my husband started to talk about doing it a third time, I stopped going places with him. I told him that he could explain it to his friends. I avoided my own friends and family for about four months, until I felt like I could face questions and then I said something like, “Phineas has decided to move to Antarctica. I don’t know his plans or when he will be back. I’ve been asking people not to talk about it with me or the kids, because the situation is causing a lot of anxiety.” You could even text something like that if you wanted.

    If you have a friend or family member who can act as your guard dog and shut down nosy relatives, then use that person. For me, it was my mother (unofficially–I told her and then noticed everyone else was strangely quiet on the subject of my husband).

    You know what, Letter Writer? You’re going to be okay. The first two weeks are very weird, and then each day it gets a little easier. You are smart to stay put. Take care of yourself and go fun places with your teenagers.

    (Some of you are probably wondering why I’m still with my husband. It’s a long story, but it’s mostly due to financial reasons while the kids are still living at home. My friends and family are used to his flakiness, and I never see his friends anymore, so I no longer have to worry about what to tell people.)

  22. All this advice is great — just wanted to add my that LW should not feel that they have to take on the additional burden of telling his family and friends. This was his choice, but he may try to avoid telling them himself because he doesn’t want to deal with them questioning his behavior, or because he’s ashamed of what he’s done. But telling them and fielding their questions and managing their emotional response is absolutely not your responsibility.

  23. My sympathies to you. I agree about telling a good friend and then focusing on your needs as well as those of your kids. Verbalize what your needs are and move forward.

  24. I haven’t read the responses yet, I’m just going to jump in here because I’m in a similar situation. I have been shocked at how horrible and judgemental and completely unsupportive people are, and I want to warn the OP to be prepared for this. I think there is a huge amount of fear of single parenthood and magical thinking about the apotropaic value of keeping terrible women who drove their husbands away – because obviously that’s what happened, right? – and people have a really frightening willingness to judge the woman in this situation more harshly than you can imagine while letting the man completely off the hook.

  25. I relate a lot to the teenagers in this story right now, because my dad worked Far Away (more than a commute worth – like across the country or across the continent) for most of my childhood and then he died when I was a teen.
    My parents didn’t exactly have the problems LW describes – or if they ever did I never knew about it even as an adult – but “Dad won’t be around for Reasons” is a thing I’ve been through.

    I can’t say there is anything that is sure to help, so here are warm feathery hugs if you want them.
    Good luck. This sucks.

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