By request, behind a cut with a content note for past suicidal ideation (that is resolved & the person is safe/ok now).
I write asking for a script.
I (she/her pronouns) am leaving my husband of ten years. We have a young child. My husband is not an abuser or a Darth Vader; it is a situation much more like letter writers 690 & 691. It was an unforgivable mistake of mine to marry him; I never should have done so; the only way I can see to make it even a little better is to leave.
I could go into endless details of my equally endless misery, but suffice to say, although my husband is a good and kind person, he does not meet any of my most basic emotional needs. I was unhappy for most of this ten year marriage, yet at the same time I desperately did not want to leave. I believe in keeping promises, and we have a child, and therefore I have tried for many years to fix this: individual therapy and couples therapy. Asking, asking, asking, and asking again to get my needs met. Asking more. Asking until I am blue in the face. Going back to therapy. Having more therapy. Having him refuse to go to therapy with me. Reading books, and more books, and all the books. Having dates and making plans and accepting his flaws and working on my flaws and forgiving him and trying to do better and and and and and and and.
I tried not to need my needs and I tried not to feel my feels. I tried and tried and tried and tried and tried to fix this marriage until I was closing my eyes while driving on the highway at speed and thinking about steering into an overpass—or off of one, for variety. Then I realized I couldn’t possibly try any longer. (And yes, I am safe now, and getting help, and I am much better overall, too. Your response to 690&691 helped me, as did Dear Sugar’s column “The Truth that Lives There.” So thank you.)
I am a fairly private person. Other than my husband, the only two people who really heard about the depth of my struggle were my best friend and my therapist, both of whom support me and my decision.
Now that the dissolution of my marriage is inevitably becoming more public, though, perhaps the most common response I receive runs along the lines of, “oh, don’t rush into this; marriage takes work, you know, and divorce is bad for children.”
I realize I set myself up for this response by my own preference for privacy, but, Captain, that line makes me so angry, so incandescently furious, that I want to scream in their smug complacent faces words to the effect of “FUCK YOU FOREVER AND FUCK OFF! I WAS ONE WELL TIMED TEXT MESSAGE FROM MY BEST FRIEND AWAY FROM DRIVING MY CAR OFF A BRIDGE! IF I WORKED ANY HARDER AT THIS MARRIAGE I WOULD BE DEAD! YOU THINK “DEAD MOTHER” IS BETTER FOR MY CHILD THAN DIVORCE? FUUUUUUUUUCKKKKK YYYOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!”
I do not think my rage-scream would actually be helpful in any way, wonderful as it might feel in the moment. I realize that people are kind and well-wishing and concerned about my child and only trying to be helpful. I do. This response often comes from people who love me very much, but who just don’t understand the extent to which I struggled because…..I didn’t tell them. (For instance, my mother.)
Do you have any suggestions for scripts to help me channel my rage, calm down, and appropriately share info while redirecting folks’ attempt at helpfulness? I am having a very hard time finding a good balance between “I am a private person and do not wish to disclose the full extent of my tortured agony over this decision, also HULK SMASH RAGE” and “I think disclosing more information might satisfy people more quickly and therefore make them stop, also, polite over-socialized female can’t set boundaries.”
Thank you so very much; you are SO MUCH appreciated!
We don’t congratulate people on leaving unhappy relationships enough, so, let me say: You are doing a really difficult thing, you are taking care of yourself and your child. I hope the part where you feel good to be free of this marriage comes very soon.
“Oh, don’t rush into this; marriage takes work, you know, and divorce is bad for children” is a REALLY crappy thing to say. The people saying this may love you and want to help, but what they are doing is derailing the conversation and making your news about your own life into something about them – their expectations for how your life is going, their surprise & hurt at not being in your confidence before now, their fucking platitudes that they throw out without knowing anything about what you’ve been through. They are using your vulnerable news to judge and advise you. Advice is good when it’s asked for. When it’s unsolicited and coming from a person who knows jack and shit about the situation, it’s oppressive.
Here are some scripts in response to Some are gentler, some are not, choose your own adventure.
- “I realize this seems like it’s coming out of the blue, but trust me, it’s not. As long as there was a chance of saving the marriage, I wanted to keep things private. But it’s been bad (and I’ve been working on it) for a long, long time, and now I am done.”
- “I’ve kept a lot of the struggles private while we tried to work things out – I’m a private person and I respect my spouse, so I didn’t want to air the dirty laundry as long as there as a chance it could be fixed. Now that we’re past that point, and it’s definitely over, what I need from you is [kind words][some help with childcare], not advice.”
- “I hid how very unhappy I was for a long time, and now I wish I hadn’t – maybe I could have ended it much sooner, and these conversations wouldn’t be so awkward.”
- “I know you mean to be helpful, but I’ve already done all the work there is to do, and this the right decision for me.”
- “I’m not asking for marital advice, I’m telling you about a decision I’ve made. You can just say ‘I’m so sorry to hear that!’, you don’t need to try to fix it.”
- “What on earth makes you think I am rushing into it or that I haven’t considered my child.” (no question mark at the end)
- “Having really unhappy parents is also not great for children, so I’m gonna take my chances.”
- “Sometimes grownups have to make really hard choices around what they think is best for their children. [Kid] knows they are loved, and I am going to be so much happier when this is over.”
- “Kid’s gonna have to make some adjustments bouncing between two houses, and they’ll need a lot of love from Grandma as we make this transition, but I’m hoping that lifting the cloud of despair and hostility we were all living under will go a long way toward making up for that.”
- “I know you’re concerned, but I think we’re gonna do so much better as co-parents than we ever did as married people.”
- “Work? Ha. I could literally build you a fort out of our family’s therapy bills. We tried. It’s done.”
- “Sure, ‘Marriage takes work’ but people never seem to say that to the person who isn’t doing any of the work.”
- “Well, that’s a very awkward thing to say.”
- “That never occurred to me, thank you.”
- “If it were fixable, we definitely would have fixed it by now. It’s not, so, this is what’s happening.”
- “I would tell you the whole story but I’m afraid if I start talking I will never stop. You’re gonna have to take my word that I was very unhappy and this was the right choice.”
- “People don’t have to be abusive or monsters to figure out that they just don’t work as a couple. That’s our sad story, and it’s time to write a new one.’
- “Wow. I think the words you were looking for were ‘that must be a really hard decision, is there anything I can do?'”
- Cold silence and a basilisk stare.
- “Here’s his number, YOU work at it.”
I know you don’t want to flip out and rage scream at these people, and you’ll probably feel better if you keep at least some of your cool and sense of control, but it’s okay to be a little angry and raw and vulnerable right now. You don’t have to perform Okayness for these people and you don’t have to apologize to them for your life choices. You definitely don’t have to pretend you’re cool with what they said. They don’t know how it’s been? It’s okay to give them a real glimpse of how it’s been. It’s okay to crack open that rosy-but-incorrect picture they had of what your life and your marriage looks like.
I hope you and your best friends and your kid have a lot of great, cosy, liberating “setting up new living space” stuff planned and I hope the next year is the best one you’ve ever had. ❤
P.S. Marrying this guy was not “an unforgivable mistake,” you clearly did your best to make it work, you have a beautiful kid, you’re not the first person to marry the wrong person, you’re not the world’s only optimist. I hope the next chapter also includes forgiving yourself.
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