#1130: “When I told you my marriage is over, it wasn’t an invitation for advice on how to fix it.” + Summer Pledge Drive continues

By request, behind a cut with a content note for past suicidal ideation (that is resolved & the person is safe/ok now).

Hello Captain,

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!

Hi there!

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.

————————Captain Awkward Dot Com Pledge Drive Time——————————————

–Musical Interlude With Extremely Charismatic People–

Thanks to all the new patrons and pledge drive donors so far. It’s hugely encouraging and kind of you to support the work I do in writing and managing the community. I’m still shaking that tip jar all week to remind people who want to support the site. Thank you so much! ❤

Actual Jazz Flute–





325 thoughts on “#1130: “When I told you my marriage is over, it wasn’t an invitation for advice on how to fix it.” + Summer Pledge Drive continues

  1. LW, damn. Your rage is so completely reasonable in response to those crap comments.

    For the record, every child of divorce I know was infinitely relieved when their parents were no longer making each other miserable.

    1. Ugh, this. I had parents who stayed together far longer than they should have for “the sake of us children”. Believe me, they were not doing us any favors, and when things finally came to a head, it was way worse than it would have been if they have calmly bowed out when they realized the marriage was over.

      1. THIS. My father hid his unhappiness and decided (without discussing it with her) that he would stay with my mother “until all the children have left home,” which just meant he got more and more unhappy and angry and cold and distant and drank too much and I felt like I’d done something wrong and had to walk on eggshells all the time.

        And then he left abruptly anyway one day when I was 14, because he’d been having an affair with a coworker. And it was devestating for me and my mother, and fucked up my relationship with my father for years and honestly it would just have been SO MUCH better if he’d just admitted he was unhappy much earlier and paid attention to how his staying was actually affecting us.

        1. I participate in a marriage forum elsewhere, and I see this SO OFTEN with some of the guys there – they’re in these absolutely terrible marriages, they’re obviously miserable (but certain they’re successfully hiding that misery IRL and just dumping it out online), but determined to grind it out until the kids are grown because “I can’t do that to my kids.” And I’m like, you’re doing something to your kids right now by being miserable and modeling misery!

          1. A married couple in their late 90s approach a lawyer.

            “How can I help? New wills? Insurance?”

            “We want a divorce,” they say in unison.

            “How long have you been married?”

            “72 miserable years,” says one half of the couple.

            “Each day worse than the last,” says the other.

            “Ok, then. One question though : why have you waited so long to divorce?”

            In unison again: “We were waiting for the children to die.”

        2. A friend of mine’s parents actually successfully did hide their unhappiness in order to stay together until the kids left home.

          You know what happened when they did split? She was BLINDSIDED. And yes, once she knew she was able to piece together all the clues and realize that it wasn’t a new thing, but it really tore her apart extra because she had no idea it was coming.

          And, because they stayed together so much longer (and somehow managed to hide their unhappiness), it was a VERY acrimonious split. Even now, many many years later, they still want her to take sides and are pretty uncool about the other parent, even though they have no interactions whatsoever with the other one.

          TL;DR even if you DO manage to pretend things are fine, the whole “stay together till the kids move out” isn’t less damaging for anyone.

          1. I had a friend to which this happened as well, just a few weeks after she moved 10 hours away for college. It was devastating to her and her older brother; they had no idea there were problems.

          2. A friend of mine’s parents divorced two weeks after her wedding, which happened to be right after her younger brother graduated college. It really screwed both of them up because they felt like they’d been lied to by their parents, and because they were suddenly expected to take sides. My friend once told me she can’t look at her wedding photos that include her parents without feeling enraged.

            So like Kelsi says, staying “for the kids” ain’t great even if you do manage to hide the acrimony until the kids grow up.

          3. This happened to me! And I found out about the horror of it all during the beginning of their divorce two weeks after I got engaged. It destroyed me for a while. (I had always looked up to my parents’ marriage and my dad. Both were not good things to admire as it turns out.)

            My childhood was happy but I don’t really think my mom’s unhappiness was worth it.

          4. I always say that there is nothing wrong with showing your kids that you, as parents, are human too. That its OK to point out your mistakes or whatever aren’t done at them and that people are never ever perfect. Actually watching this go down, as it turns out, is so much more beneficial for kids (as long as it is not violent and mean) – being blindsided is the killer.

          5. Years ago when I worked in a university, I found out that the Counselling Service had a term for this – “Third Week of First Term Syndrome” (I may have misremembered the week but it was First Term).

            That’s the point at which all the parents who have been keeping up a facade, waiting for the last kid to go to college, announce they’re splitting up.

            And the counsellors get an influx of first-year students who on top of all the upheaval of leaving home are either a) blindsided by this, and devastated that their parents have been living a lie for years, counting the days till they (the student) left home or b) furious that their parents didn’t do it earlier rather than make their (the kid’s) life miserable with all those years of animosity that they weren’t hiding nearly as well as they thought…

          6. I never knew the term for this, but it is absolutely A Thing, as is The Turkey Drop (in the USA, when you go home for Thanksgiving for the first time and promptly dump/are dumped by your high school sweetheart because it turns out it’s okay if 18 year olds don’t stay together forever.

          7. And even if the grown children aren’t asked to take sides, who wants to feel responsible for both parents’ years of misery? What a whopping load of guilt to dump on anyone. The unspoken message that comes through loud and clear: “I was miserably unhappy, but I suffered for 18 years sacrificing every morsel of happiness all for you, you ungrateful shit. Now you owe me. Now if you’re not completely happy every second of every day, you’re throwing my sacrifice in my face.” Much better for parents to live their best lives with fulfillment and responsibility in equal measures.

        3. This. My parents quite obviously *cared* about each other, and they wanted the best for us. But my father copes poorly with stress, and his lack of coping resulted in a lot of…what I’d euphemistically refer to as ‘poor anger management’; I was very used to shouting and swearing by the time I was a teenager, and the walls of the house I grew up in always had holes that were in the process of being plastered over.

          It was bad enough that my mom had to take us to the local women’s shelter twice. And I understand, in hindsight, why she stayed – she wanted to make sure that we had what we needed. Because she’d grown up incredibly poor, and didn’t want us to have to deal with not having clothes that fit and looked presentable, or worrying about if there’d be enough to eat…and she lived very far away from anyone who would take her side or support her if she tried to divorce my dad. So she genuinely believed that it was better for us if she stayed with him (since he had a steady job, with a pension, and could afford things like sending us to afterschool activities and summer day-camps).

          They’re still together, and things…seem better, now that me and both my siblings are out of the house and my dad’s finally retired? But I didn’t really have much of an answer for my mom, when she basically asked me a couple years ago to tell her that she hadn’t made a terrible mistake and harmed me by deciding to stay with him.

      2. Same. My father stayed “for the children” – and was miserable, drank to cope, and took his anger out on all of us. I was very, very angry with him for a long time after it finally ended, specifically over the fact that he overshared about how miserable he’d been and for how long, tried to get me to feel sorry for him, and tried to present it like he was doing a Noble Favor for me and my brother and how dare I not show my gratitude by siding with him against Mom?

        Not to mention, it honestly kind of tainted a lot of my happy childhood memories to have my dad say “Oh, I was just faking it because I was trying to stay for your sake.” I look at old photos and there’s a part of me wondering if my dad was actually happy that day or if it was a fake smile hiding his resentment and unhappiness.

        That’s really not a fair burden to lay on your kids, just because you don’t want to face making a hard decision and dissolving your marriage. Kids see more than you think, they notice when things aren’t right even if they don’t have the words to describe what they’re noticing. Staying “for the kids” is never really for the good of the kids.

      3. I wish my parents had divorced. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve developed a bit more kindness towards them. They had reasons. (“The children” wasn’t the biggie, I suspect.)

        Once they’d reached the point where (I think) they should have separated, my brother and I would already have developed the issues we have.

        At least, that’s what I think now.

      4. I know exactly one couple who managed to “stay together for the kids” semi-successfully, as opposed to lots of who stayed together “for the kids” and really fucked the kids up with it, including my own parents.
        The successful couple fell out of love but were still friends and waited for the youngest to hit college until they separated. As far as I know, they’re still friends, occasionally visit and help each other, etc. Their children are fine with it (in fact, they don’t seem to think a lot about it), but I’m sure they would have been just as fine if they had separated equally amicably earlier.

    2. I still get perplexed when I hear hear life got better for kids after their parents divorced. With me it was very much the opposite.

      1. I believe you, and it is case-by-case, for sure, but the risk is something parents take on just like everything else they take on. Maybe there was never a better possible, only different versions of “this is as good as it gets.”

        1. After thinking on the matter for a few minutes, post-parental divorce sucked for me because Custodial Parent took out their unhappiness on me, including things that warrant a trigger notice. I’m guessing these people who say life was better after their parents split went through something else.

          1. Again, I believe you and I’m so sorry, but that sounds like a At Least One Terrible Parent problem not a Never Get Divorced problem.

          2. For me, my parents were both abusive. And they both still abused me after the divorce, and my mom did direct some of the vitriol toward me that she’d previously directed at my dad. But they didn’t abuse each other anymore, because they couldn’t, because they were never in the same room. And that was such a blessed relief, even if my family still sucked.

          3. Out of nesting, replying to JenniferP:

            I wasn’t saying Never Divorce, more like one narrative and one narrative alone regarding divorce does no good.

      2. Treat your children and your partner and yourself with respect “for the kids.” Some people can’t manage that during or after a divorce. Some can’t manage when they’re stuck together. I’m sorry about your parents.

    3. So true in my case. My life would have been MISERABLE if my mom hadn’t left her trashfire of my biological father and their marriage.

      Also I’m so tired of this idea that everything a woman has to do must be FOR THE CHILDREN. Like, the kid will be fine—probably happier—but also you don’t have to spend your entire life only making decisions based on what your child wants. It’s okay for women to also prioritise ourselves sometimes and make decisions based on what WE want and need, not just what our children want or need.

      1. ” I’m so tired of this idea that everything a woman has to do must be FOR THE CHILDREN.” RIGHT?!?!?!? Guess what, people, a happy mom more often than not= a happy(er) child! There really is this dangerously pervasive attitude that once you have children your own personal happiness just does not matter anymore. I do believe on some levels it’s a generational thing, but it manages to persist among both older AND younger people. Sheesh.

        1. It’s amazing how often you don’t hear the words “I’m so happy that my (mother/father) sacrificed their happiness for my sake!”

          1. Come to think of it, do those words ever get said sincerely, without an accompanying guilt trip about how you, the child who didn’t ask for any of this now OWES your parent(s) one or more things that would make YOU miserable in turn?

          2. @nanani Gods know my dad sure as hell tried to lay that guilt trip on me like I owed it to him to side with him against Mom in the divorce, because he’d Sacrificed So Much For Me By Staying. Dude, that was YOUR choice, one I really wish you hadn’t made, and I don’t owe you jack shit for it.

        2. I actually hear it far far more often in and towards younger people.

          My parents’ and grandparents’ generation were too busy just getting on with their lives. Plus they seemed to have far less of an attitude that children are more important than adults, compared to what I often hear now. It skewed a tiny bit more towards ‘respect your elders’.

        3. “Guess what, people, a happy mom more often than not= a happy(er) child!”

          That depends. I think a miserable mom definitely=a miserable child, and no one should stay in that situation. But a lot of the time, mom’s post-divorce “happiness” seems to take the form of a new relationship where the child gets shunted aside in favor of the new partner, who sucks up mom’s attention and affection right when the child really needs it. (Fathers aren’t off the hook either; there are way too many instances where dad remarries and the existing child(ren) are shut out of his new family, or only allowed in at the edges.) Not everything that gives adults personal happiness is good for kids.

        4. I read somewhere that the most important thing a parent can do for their children is to take responsibility for their own happiness. It makes a lot of sense to me and I try to live with that in mind now that I have children of my own, although it’s far from how I was raised.

          My parents weren’t happy together. Eventually they split up, but after too many unhappy years. My dad is so much happier now, and in a happy, healthy relationship. My mom, unfortunately, is still unhappy. I’m pretty sure that she could at least be a little happier if she started taking some responsibility for getting there, focusing more on what she can do now (seek treatment for her untreated mental health problems etc) instead of putting all the focus on the wrongs done by other people and society and theories of why things are the way they are in her life. While those things can be comforting in the moment, they don’t really help, and in fact they maintain an anxiety spiral. But she tries sometimes. I think she’s trying now. Fingers crossed.

      2. Thissss. When I was 12 and old enough to get sassy, I asked my mom why she put up with my dad’s disappearing unannounced for days on end to drink, and she said she didn’t want to take away our dad. I said something like ‘we [my brother and i] thought *you* liked him,’ something broke open, and dad wandered home a few days later to find the locksmith changing the locks on the house.

        After that, my mom was much happier, so we were much happier. But even if it’d been hard on us or we’d been disappointed, she still didn’t owe it to anyone to be miserable on our account. If you love your kids and take good care of them, they can adapt. No one should be held hostage by the idea their kids need a TV-perfect childhood.

      3. THANK YOU

        As a woman with a child (but I can’t really bring myself to think of myself as “a mother”) THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SAYING THIS.

    4. I’m pretty sure I wound up more screwed up from my parents staying together. My dad has/had a bunch of mental health issues, was an alcoholic, a hoarder, rage-y and mercurial. My mother bent over backwards for years trying to make it all work “because kids.” (Realistically, with three kids I understand why she was hesitating – I don’t mean to be judgmental of her trying to make the best decisions possible at the time). She finally left when I was about 19.

      Throughout my dating years, I continually find myself in patterns of bending over backwards trying to Make It Work with people who… I definitely shouldn’t be trying to Make It Work with. At least two Vader boyfriends, and others who were just plain wrong for me or in the wrong phase of their lives. Low self-esteem has been a big chunk of this, but also that my main relationship model growing up was my mother taking on insane amounts of work trying to keep her marriage and family together, while my dad…just kinda did his thing. Even while knowing intellectually that it’s a bad dynamic, it does feel normal for me. I’ve been exploring those patterns with a therapist, because shitty unfulfilling relationships get kinda old after awhile.

      There is no one-size-fits-all answer here, but I’d say if the parents are visibly hostile or unhealthy with each other, splitting up and having two peaceful houses is better for the kids.

      1. hoo boy. reading this comment was a super big click moment for me. My dad was bad in a lot of ways (though seems to be different from yours), and I too have a problem with holding on to a relationship that was once good long after it’s been pretty bad for a while. the exact problems i’ve been having lately haven’t been anything like what my parents went through when I was a kid—but…yeah. dad being all kind of crap, mom doing what she can to make it work, because it was once really really good and this is just a rough patch! and now here I am, proudly thinking to myself “well i kept my promise to myself and would never put up with [this one specific behavior she had to deal with from my dad]!!” while at the same time bending over backwards to try to make it easier for the other person in my relationship to take baby steps towards improvement, while he sits there and says “nah i’m good here.”

        Thank you.

      2. CW for talk about suicidal ideation.

        I also learned from my parents’ example to hold onto relationships I should let go of. My mom–who has been divorced twice–threatens my dad with divorce every time they have a big fight and she always insists to me that she means it *this time*. When I was young this was terrifying; when I was a teen I wished she would just do it already because when my mom is mad she takes it out on everyone and I thought if they weren’t together she wouldn’t be mad as much; and now in my 30s I’m certain that my depression would have been fatal if they had divorced because my mom would’ve had primary custody, would’ve been mad all the time, would’ve had no one but me to take it out on most of the time. But it’s taken me until very recently to figure that out. And while I still have a hard time letting go of relationships, at least I’m aware of the problem.

        Even though my dad saved my life by not divorcing my mom while I was young, it breaks my heart that he’s had to suffer so much. And now he’s in the position I would’ve been in: he’s her only target and she tortures him with frequent if not constant emotional abuse. He threw himself on the world’s slowest grenade for me and all he wants is for me to be happy and safe. I don’t feel guilty exactly for leaving him behind because a) there’s nothing I can do and b) it’s not my job to parent my parents, but it shreds my soul anyway.

    5. My ‘rents divorced in the 70s, when *nobody* in my town did that kind of thing. So although it was better at home after the split, it was def weird out in the world. Lots of judging, lots of unasked-for pity, lots of having to say awkward stuff like “no my parents aren’t coming to the school concert, but my mom will be there!”

      It took me years to get to the land of the fuckits, but by the time I left high school, I had taken up a comfortable residency.

      1. Do you remember all the YA books that used to use divorce as a driving plot point? For some reason your comment reminded me of all the YA/teen books I read as a kid in the 80s/90s

        1. I remember those! The weird thing is when I was a teenager in the 80s, it seemed like all my friends’ parents were divorced (as were mine), but now that I’m an adult, almost everyone I know has parents who are still married to each other. Where did all those divorced kids go? Did I just self-select a group of other kids in the same situation to be friends with? It’s a mystery.

          1. We must have traded friend groups. I’m still in the same town I grew up in and everything (so “demographics change” is less likely of an explanation), but as a kid/teen I was the only one I knew with divorced parents. As an adult, nearly none of my adult friends have parents who are still together–except for the people I’ve carried friendships over from childhood.

    6. My father was cheating and my mother was just waiting until she had all her ducks in a row before kicking him out of the house. Six + years of waiting, that is, and I was one of the ducks she lined up, because she found out he was cheating on her while she was pregnant with my older sister and she wanted two kids. So, although there wasn’t anything overtly wrong in their marriage – after the first discovery he’d cried and apologised and promised never again, then gone right back to it, thinking she was blissfully oblivious to his extracurricular activities, and he *was* blissfully oblivious to her planning – we spent our young childhood in a home where there was zero love between our parents and not much effort to fake it, and I’m not sure about my sister but it fucked my ability to deal with emotions and relationships RIGHT up. Therapy is a wonderful thing, people, but I didn’t get to the point where I could trust that any change wouldn’t immediately collapse my marriage until I was about 38.

      Don’t stay “for the kids”, is what I’m saying. 😛

    7. Many of us whose parents did not divorce have spent most of our adult lives trying to get over the damage Being Stayed Together For has done us. Divorce still had a lot of stigma attached to it in the time/place I was a teenager and I *still* thought (and still think now) it would have been the better course for them and for us. Particularly for my mother, who was the one doing all the trying-to-make-it-work that the LW describes, to no effect other than to make herself ill and angry and hard to be with.

      And this may just be my bitterness talking but the sort of unwanted narky “advice” the LW describes always makes me wonder about the state of the advice-giver’s own life. When my sister and her spouse took the decision to divorce while they could still do so reasonably amicably, her in-laws (who have been happily married since their teens) were kind and supportive and lovely to both of them. It was our parents who came out with all the shit the LW describes. There was a kind of bizarre self-righteousness to it: as if they were thinking “we’ve suffered all these years, why should anybody else let themselves off lightly?” Matrimonial Calvinism as a competitive sport.

      LW, I second the Captain – you do not have to perform Okayness for these sanctimonious ignorant busybodies. Return at least some of the unkindness to sender. And may you and your child flourish as you are now more free to do.

      1. > “Matrimonial Calvinism as a competitive sport.”

        Just have to say I love that.

        And yes, people’s reactions to other people’s liberation say far more about the person reacting than about liberation itself.

        You cannot ask the repressed (depressed, oppressed) for permission to make yourself free.

      2. This! My mother did the absolutely unthinkable and divorced my father before she hated him, which utterly scandalized her mother and older sister, who had perfected the martyrdom of staying married to men they hated.How dare she refuse to suffer like them? The result 40-years on: I grew up with a great relationship with both my parents, and after some initial awkwardness they remained good friends for the rest of my father’s life. My aunt and uncle are still married, and apparently spend their days inflicting emotional paper cuts on each other, then liberally splashing with lemon juice. Their kids have scattered all across the country, visit as little as possible, and spend the visits they do make tense and brittle, unable to relax as they witness yet another round of paper-cutting. And my aunt still low-key resents my mother for having a fulfilling and happy life.

        It wasn’t easy for my mom. She went through some pretty rough times in the immediate aftermath. And she did worry that I would be scarred in some way. But she knew for certain that she didn’t want me scarred the way she had been, raised by people who hated each other. Whatever damage the divorce caused me, it HAD to be less damaging than that. And she was absolutely right. I won’t say that it didn’t leave a mark on me, of course it did. But if I have to choose between an emotional skinned knee and a sucking chest wound, skinned knee wins every time.

      3. Yeah, my maternal grandma did the same. She stayed in a pretty terrible marriage until death took her (abusive) husband, so it’s clear that my mom has to stay in an unhappy marriage *because marriage takes work, and what about the children, and you owe him etc etc*. When I realized that almost every woman in her family does the “I made X decision and if you make another decision, it means my decision was wrong, also my unhappiness was wrong, so you can’t make another decision than mine!” to all her female relatives, my live got SO MUCH BETTER because I stopped taking their comments seriously.

        1. Oh gosh yes. I hadn’t thought about that in this context, but there’s a character in Joanna Russ’s “The Female Man” called Laura Rose, a teenager who prefers to wear jeans and boys’ shirts. And she describes how, when she once caved in and got dolled up all girly for some family function, all these people were suddenly telling her how nice she looked, even though she knew she looked awful + self-conscious + miserable…

          “I was making the effort, you know? I was proving their way of life was right, and they were terrified I would stop.”

          It’s years since I read that book and my copy of it is literally miles away at the moment and I remember that speech like it was burned on my heart, because of how it sustained me when I read it first. I don’t want to derail, but thank you for reminding me of this.

          LW, you do not owe anybody your effort in support of *their* notions about How Things Should Be. I wish you and your child joy, and freedom from these pests.

          1. Eh. I read that book as late-teen questioning gender identity and exploring feminism, and it left me feeling icky. And I definitely lean “tomboy”. I think that particular thing is a very different situation because some women like being girly and it’s weird to assume they all hate it. (that was my main problem with the book, it seemed to imply that all men were like X and all women who weren’t as liberated were Y and… ehnk) I see it in my own daughter who goes for the giant clunky sandals at age 4 and wants to wear them everywhere, including the playground, until they break while I desperately wave sneakers at her as I stand in my sensible shoes. But she is who she is and I’m just gonna enjoy her enthusiasm as long as she is healthy and happy. (and try desperately to limit the makeup)
            Apologies if this is a derail.

          2. I suspect it’s a book that has a lot of pushback against things that were pushed at Russ when she was growing up as The Only Way To Be. And it resonated hugely with me because the same things were pushed at me growing up (where I come from, the 1950s lasted well into the 1970s). But I can see how it wouldn’t be the same for everyone. Three cheers for bringing kids up with a more nuanced sense of how they might want to dress/behave/be!

            We’re well off-topic now though so I’ll shut up

    8. Yeah. This. A couple I know was staying together for the sake of their son, but found they just couldn’t hold out. When they told their son they were getting a divorce, his first comment was, “What took you so long?”

    9. So much this!! My parents divorced when I was 18 and I wish they hadn’t waited so long. So many years of unhappiness. I used to talk to my friends about what I’d do “when” my parents split up… when I was 8.

      They are so completely happy now, so many years later. It’s impossible for my brain to even imagine them together at this point. They’re where they should be, with who they should be with.

    10. I’m a child a divorce that was INFINITELY relived when my parents finally divorced. My mom always kept the bad stuff from me (until I was a teenager and I figured it out, though most of what has told me now slowly came out once I was an adult) but I still *knew* she was unhappy and hurting and deserved so much better. She tried for so long to make it work, especially because she wanted my paternal DNA contributor in my life. The first separation was when I was 5 and the divorce was when I was 13.

      Being a kid of divorce isn’t what messes people up, despite what some people think. (I *still* get pissed at the therapist I saw when I was 14 latched on to the idea my problems were all caused by their divorce. Spoiler alert- it was actually a pituitary tumor and it wasn’t just “all in my head.) I believe that it comes from how parents act before and after the divorce. Fighting in front of the kids, trash talking the other parent, trying to “win” the divorce. Plus, watching your parents be so profoundly unhappy and watching them stay that way can make kids set a very low standard for their own relationships in the future.

      1. “I believe that it comes from how parents act before and after the divorce. Fighting in front of the kids, trash talking the other parent, trying to “win” the divorce. Plus, watching your parents be so profoundly unhappy and watching them stay that way can make kids set a very low standard for their own relationships in the future.”

        I think you nailed it. It’s not the the social concept of living together or separating, it’s the actual behaviors of the actual people involved.

        1. I’m sure society showering kids with “you’re broken because YOUR PARENTS DID A THING” doesn’t help either

          1. Absolutely. The kids are already in a pretty vulnerable situation (especially if the parents are actively involving them in the divorce) that it probably hits harder than it normally would. And if you’re hear “you’re broken” often enough you can start to believe it.

        2. Exactly. What Nanani said is definitely part of it well- society treating kids of divorce as broken also doesn’t help, especially when you’re treated that way over and over. Eventually, you start to believe you must be broken. I had people treat me that way but because my mom is so fantastic I believed in myself enough to know it wasn’t true (I do have experience being convinced there was something wrong with me, except it was in a medical situation later on) but not all kids have that. I think I also had an advantage in that I had an unusually strong (not powerful strong, just really solid) personality from a young age. I just really wish I could protect the kids that are vulnerable. I believe 100% that the parents that involve the kids in the divorce is emotional and psychological abuse.

          Gosh, I didn’t expect it but this subject is making me have just all the feels. 😂

      2. I’m convinced my sister was less damaged by the divorce than from her school treating her like she was from “a broken home.” She once overheard someone saying “X is on the honor role? But she’s from a broken home!” This was in the 80s during the Focus on the Family-led panic about single mothers. Somehow people just assumed she’d drop out of school and start doing drugs (or doing whatever the “bad” kids did). I’m still mad at those people and glad I didn’t get that at my school.

        1. “Broken home” is right up there along with “incompetent cervix” as phrases that should rot in hell.

    11. I was another of those kids who wished their parents would get a divorce. My father made life utterly miserable. He was a self-pitying alcoholic who couldn’t manage to keep a job more than a few months (everything was “toooooooo haaaaaaaaard”) and treated me like I was his unwanted younger sibling. We fought all the time like a couple of little kids, but only one of us actually was one. Thwarting me seemed to be his favorite hobby (mind you, I was not just a good kid, I was too afraid to be anything else due to both parents’ hyper-Catholic tactics of fear/guilt/shame to keep me in line). By the time I was a teenager he had two favorite things to say to me: “No one will ever like you” and “I only liked you when you were a baby”. Classic narcissist. To other adults he referred to me as “that kid” in a snotty tone.
      I don’t think for one minute that they stayed together as long as they did for my sake. All he cared about was his next bottle and all she cared about was the blasted church. So when they finally did get a divorce, I was already a college senior. Really would have appreciated them doing that a whole lot sooner. (He drank himself to death about a year later and I had to put up with people from normal families’ comments about how horrible I was for being glad about it.)

      1. Wow, your dad sounds unspeakably cruel.

        I’m so glad you experienced liberation in his leaving this world. Not glad for the pain and not glad he died but glad that his passing brought you peace.

        Congradudolences for that time period. And Jedi hugs.

        1. Thank you. The reason I was glad he died was the extreme relief of knowing there was now zero chance of him showing up on my doorstep one day expecting me to support him. (Though I was a lot better at saying no to him than my mother, who made endless threats she never cartied through.)

    12. With the caveat of: as long as the parents have good boundaries around keeping their divorce issues away from their child. Unlike mine. Things were actually worse for quite a while as their divorce was so bitter and both loved to vent to me about the other. Fun times.

      (Not that the LW or their spouse sound at all like that, it sounds like a relatively amicable divorce)

      1. Believe me, parents can vent to their kids about each other indefinitly without ever getting a divorce.

        1. I became a mediator and marriage counselor AS A TEENAGER because my parents would not divorce but also would not sit down and discuss their issues like the adults they were. Everything from financial gripes to sex life problems. NOT OKAY, MOM AND DAD.

          1. Sounds familiar. I got to be mediator, marriage counselor, and makeshift confessional (not that either parent was Catholic, it just felt like they wanted absolution or something).

            …and sometimes “sit around Not Listening to them saying precisely the worst possible thing but not intervening because too emotionally exhausted”-or

    13. I know that rage too well. I felt it when I finally was successful at getting out of an abusive marriage and suddenly a lot of now-former friends insisted that I needed to give my ex another chance and how horrible I was because I refused to go to couples therapy, didn’t discuss divorce with my ex before I hired an attorney and made a bunch of plans, etc.

      They refused to acknowledge, though, what really happened in my marriage: that this was my third try to get out, that previous attempts included couples counseling (where my ex refused to yield an inch; everything had to be solely my fault,) and that the time I tried to talk about it and say that I was nearing the point that I felt divorce could be looming the result was a demand that I walk out of the house right then with only the clothes I was wearing.

      The reality is, however unfortunately, that a lot of people will insist on seeing things through their own filters and will never see it from yours; probably won’t ever accept that another take is possible let alone valid.

      1. *shudder* Anytime I hear about people saying an abuser needs marriage counseling makes my shoulders creep up around my ears. Taking an abuser to that is BAD and it is recommended not to do that on abuse help sites. All the abusers do is use it do be even more abusive.

        1. None of the mutual friends still are in my life for that reason; all of them refuse to see that abuse happened. They’re convinced that I was the bad actor in it all.

    14. As a child of a divorce that needed to happen, I concur! And as a friend to many adults who have divorced, I have seen the happiness return to their lives. It’s so hard and I KNOW your “I am working so hard and it doesn’t help” pain and I applaud you finding your way to better days. Mazel tov!

      When a similar relationship dynamic I was in finally ended (that not many people knew the problem with, because it was sexual in nature), a lot of people were surprised. I get your annoyance at having to explain something you don’t want to explain and stave off all the “but why aren’t you TRYYYYING” when that is all I did for six years. He and I described it to ourselves first and then I did to others: We were working really hard on this car, but they just don’t make the parts any more. We can bang and bang, we can want it to work, we can both really like the car, but it will never run because there just aren’t parts for it any more.

      It was sufficiently vague, without being acrimonious or specific about the sexual issue we were having, but still quite apt.

      I send you many Jedi hugs, congratulations, and vibes of strength. It gets better.

    15. At the time when my parents divorced, I hadn’t realized there was anything wrong – but I still, at 8 years old, understood that my parents would be happier apart, and I was happier with them happy.

      It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how the years they were unhappily together had messed me up. Because the reason I didn’t realize anything was wrong was because [i]their misery was normal to me[/i]. It was all I’d ever known. And it had a huge impact on me to grow up in a house where it was normal to literally go all day without even saying a single word to your closest family when you live under the same roof as them. They were so distant from one another, and that was my model for what “family” was, for what “love” was. To this day, there’s a part of me that feels like, maybe it IS normal to just never even talk to someone you love and see every day? Maybe that is what love is…?

    16. Oh hell yes. When my parents separated, the standard of living for my mother, my sisters, and I plummeted. We were living in a cheap rathole. And yet our quality of life skyrocketed. Everything was so much better.

    17. Kids deserve to know that it’s okay to leave a bad relationship. Sure, it’s great if they’ve got parental figures who can model a healthy, happy marriage, but that’s not always the case, and when it isn’t, I think it has to be better to show them their parents deserve to be happy.

    18. As a child of divorce, I can corroborate this. My relationships with my parents, my relationship with my sibling, and my parents’ relationships with each other were vastly improved by their divorce. I also gained a step father who helped my mother model a healthy marriage to me and who was a great caregiver and joke-maker when I needed it.

      I think sometimes people compare divorced parenting to happy-marriage parenting, but that’s not the choice divorced parents had to make.

    19. This letter hit me hard, so figured I’d comment for the first time….

      1) I’m divorced, have a 7 year old, and I grew parents who should’ve divorced (whom I begged to divorce once i learned divorce existed –and who are still married and DEEPLY HATE each other and try to drag me into their shit). The horribleness was why I left my messed up but not evil marriage, because I knew if I stayed we would grow to hate each other and divorce messily, and like the LW i tried but couldn’t make it work. The thing is, while the adults who have lived through staying-together-for-the-kids may agree that this is the right decision, young children do not have this kind of perspective. I’ve been in therapy, my ex and I now get along and do everything “right” as co-parents, and almost 3 years later, my kid still gut-wrenchingly sobs BEGGING me to reunite with my ex, asks for us to remarry for every birthday and holiday… because parents are little kids’ world, and we up-ended that. Full stop. I now have several friends who-mostly-amicably or amicably-adjacently divorced with grade school aged kids. Those kids are the same: deeply hurt by the divorce. I think our generation learned the lesson of “leave before you hate each other and hate your own life” from our parents’ generation’s messy, angry divorces…that living with parents who fight and hate each is no picnic. But I think folks naively overestimate how well children will adjust in the short to medium term to divorce, and may not be prepared for their mourning and pain. I don’t regret my divorce, but I was very naive, as were many of my friends.

      2) Divorce (and grieving and serious illnesses) will teach how many people in your life kind of suck. Expect those friends who are saying enraging things to back away slowly pretty soon. As to be slowly ghosted by people you thought were your good friends. Some people, maybe not even those closest to you before the divorce, will step up and be amazing when you’re raw and angry and when you’re reveling at your new life. But in my experience, a ton of people were just uncomfortable with people struggling and wanted to avoid the reminder that sometimes despite our best efforts, life doesn’t go as planned. Unfortunately I’ve since seen the same thing for friends fighting cancer and grieving untimely losses.

    20. This times 1000. I’m in my 30s, I wish my mom had been able to leave my dad when I was little, that she had given herself the space to become a whole person without an abusive mother and husband – and therefore given me the gift of having a whole, happy, fulfilled *her* in my life. But she didn’t, and now I have the therapy bills to pay.

  2. “We don’t congratulate people on leaving unhappy relationships enough…”

    Wouldn’t that be incredible? I hate the way that society regards divorce/breakup as something that happens because one or both parties aren’t trying hard enough. I believe that idea actually gets people killed. Normalizing the idea that most romantic relationships aren’t “To death do us part” would do so much to preventing the kind of letters that show up here, probably including this one.

    1. You might want to check out Jill Conner Browne’s “The Sweet Potato Queens’ Wedding Planner and Divorce Guide.” She regards divorce as a good option to have yet tough to experience. With this in mind, she has guidelines on how to throw a divorce celebration party, complete with suggested gifts. (She’s a heartfelt yet tongue in cheek writer.)

        1. I threw my sister a divorce party! It was just her, me, and our three mutual best friends. We recreated some of our favorite photos from her bridal shower and wedding to replace the shots of all of us as bridesmaids and her as a bride (which we all had as framed pictures in our house.) We had cake and presents and wine and an ex-husband piñata. Let me know if you want the decorations and stuff. I’m looking for a good home to pass them on to! .

        2. I went to a divorce party a few weeks ago! (Actually, the Uber driver I had last night was the same guy who drove me to that party.) It was great, we did live band karaoke and there was cake and gifts and cards and we celebrated the hell out of ending something unhealthy and getting a chance to create something new and free. I heartily recommend it.

        3. I went out with friends to celebrate my divorce. It wasn’t as much of a party as we were hoping, since we didn’t plan for parking and the line to get into the club we wanted to go to, so we went to a late movie instead. I highly recommend doing something to mark the occasion, whatever it is.

      1. I got an actual commercially-printed greeting card from one woman announcing “My prince has turned into a frog” which would have been funny and worthy of a high-five except me and my circle had watched her verbally and emotionally abuse her husband for years and were Team Him. It did make me happy such cards exist.

        1. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, though.
          I’ve watched, at close quarters, a relationship start and end. There’s no denying the verbally abusive one was verbally abusive, but not many people got to see the “abused” one in action.
          The passive-aggressive bullshit, the quiet needling, and the bear poking when explosions were obviously imminent – with immaculate timing, for maximum sympathy.
          Also, the witholding of physical intimacy when the “abuser” didn’t “behave” properly.
          I’m not saying that’s the case with the couple you’re referring too, but watching it first hand certainly opened my eyes.

          1. Yeah, let’s not victim blame. Myrtle knows what they’re talking about, you don’t know what they are talking about, so please take their word for it and for the love of fuck don’t contribute to blaming and silencing victims and survivors of abuse.

          2. I’m not victim blaming survivors of abuse, or silencing anyone, but I also have huge issues with gaslighting and manipulation.

          3. I know you’ve seen this relationship first-hand, and I haven’t, but…

            “the bear poking when explosions were obviously imminent – with immaculate timing, for maximum sympathy”

            actually sounds like a very reasonable response to me. When someone’s in the position of knowing a horrible blow-up is about to happen, it makes a lot of sense to a) want to get it over with and b) be fed up with the person hiding it behind closed doors and think ‘Fuck it, if you’re going to treat me like this then at least let’s let the world see that that’s how you’re doing it’.

            Likewise, when someone’s treating you badly it’s completely reasonable and natural to respond by not wanting to have sex with them. I mean, again, you’ve seen this and I haven’t… maybe the person was making a big dramatic huff out of it or something – but the basic instinct sounds completely normal and appropriate.

            I’ve been on the receiving end of behaviour that can be classed as abusive. And I’m not always proud of how I’ve responded; a lot of it wasn’t good or constructive or healthy and could be picked apart. That doesn’t make what the other person did less awful.

            And, whatever the other person might or might not have been doing, however much of it was genuinely wrong… that doesn’t cancel out abuse. You’ve just said that there’s no denying one of them was verbally abusive, so could you please not then go on to put ‘abused’ and ‘abuser’ in quotes. Abuse is still abuse even if the other person is genuinely also acting like a dick.

      2. I am keeping a document which I flippantly call “the divorce list”, where I try to put all the things that my beloved partner and I would have to untangle if we split up. (We’re not ready to be married at this point in time. We have no intention of breaking up as long as things are working for both of us.) Housing. Costco membership. I was willing to do this emotional and logistical labor so both of us would have a better idea of what we were doing while entangling our lives. Also so my partner could have an escape plan, because certain kinds of relationships from their past made an escape plan necessary to any future relationships.

        1. I love this! My new partner has had similar relationships, and we have been waffling and waffling about moving in together for those reasons – developing a plan and making decisions well in advance that will leave both of us stable and financially/emotionally secure if breakup time comes around sounds brilliant, thank you.

          To LW, I too stayed too long in a marriage that only one of us was actually working on being in (spoiler alert: it was me), and while the first few months of the new routine were a little rough on our daughter post-separation, we are all so much happier, and she is really thriving. Wishing you a bright future.

          1. I swore I would never marry again, but, guess what? I’m planning on getting married again.

            However, this time I have conditions, as does my nesting partner. We are making exit plans as well as marriage plans, but, I don’t think it indicates a problem with our commitment. It’s a sign that we are capable of talking about the hard stuff, making sure we really are on the same page, and thinking about all the possibilities not just the rosy ones.

            I think my prior marriage would have been better if we had done all this talking and planning about the relationship and budgets, and less about the wedding.
            Although, it’s also possible that if we had really talked we wouldn’t have married.

        2. Wow, now *that* is a great “pre-nup” idea. So often prenuptial agreements are seen as punitive and can be used in a very sexist way. This sort of idea makes explicit what sort of entanglements come with cohabitation if not full marriage for both parties and just how much effort will be needed to change the relationship again.

    2. What’s has always baffled me is the air of entitlement that friends, family, and acquaintances of people getting divorced have. They really believe they are entitled to an explanation, entitled to know what happened, and entitled to offer their opinion on the situation. After going through it myself, and having family tell me that they “just needed to understand”, I now tell anyone who tells me that they are getting a divorce that the details are no ones business but their own, and no one is entitled to an explanation, period.

      And really, I have to wonder how many time this scenario has ever happened:
      Divorcing Person: Partner and I are splitting up.
      Family Member: Oh no! That’s terrible! You should go to counseling/think of the children/go on dates with each other/spice things up in the bedroom/give each other some space/find a shared hobby
      Divorcing Person: Oh my God, those are great ideas! I didn’t think of or try any of that! Thank you so much, I am totally not going to get divorced anymore! Phew, that was a close one, crisis averted!

      1. Especially since I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone demanding an explanation for why a couple got married in the first place, and that is literally as consequential a decision!

        1. I mean, I’ve definitely had times where I *wanted* to respond to “We’re engaged!” with “Sweet baby Jesus, WHY?!” but I guess that’s rude or something.

          1. Can confirm: actually did verbalize exactly that once (husband’s little brother announced his engagement to the 18 year old he’d known for a month). I believe “uhhhhhh wait what? Why??” was the exact phrase.

            He found it very rude and was awfully unhappy with that reaction.

          2. I had a friend respond that way when I said I was marrying my boyfriend of 5 years (now husband for 6 more, and it’s a decent run with no signs of slowing…). She’s also the person who responded to me saying I was pregnant with “ugh, why would you do THAT.”

            Point 1: she was in a miserable relationship that she is no longer in, and seems much happier/less negative the few times I run into her. Point 2: she’s not invited to my house at any point, because…

            (Note that she SHOULD have said that about Previous Boyfriend, who was an abusive gaslighting jackass, but apparently he was good people. Mmmhmmm.)

      2. Right! You should be able to say “I’m not happy/they weren’t right for me” and have that be the end of it. I don’t think it’s usually intentional but it also works like gaslighting that suggests that the person getting divorced can’t accurately judge how they are feeling about their own relationship.

        1. Me: *processing about the death of my husband and how awful our relationship was for the most proximate 6-8 years*
          Friend: He made you happy for a long time. I don’t think it’s fair to dwell on whatever wasn’t good now.
          Me: …noted.

          That friend and I aren’t particularly close anymore. And even though it would have been funny in a petty kind of way, when her second husband left her for the woman he’d been having an affair with for 5+ years, I didn’t say “He made you happy for a long time, and I don’t think it’s fair to dwell on a little thing like a half-decade affair now.”

          1. From my own experience, while I acknowledge the good that happened, dwelling on the final horrific months made the grief a lot easier to bear. Jedi hugs of sympathy if wanted.

          2. Oooh, yeah. *fellow processing widow fist bump*
            I never had that last fight with my late husband when I knew I was going to ask for a divorce because he was diagnosed with the cancer that did eventually kill him.
            His friends loved him and thought our marriage was perfect. I chose to process with therapists and new friends, because I wasn’t interested in having to smash their vision of him in order to be heard. I went the way that seemed easier for me.

      3. OMG, yes. The sense of entitlement is mindboggling. For me, it wasn’t even my own family that was pestering me for “reasons,” it was my soon-to-be-ex in-laws. My family never wanted me to get married to my ex in the first place, so they were completely relieved when I left. The ironic thing was that all of my ex’s immediate family members had at least one divorce under their belts. You’d think they’d understand why I might want one…

      4. Not that exact scenario, but if a friend says ‘I’m thinking of leaving my partner’, it is not always unreasonable to ask why, discuss their reasons and if applicable convince them that perhaps it is not a good idea and there are other things they could try first. Of course this does not apply to abusive partners and not everybody is entiteld to all information, but the opposite is also not true.

        My brother talked me out of breaking up with my boyfriend over a very emotional (on my end) midnightly phonecall. I had seriously already packed up boyfriend’s possessions that were at my house, written a first draft of what to say and everything, it was that close. I’m glad I called my brother and could discuss it with him, because boyfriend is a great boyfriend and we’re still happy together now, several years later.

        Of course this also does not always apply, but my main point is, there are no absolutes in such scenarios.

        1. There’s a HUGE difference.

          Saying, “I’m thinking of…” is actually a request to talk about it.

          Saying, “I’m letting you know that I’m divorcing/breaking up” is an announcement.

      5. Back when I was a WeeLight, I read Miss Manners’ comments on what to say when you hear someone is getting divorced. She ruled that, “I wish you the best,” was safe, polite, and kind. I have held firmly to that rule over the years, and so far it’s worked well.

      6. “Divorcing Person: Oh my God, those are great ideas! I didn’t think of or try any of that! Thank you so much, I am totally not going to get divorced anymore! Phew, that was a close one, crisis averted!”

        Ahaha. Just choked on my latte. I love this!

    3. I agree. I wish people could realize that not every ended relationship is a failure, some are segues.

      1. You’d think, as a culture, we’d be better at this. As Dan Savage points out, *every* relationship ends, even if it ends in death. And as we read elsewhere in this thread, even those weren’t necessarily successful relationships just because they “went the distance.” We should be much better at dealing with the end of relationships, both our own and those of people we know. At this point, it just seems, as a culture, we’d rather hold on to our myths of relationships than our realities.

    4. Well, we don’t congratulate people when they say “I’m going in for surgery next month”, either. That’s what “I’m getting a divorce” always sounds like to me. It’s an expensive, unpleasant experience that requires who knows how much recuperation… but of course I dont advise people to reconsider their decision.

      1. You hear things like “Wow, sorry you have to go through that, but it’s going to make your life better” in regards to surger.”
        It would be nice to normalize the same for divorce– “Man, it’s tough and expensive to navigate the courts, but you’ll be so much happier when it’s done!”

        1. When someone tells me important or emotional news, I often ask: “Oh! Do you want congratulations or condolences?”, and then they tell me if their news feel happy or unhappy to them, and I react with supportive joy or supportive understanding accordingly. It works out pretty well 🙂

          1. I do that a lot, too! I also use something like larielera’s script above for breakups (including divorces): “I’m sorry that your relationship hasn’t worked out how you hoped, and I’m glad you’re now in a place where you can move on and try to find something that does work for you.”

            I like the suggested, “I wish you all the best,” above as a pithier line.

          2. I used to be on a board that used the term “Congrolences”, which acknowledged that while divorce generally wasn’t something one aspired to, it could still be the best way forward from a sub-optimal situation

          3. Same! When people give me news I’m not sure how to react (pregnancy and an engagement come to mind), I go “Congratulations?” with a clear question mark and if I get the go ahead sign, THEN I move into enthusiastic congratulations. If they look doubtful or not happy, then I go, “Or not congratulations? What’s wrong?”.

        2. I actually do say, “This must be a difficult time in some ways, and I wish you the best through it, and happiness on the other side.”

      2. Having been through both divorce and surgeries, I can tell you this is more on the nose than you’d think!

        I wish people had congratulated me on these experiences.

        The lead-up to both involved a lot of pain, a lot of bad advice and wrong diagnoses, a lot of persistence on my part to find true answers and seek solutions, a ton of time and money, and a lot of fear that the pain would be with me forever.

        The processes themselves were not as painful or difficult as I’d feared, and the relief and easing of painful symptoms was immediate. I was grateful for the professionalism of those who helped me (surgeons and PTs, mediators and therapists). I worked hard in therapy afterward, which was essential.

        And now? I’m better. I can do stuff I couldn’t do before (run pain-free, live happily in my own home, not fear the future). I have scars, but they’re getting smaller and smoother as time passes.

        Removing my ex and his kids from my life was every bit as wonderful as getting the torn cartilage removed from my hip sockets. Thanks for this metaphor. I can’t think of anything more apt.

        1. YES! I would totally like congratulations on my surgeries, for the exact same reasons you mentioned. Surgery means* you likely now have an actual diagnosis, which is a HUGE deal when you haven’t been able to get a proper diagnosis for years. Is it great to have the diagnosis? Of course not, but knowing what it is means you can fight it. For me, I’m always going to be in pain (especially now that pain patients are having our pain meds taken away, despite the fact we do not have addictions, but that’s another subject altogether) but knowing what it is helps me know the boundaries instead of being this vast dark cloud of unknown horror hanging over me.

          *unless it’s exploratory surgery

      3. I’ve never thought about it before, but that metaphor is apter than you can imagine.

        I’ve had surgeries and I’ve had a divorce, and the story arc is just about identical.

        Something starts to hurt. It keeps hurting, to the point that it interferes with my ability to sleep and work and walk around and basically function. I look at lots of articles on the internet and read a lot of books to try to figure out why I have this pain and if I should be doing something differently. I try to be different. I dabble in self-medication. It doesn’t really help, so I try harder, and that doesn’t really help, either.

        I confide in a few friends and they give me advice. Have I tried therapy or meditation or yoga or wearing different shoes? I try those things and they don’t really help.

        I set up appointments with professionals and they give me conflicting diagnoses, which I read about on the internet. Finally I find someone who gets to the heart of the matter: “You need surgery/you need to get out of this marriage.” I think on some level I’ve known this for a long time, and it’s a relief to hear it.

        I schedule the procedure. I’m scared. It’s expensive. I’ve done a lot of preparation and research, but there’s still the possibility it could go badly in ways I can’t imagine. But it’s got to be better than the status quo, so here I go.

        It goes so much better than I thought. So many of my fears aren’t realized. Right away, even with months of therapy ahead of me, I feel so much better. There’s so much less pain than before. I work hard in therapy. It’s not easy, but I can see progress, and progress is awesome. I get better. I can sleep and work and walk around and function again, and it feels like a fucking miracle.

        Sometimes my surgeon emails me and asks if I’d be willing to talk to a patient considering the same procedure. Absolutely. It changed my life. And if my divorce mediator were to ask me if I’d be willing to talk to a woman in the situation I was in prior to my divorce, I’d have that conversation in a hot second. And I’d tell both of them, “Congratulations. You’re considering doing something that might be really, really good for you. N = 1 and all that, but let me tell you about my experience and answer any questions you might have. I’m glad you’re considering this option. It’s not for everyone, but it changed and in some metaphorical and even some literal ways it saved my life. But YMMV, as they say on the interwebs.”

        Divorce and surgery can be expensive and painful, yes, but they can be a way to fix what hurts, and that absolutely deserves congratulations as far as I’m concerned.

      4. I like this analogy if the surgery is for a condition that has been causing lots of pain for a long time.

        I think the congratulations are for the emotional work of making a hard but very important decision, not the divorce/surgery itself.

        1. “Congratulations on your recent spousectomy!”

          …or maybe not. Someone mentioned that Miss Manners recommends “I wish you the best.” That sounds about right.

      5. I suppose I might congratulate someone if I knew taking the step to get a surgery took a lot of courage for them and it would really likely improve their wellbeing.

        I think, though, that’d mean the person is someone I’m really close to, to know that the decision was hard for them.

        Either way, though, support is warranted, even if congrats aren’t always appropriate.

      6. I’ve responded to more than one breakup (albeit not divorces) with an offered high five, and it’s consistently gone across very well. “Fuck yeah, you’re getting out of this bullshit” is a reasonable form of congratulation, if one that’s somewhat unfortunate in its prerequisites.

      7. But some people do sometimes congratulate others on going in for surgery–especially necessary or seriously beneficial surgery that they’ve been putting off when they didn’t need to. Elective procedures in general are sometimes congratulated. There is cake.

    5. We definitely sent congrats to my cousin when her divorce was final. I mean, they had been separated for a long time before that, but…yeah, it was a happy occasion.

    6. +1 million.

      We had “until death or unhappiness do us part” in our marriage vows and I love re-watching the reactions across the room from our wedding video. Pearls were actually clutched.

      1. I went to a wedding which included “as long as we both shall love” in the vows. I thought it was great!

    7. I had a work friend once that left her marriage after only 6 months. There were some red flags but she felt like she couldn’t back out with all the wedding things in place and….well, things escalated, she left despite ALLLLL the judgement from folks about only making it 6 months. It must have been so hard. So I threw her a bachlorette party since she didn’t have one before the wedding.
      LW, I hope your lovely best friend throws you a bachlorette celebration. You deserve it.

      1. I know a couple who separated less than two months after the wedding. I guess once you’re in the middle of planning a wedding it’s very hard to say ‘actually…’, and I imagine stress and unhappiness can tend to get blamed on the well-known stress of wedding planning.

    8. I had a friend/acquaintance respond to my divorce with, “congratulations?” And I replied, “yes,” and that help me know it was the right decision.

    9. I have a friend in a miserable marriage and I am just waiting for the day she’ll leave so I can say ‘Yay!’ Relationships take work, I get it, but they shouldn’t suck out all your energy for years.

    10. Ever since my own divorce made my life unimaginably better (like, really, I couldn’t imagine that it could be better because I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten), my knee-jerk response to people getting a divorce is “Wow! Good for you!” I usually have to check myself, because that is very rarely the thing people in that situation want to hear.

      But, LW, good for you. Not because this is a happy fun time, but because it’s a good decision, and it’s one that you made with a lot of work and a lot of heartbreak, and it’s going to make your life unimaginably better.

    11. I’ve had that spontaneous reaction to hearing about friends’ divorces “Congratulation!” and then kind of back paddled, asking if it was alright, because I do realise not ALL divorces are the best possible outcome success stories mine was. Most are, though…..

    12. When my official “dissolution of marriage” letter from the courts came through, I baked a bunch of cupcakes and took them to work. “These are Divorce Cupcakes! *You* don’t have to be divorced to have one, but I am now!”

  3. As someone who remembers writing letters begging my parents to get divorced, signed by both me and my then seven year old little brother, and sliding under the closed door behind which they were having their at-least-daily screaming fights, thank you for making this decision. I know it can’t have been easy, but anyone who thinks a child is raised better in a miserable marriage than by two free independent humans who can still have some cordial regard for one another needs to take every seat available and shut the fuck up. Your child will be able to see that love sometimes means being brave enough to step away, and knowing when to be kind to yourself. You are awesome and I hope the separation goes as smoothly as possible, and that you and your partner both have nice people around you who will get you through this without making it a moral turf war.

  4. In all honesty? The Captain’s scripts are great, but the rage scream isn’t that bad of a script either. It neatly and unambiguously underscores that what they are asking for is a) impossible and b) a staggeringly rude thing to ask in the first place, and the short-term catharsis shouldn’t be undervalued.

    If someone breaks off contact with you as a result of it, eh, whatever. But I think anyone who genuinely cared about you as a person, LW, and who had a genuine regard for your feelings – in other words, someone who wants to be a true friend, not just a fair-weather friend who disappears once you tell them something they didn’t want to hear – would take that and realise that they’d done you wrong with their thoughtless questions (as though you hadn’t thought about the effect on your kid, seriously!) and would seek your forgiveness.

    1. I agree with Best Turkey, but there is a middle ground between ‘inarticulate rage scream’ and calmly stating one of the captain’s scripts. And that is telling the person, like your mother, succinctly that you are on the brink of losing it, why, and what the repercussions will be if they continue. Like “I find your comments infuriating and I am THIS CLOSE to yelling at you and leaving (and/or hanging up the phone). The fact that you seem to think I made this decision lightly, or without thinking things through, is DEEPLY hurtful. Right now I need support, not advice. If you can’t give me that, then our communication is going to have to be scaled way back for the foreseeable future.”

      Obviously, this approach is only for people that you have a close personal relationship with (but may not have been privy to the intimate details of your marriage). For the noisy co-worker or parent-at-a-dance-recital, I think the captain is right on the money.

    2. Yeah, we have talked before how strategic Losing Your Shit can be effective. By all means, try one of these scripts first but if your mom keeps it up, rageyelling Has A Place.

      Sometimes, you just gotta rageyell. The key is doing it at the right person, at the right time. (Not at the poor telemarketer like me during my divorce! I caught myself, apologised, and he was very nice about it. But I should have been yelling at my partner who actually deserved it.)

  5. LW, you are doing the right thing. People who give you crap about it are wrong, especially on the “divorce is hard on kids” part. My siblings and I did a fucking DANCE the day my mom told us she was getting a divorce. The years immediately following the divorce were not a cake walk, but they were so, so much better than the years leading up to the divorce. Your kid is going to be so much better off.

    Anyone who says you should stay in a marriage “for the kids” has no idea what they’re talking about.

    1. It’s a deeply annoying conflation: divorce isn’t bad for kids. As such.

      Their parents having an irreparable relationship breakdown isn’t great for kids. Once it’s happened, though, seperation is the least-bad resolution available.

      1. Or, as my mother (a child psychologist) used to say, ‘a good divorce is better than a bad marriage’.

      2. A bit belatedly —

        When my parents were divorcing (after I had graduated college), someone at one point brought up the Staying Together For The Kids concept.

        I told them that in an ideal world they would be together *and happy*, but since that wasn’t possible, separated with the possibility of happy was way better than together and miserable.

  6. I am always so blown away by people who seem to think that “rushing into divorce” is a thing. Divorce is expensive, time-consuming, emotionally and mentally and spiritually exhausting, and basically completely unfun. It is impossible to rush into anything with so much tedious paperwork, end of story.

    I also want to say, LW, that as a mom: you’ve got this. Kids are incredibly resilient, especially if they know that they are cherished and loved, and besides, there is NOTHING inherently traumatic in having your parents divorce. Anyone who tells you otherwise is spouting nonsense and is definitely trying to hit you where it hurts, not expressing actual concern.

    When I left my partner, I had people who were probably suspicious of my reasons but who managed to express concern in ways that weren’t openly cruel. Anytime someone brought up my kid and how sad it was for her, it was a clear attempt to be hurtful. Figuring out the difference between the awkward, probably somewhat conservative, but otherwise well-meaning friends and family, and the “You should really try counseling before you do something BabyDaughter might regret” crowd was essential. Some people just don’t know how to express “I’m sorry for this Big Thing and I worry about you and your kid” and some people make a CHOICE to express their feelings in the nastiest possible way.

  7. When my first marriage was ending, my office mate attempted to talk me out of it. After a few platitudes, he point-blank asked me what was still good about my relationship. After I couldn’t think of anything at all, he dropped the subject and never brought it up again. (I blame being young and bad with boundaries for not shutting down the topic sooner, but the look on his face while he watched me honestly struggle to come up with a single positive in my marriage was priceless.)

    1. I had a colleague confess a divorce to me, and something in her expression told me she’d already had waaaaaay too many of these unkind, unhelpful remarks, so I said, “Congratulations?” with just enough of an upward inflection to cover my bases in case it was, you know, bad news for her. She laughed.

    2. I’m not at the divorce stage right now, but we’ve been in separate rooms for almost a year, and that is very likely where things are headed. I’ve been having a hard time at work over the past couple years, and while I’m not ready to make a big official announcement or anything, I thought it might be a good idea to mention it to the office gossip–I wanted to get the idea out there that I’m not actually a flake, I’m just going through some stuff.(I realize that this would definitely not work in every setting, but it works in mine.) She made sympathetic noises for a minute, and then–I shit you not–she said, all conspiratorially, “So, did he do something awful? Is there some juicy story?” Which…wow. Just. Wow. And, no, he didn’t. It’s just not working out. I’ve just been low-key desperately unhappy for four years…realizing that he’s not the person I thought he was…realizing that he’s not the father I thought he would be…that if my sons are going to have a model of a happy marriage, it’s going to have to be a different one than the one they’re seeing now…that nothing is going to work out the way I thought it was…. So. No. I don’t have any juicy gossip about the slow-motion train wreck my life is becoming…. So…sorry? Better luck next time, I guess.

      1. I also had some people use my divorce for entertainment, including my own sisters.

        I actually quit going to a caregiver support group (I was caregiving my mom) because they only wanted to hear about the bizarre things my husband was doing. Fortunately I found another caregiver support group who actually made me feel supported for both the caregiving and the divorce.

        I realized that I had to drop several of my friends and I made new ones. Being single after 36 years of a bad marriage is sooooo much better than I expected.

        I wish you good fortune as you move forward.

      2. ‘I wanted to get the idea out there that I’m not actually a flake, I’m just going through some stuff.(I realize that this would definitely not work in every setting, but it works in mine.) She made sympathetic noises for a minute, and then–I shit you not–she said, all conspiratorially, “So, did he do something awful? Is there some juicy story?” ‘

        I do hope the LW reads this one, because she seemed to be blaming herself for not having given people a heads-up earlier on how bad things had gotten (i.e. exactly what you did here) and I think this conclusively demonstrates that, had she done that, it would in no way have solved the basic problem that Awful People Gonna Awful.

  8. LW, I went through a similar divorce story and I feel you so hard. You know you are making the right decision, your rage is entirely justified, and people who make these comments deserve all the awkwardness you care to throw at them.

    I was fortunate that most people I told about my divorce were supportive, and the most common response was an appropriately awkward, “I’m sorry…or I’m happy for you…whichever one applies.” As I was going through all the years of therapy and work and stress and turmoil, I only had one friend who said something along the lines of “You might be happier if you end this.” There’s SO much pressure to work things out, and honestly my only regret is that I didn’t realize sooner that ending the marriage was the answer. I can’t say that being a divorced parent is all fun and games, but the relief of not having to push that boulder uphill anymore is HUGE. You deserve to embrace your new life (and to verbally squash anyone who tells you otherwise)!

  9. I’m just going to leave this here… I’m a very private person, too, and didn’t share my marital troubles. When people started finding out I was divorcing my husband, there were two reactions among people who weren’t close confidants of mine — people who were supportive of me without knowing the circumstances and people who were questioning/meddling/judging. Curiously, everyone in the latter category was unhappy in their own marriage!

    I quickly figured out the best way to quash meddling and judging. I would say, in an almost-confessional tone, “Do you know what happened?” (as though I were about to let them into my confidence). And when they INVARIABLY leaned in hungrily and said, “Noooo, what happened?” I would say, briskly, pulling back, “I didn’t think so.”

    This always shut people up and I hope made them realize their own bad behavior without me having to behave badly (just reinstating my own boundaries).

    1. I would say, in an almost-confessional tone, “Do you know what happened?” (as though I were about to let them into my confidence). And when they INVARIABLY leaned in hungrily and said, “Noooo, what happened?” I would say, briskly, pulling back, “I didn’t think so.”

      :bows down:

      :literally makes bowing gestures:

      :that’s it, just bowing here:

      1. Pleeeeease, let this make it into your book. Seldom have I been this awed by the sheer fu of a move.

        1. I love “sheer fu.” It was the perfect move for me for multiple reasons. Mainly, it lays an elegant bait that the pushy/nosy/interfering person can’t help but pick up, then reveals their own behavior and the thin information on which they were operating to themselves. It didn’t require me to be confrontational (“Wow, that’s insensitive!”) or to give out ~any~ information about how I felt about the divorce itself or their behavior. I used this three times, on two aunts with whom I did not have a close relationship who decided cornering and grilling me about my divorce at separate Thanksgiving dinners was a good move, and one similarly aggressive and distant family friend. Six years later, none of them have ever felt the need to tell me how they feel or I should feel about my divorce again (and in the case of one of my aunts, I think this may have prompted her to reevaluate her stance toward me and we now have a better relationship with one another).

    2. Oh My Fucking God.
      BEST. ANSWER. EVER. I wish I’d had it in my back pocket when I left the ex and didn’t have the strength to tell my mum anything except the truth. I’ve regretted that ever since.

    3. OMG. Perfect

      LW, find an appropriate image and make a meme of this. Shove it on your chosen social media, send it as a postcard to technophobes, have it printed on business cards and pass out as needed!

  10. “Divorce is bad for children” can go die in a fire. My parents divorced when I was 10. I cried a bit when my mom told me the divorce was happening, because you’re supposed to be sad about that news, right? Then I just didn’t think much of anything about it. My mom set me up with a divorce group at my school, and some of the kids in that group were definitely working through some anger and bitterness and fear about the future, but for me I distinctly remember thinking “I don’t need to be here. I’m good.”

    I didn’t think much about the divorce after that, just adapted to my life of weekdays with Mom, weekends at Dad’s house. Then years later my younger sister was engaged and her fiance’s mom cautioned him to think hard about marrying her because my sister was a child of divorce and so wouldn’t take marriage seriously. I’ve rarely been so angry.

    My parents’ divorce didn’t teach me that marriage isn’t a commitment and that I can just divorce on a whim. It didn’t break me and leave me untrusting and bitter. It taught me that sometimes people grow apart, or just don’t end up working well together, and rather than swallowing down your unhappiness and staying in a situation that kills your soul a bit more each day, you can realize things aren’t working and cut your losses. You can move on and try to find happiness. You don’t have to be trapped.

    So divorce might be rough for your kid and it might not, but the long term takeaway message kiddo will learn is infinitely valuable and so much better than the message staying in an unhappy marriage would teach. Just use your best judgement if the divorce seems hard on your kid, maybe enlist the help of a counselor to help kiddo through it (or maybe not, your kid might be just fine with it all) and go forth knowing your divorce will ultimately be good for your child.

    1. An ex’s mom gave him the whole “don’t marry Cherries, her mother is divorced so she’ll never take marriage seriously and also she’s poorer than us” speech. The woman was barely upper middle class but swanned about acting like she was literal royalty. Eye roll. I’m just thankful I’ll never be that nasty and self-absorbed.

    2. I really believe marriage is healthier when people have your ‘I can leave this at any time’ approach rather than ‘If I am trapped here let me bend you to my will’. My mum and dad were happily married to each other until his death a few years back and she misses him constantly. Nevertheless she would have had her bags packed the minute the romance project appeared shelved. That is something she explicitly taught me.

  11. I went through this situation last year, after four years of my marriage circling the drain and me fiercely envying the people in the obits section.

    When people pry or concern-troll or even ask what I’m sure are well-meaning questions, I say, “I could make a whole country album about what happened, but nobody wants that. But trust me, I’m good now. Can we talk about ___________ instead?” It’s a sort of silly line, but it does the job.

    Also? It gets better. A year out, I’m in a place so good, literally and figuratively, that I wouldn’t have even dared to dream it. I hope in a year’s time you find yourself similarly situated. Congratulations on getting out of something soul-destroying.

  12. Hey, LW?

    From the child of separated parents: You are doing a good thing for your child. My parents separated when i was small, but i had contact with both growing up. I always knew both of them loved me. I had two rooms, and there were “mom things” and “papa things” and none of that harmed me in any way. Growing up in my parents toxic relationship however would have. Anybody who claims you´re hurting your child with this is very wrong.


  13. 1. Marriage takes work.
    2. You worked. You worked yourself almost to death.
    3. Just because a relationship is over doesn’t mean it failed.
    Take care and be free!

    1. I mean, maybe it wasn’t “an unforgivable mistake” to marry him, maybe it was the right thing at the time? Certainly it must have seemed like the right thing at the time to both of you. Please don’t accuse yourself and make yourself feel guilty over entering into a marriage that turned out not to last till death did you part.

    2. ^100% this. I never ever say my marriage “failed” (and I am pretty sure my ex doesn’t either). My marriage *ended*, but it didn’t FAIL; indeed, I use lessons I learned from it Every. Single. Day. without fail and I know for a fact my ex does as well. I am incredibly grateful for the experience I had, though of course it took me some years to get the distance to feel this way – there was a great deal of immediate sharp pain for quite a while, that is par for the course and WILL change.

      1. *applauds* YES. All of the above. The word “failed” seems to pair with “marriage” so easily when we’re talking about divorce, but that pairing discounts all of the effort and pain that went into trying to make things work. I didn’t realize that until I got divorced, and though I’m 100% happier now, the lessons from my marriage continue to teach and shape me. Sure, there are times when I wish I could have some of that time back, but I don’t regret what I learned.

        1. When I quit a bad job for a better job I don’t say I failed at old job. I just say it wasn’t the write fit so I moved on. Marriage should be like that – I didn’t fail, just decided the job wasn’t working out for me.

    3. One of my favorite poems, “Failing and Flying” by Jack Gilbert, is on this theme:

      Failing and Flying
      Jack Gilbert, 1925 – 2012

      Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
      It’s the same when love comes to an end,
      or the marriage fails and people say
      they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
      said it would never work. That she was
      old enough to know better. But anything
      worth doing is worth doing badly.
      Like being there by that summer ocean
      on the other side of the island while
      love was fading out of her, the stars
      burning so extravagantly those nights that
      anyone could tell you they would never last.
      Every morning she was asleep in my bed
      like a visitation, the gentleness in her
      like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
      Each afternoon I watched her coming back
      through the hot stony field after swimming,
      the sea light behind her and the huge sky
      on the other side of that. Listened to her
      while we ate lunch. How can they say
      the marriage failed? Like the people who
      came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
      and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
      I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
      but just coming to the end of his triumph.

  14. “Here’s his number. YOU work at it.” Is great. I feel like handing over a card with ‘1-800-FUCK-OFF’ on it would really elevate it. And it could work in so many situations! But I’ve always been a little…blunt.

    LW, you are doing what’s best for you and this internet stranger supports you 100%. Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. When the few jerks gave my SO a hard time about leaving his abusive ex-wife, he said, “If you like her so much, YOU live with her. I did it for 22 years – I don’t give you more than 22 days.”

      (And it’s true – not even her own mother can tolerate staying with her for 2 weeks.)

  15. OMG I don’t know if I’d have the guts to say, “Here’s his number, YOU work at it,” but I am in love with this response.

    Also, LW, I want to echo the Captain’s congratulations! Big life changes are scary, and trusting yourself enough to make them is admirable. Your friends should trust you too!

  16. LW, this sounds so horribly like the end of my marriage, which was sadly before I’d discovered the Captain so had no good scripts against comments like “you made a long term commitment and that takes work!” or “but you just planted a hedge!” (I KNOW RIGHT). Ended up with an extra year of misery, six months of which were spent not talking to my parents, after some delightful letters (first class post!) – “We’re SO disappointed with you!” to me; “we apologise for our daughter’s behaviour” to my ex, who was also entirely weirded out by the whole thing. As if I was some flighty teenager who couldn’t be trusted, rather than an almost-40-y-o woman making hard, hard decisions about HER OWN LIFE. Thank fuck my mum hadn’t figured out how to use email!

    You don’t owe these people an explanation; you don’t need their permission or their approval, and certainly not their advice. Congrats on making it this far LW, and hang in there, you got this.

  17. Dear LW,

    I understand wanting to be polite, so yeah, the Captain’s scripts are great. Even so, your rage scream is fine.


    Indeed, the only reason I wouldn’t scream at people who asked this crap is that I don’t enjoy losing my temper. (My adrenaline surge aftermath is nausea.) You’re not me! If adrenaline rage energizes you, go for it.

    If you’re like me though, it’s possible to be blunt without losing control, some examples follow:

    What’s wrong with you? Why on earth did you say something so boneheaded?

    Talk to [soon to be ex].

    What the hell! Who asked you for advice?

    That was uncalled for.

    And my personal favorite :

    Yeah. No.

    Good luck, LW. Divorce is hard enough without jackasses. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  18. Second the Jedi hugs. When you’ve hit the point in a relationship of considering options of car not on road, LW, it is time to GO.

    Good thing you’ve got at least two people in your corner, and good luck!

  19. I totally get where LW is coming from with the whole “this big thing has been building up in me for years but I never told anyone about it so is it somehow My Fault that they don’t understand it”, because that’s me. I’m very private, even with my family, and sometimes I feel like, have I done something wrong because I wasn’t more open with this stuff? Is it my fault that my family isn’t kept up-to-date with my mental and emotional stuff?

    And even though it’s hard for me to realize this when I’m in the throes of second-guessing myself, the answer is “no”. Many people can find comfort in sharing this kind of stuff, but if you don’t… then you shouldn’t feel obligated to do so. You don’t owe people details about your private life that you’re not comfortable sharing, even if they’re your mother. I understand why my family might feel like something comes out of the blue, but they should know what kind of a person I am and trust that I’m thoughtful in my decisions.

    For me, with people who I’m close to, I really like and need to remember Cap’s softer scripts–the “no, I didn’t tell you all the details as this was going on, but it’s been going on A Long Time” stuff. I think it balances nicely between “I recognize you love and are concerned about me” and “YOU ARE MY FAMILY AND NEED TO TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THINGS ABOUT MY OWN LIFE”.

    For people I’m less close to… or family who is more concerned about running my life than actually loving me… they’d get the “actually everything was terrible/not your business anyway” scripts from me! (especially random acquaintances, coworkers, etc…. you definitely don’t owe them anything about your private life!)

    1. I might just combine these two:

      I think it balances nicely between “I recognize you love and are concerned about me” but “YOU ARE MY FAMILY AND NEED TO TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THINGS ABOUT MY OWN LIFE”.

      Also–if what’s going on is the woman is falling out of love, or finding herself unhappy even though her husband is a nice guy and well-meaning, who could you safely talk to about that?

  20. Oh, LW, I wish I could tell you to your face just how badass you are. I am at the “working on trying to save the marriage” for at least the 8th time in 14 years. I wish I could go back and tell past me to ignore all the people who said those types of things to me, to tell the me that had been trying for 10 years that it’s okay to realize that no amount of work is going to solve an incompatibilities issue.
    I wish your face space people would think to say this, and I hope it can mean something from an Internet stranger:
    You are amazing.
    You have done absolutely everything in your power to make things work.
    You are doing the right thing.
    You have nothing,NOTHING, to feel guilty about.
    I am so proud of you for taking this difficult, scary step.
    Future you is looking back and realizing just how right current you is.

    I think the Captains scripts are amazing, and I hope you deploy them with rapid fire aim at the people who are being so insensitive and rude to you.
    Congratulations on starting the journey to the amazing future you deserve.

  21. “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.”

    Well that just hit me right in the feels. Good on you for leaving! Congratulations on your separation!

    CA is awesome as always.

  22. Ugh, there is this whole idea of “frivolous divorce” and that people who split up just weren’t working hard enough at making it work. There’s this really toxic idea that the divorce rate is what it is because “people aren’t willing to work at marriage anymore” or some crap. When it’s probably closer to “people no longer feel mired in miserable relationships due to economic constraints or social ostracism.”

    1. It’s my firm belief that this “frivolous divorce” idea is a fiction perpetrated by people who hate the idea that their own spouse might have a better option than feeling obligated to put up with their crap.

    2. Yes! This^

      People tend to forget that the ramifications for divorce, even into the 1960s and 70s were pretty severe for women, who suffered socially and economically due to constraints on how a woman could manage her own resources as well as social pressures and stigmas. I imagine lots of women in those days just stuck it out because the consequences of divorce seemed heavier than the consequences of being in an unhappy marriage.

      Thankfully, that is no longer the case.

      1. I divorced my children’s father in the ’70s. All my hard earned credit was completely wiped out. I had to start over from the most basic level like I was 6 years old. The irony was that I was the responsible one, he didn’t pay bills.

        1. My mom was in that same position. She divorced my bio-father in 1979, and she had to do all kinds of ridiculous bending-over-backwards to get a car loan.

          BTW, I am deeply glad she did. Bio-father was a colossal ass.

    3. Thanks for saying this so well.

      Couples don’t divorce when they’re happy… if there really is an increase in divorce, it could mean legal separation processes are WORKING. Or perhaps people are successfully leaving their abusers! So many people have the idea that Every Divorce = Bad.

      If folks want to throw a divorce party, all the power to them!

      P.S. As usual, Captain’s scripts are A++, many of the lines would be really satisfying to say, especially with such a frustrating and tough situation.

      1. As a newspaper features writer, I followed an engaged couple for about six months before writing a mega-long article about the process. Coincidentally, the sister of the bride-to-be was finalizing her divorce during that time.

        Among other things, I went to the bachelor (eeewww) party and the bachelorette party (which started out at home and continued to a local bar). B2B overdid the distilled spirits and well before midnight her besties were saying, “Cut her off.” By a little after midnight she was sick as a dog.

        So they got her safely home and then the shindig became Sister’s Divorce Party. Apparently it was quite a blowout. Seems to me that a divorce party can be pretty cathartic.

        And dear letter-writer, I wish you health and peace and fewer jerks in your life. As someone whose parents made their divorce their kids’ business, and who grew up to marry an abuser to whom I stayed yoked for 23 years, let me tell you…You have done the work, you are doing the right thing, and after this you get to write your own life.

        Later, if you’re up to it, I hope you’ll write in and update the CA community.

    4. Women have options other than “stay married forever” , “be a spinster” and “wait to become widowed”. Some people REALLY hate that.

      1. When divorce was not so readily available, women had two further options: ‘move somewhere else, pretending they’re widowed’ and ‘initiate widowhood by means of poison’.

        1. “Perhaps men should think twice before making widowhood our only path to power.”

  23. LW, you’re doing the right thing. I stayed married to my first husband for too long, because I thought “Well, he’s a shitty husband, but a good dad. I can live with that.”

    Narrator: “In fact, she could not.”

    All it did was make me an angry, resentful wife _and_ mom, so no, the kids were not better off. They are much better off now, though, going between two households, neither of which is filled with tension and unspoken grievances.

    I didn’t have the Captain’s great scripts, so I endured quite a bit of ‘concern’ from friends and family until the divorce was finalized. At that point, people have either adjusted to the idea, forgotten about it, or given up trying to force your life into their narrative of what’s acceptable.

    This too will pass, LW. Good things like ahead of you.

  24. LW, this was me 10 years ago; I could have written this letter. I hope you find the happiness you deserve. You are doing a VERY difficult thing. Congratulations for doing the hard stuff.

  25. I settled on “Oh, we tried lots of things, but it didn’t work, so now I am focusing on working on myself and making this as easy on the children as possible” and then I just stared at them blankly if they made any more unfortunate noises in my direction.

    My first marriage went through an extinction burst and subsequent divorce due to his cheating, but a hard truth came to me years later: we were never actually compatible, shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. So I feel you there.

    I had two very small children at the time, and worried greatly about how it would affect them. You know what that divorce led to?

    I’m remarried, and they’ve now seen a *healthy, functional relationship in action* for a decade. Their stepfather is a wonderful man, and now they have a stepmother figure in their lives that is just fantastic (I consider her a friend). They see their parents having healthy, functional relationships with other people that love them (the kids) and have their well being in mind.

    THAT is a gift we couldn’t have given the kids if we’d stayed in that first marriage.

    My sister also got divorced a few years back and has remained single, and her children have now seen years of *a stable, single-parent household* and THAT is a gift she couldn’t have given her kids if she’d stayed married. They have a great example of someone rising from the ashes and making a pretty dang good go of things, right there in their own house. Her children are a little older now and are just amazing people, hard working and resilient. She did good!

    So I guess what I’m saying is divorce is hard, and people are busybodies that say the most awful things (sometimes on purpose and sometimes on accident), but I’ve found focusing on the positives can help you say “butt out” nicely* while you make a wonderful new life for yourself.

    *if you are worried about being nice. If not, disregard, it’s truly not necessary to be nice to busybodies

  26. LW I am right there with you with the rage.
    Like, how low does someone’s opinion of you have to be to say shit like “don’t rush into it” and “consider this and that”
    Do they seriously think you’re going to make major life decisions on a whim?!


    If yes, they are assholes.
    If no, they need to stop saying shit like that.


    1. ** “Don’t rush into it!”

      ++ “You mean the way you just rushed into saying something stupid? I’ll be sure not to!”

      ** “I… uh.”

  27. LW – the Captain’s ideas for things to say are great – it’s helpful to have something to say in the moment when RAGESCREAM is the only thing that naturally comes to your lips.

    I was in a similar predicament when my marriage was ending – much like you, I am a very private person and I was very tight lipped about the problems we were having. There really are no words to describe the feeling of the people you love ripping your heart out with each unintentionally condescending or judgy (or both!) statement they make. I am so sorry this is happening to you – I truly am.

    It helped to have something to say in the moment to make it stop, but you need something for the moments you are by yourself and you feel alone because no one seems to get it. In those ugly moments I reminded myself that I am grateful that the people I love most have no idea what I am up against and of course cannot give me good advice. And I meditated on that and what it meant. I AM grateful that none of my friends or family had ever spent a second in my shoes because I wouldn’t wish that on an enemy, and while it was lonely and infuriating to hear people suggest things I had already tried as the magic answer to all of my problems, I tried to let the sense that they loved me and just wanted to help shine brighter than the rage and hurt. I found people who had experienced things that I was going through and I got the kind of support and wisdom I needed from them instead, but I learned to feel the intended love instead of the actual slight when people decided that it was their place to tell me everything I was doing wrong and how to handle my life the right way. It was not an easy mental shift to make, but with some practice and some gritted teeth, it got easier.

    Good luck. Divorce is awful, but it taught me a lot about myself and what I am made of – I hope the same is true for you!

  28. Dear Past Me (i.e., LW): I write to you from the future to tell you how I forgave myself for the unforgivable offense of marrying a man I shouldn’t have married and the additional unforgivable offense of divorcing him 11 years later.

    Like you, LW, I took shit from everyone–his family, my family, friends, coworkers–because I hadn’t told anyone that I had been unhappy for *years,* the entire marriage, basically. The divorce aftermath was very bad socially for a couple of years, and I internalized a lot of the judgment. Then, a couple of years after the divorce was final, I thought I wanted to return to the Catholic Church, which would require an annulment. I did a lot of research, found people who could honestly testify that I went into the marriage with doubts that should have made me call it off (because a Catholic annulment isn’t about what the marriage became but about whether it was “sacramental” going in), and had several meetings to learn about the process.

    But then they pissed me off. I learned that, in addition to all the narratives, testimonies from other people, and all that, I was also going to be required to go see a psychologist and talk about my state of mind at the time that I got married. If all went well, then the psychologist would determine that by marrying, I had shown “grave deficits of judgment” and therefore should be granted an annulment. And that was just too much. After years of apologizing for what I had done, the damage I was causing my children, my selfishness in wanting to be happy by making THREE other people unhappy, this was finally a Judgment Too Far, and I was healed by anger — healed of the desire to apologize anymore, healed of the mistaken belief that what I had done was so bad that I should feel bad about it forever. Thanks, Catholic Church! (Needless to say, that allowed me not only to forgive myself but also to determine that I was forever done with them, thankyouverymuch.)

    LW, I will always remember the day I moved out. I went out for lunch alone and sat in a booth in an almost-empty restaurant, feeling so, so, so happy, so right, so sure that I had done something that was essential for my happiness and sanity. Things were horribly painful and difficult many times after that, but that moment was a touchstone — even though things became very hard sometimes later, I never regretted or even doubted my decision. It was the right thing to do. Ten years later, I wish you could see how my children have thrived. They are the most wonderful people, and they are OK.

    You don’t have to forgive yourself now, but I hope that you do find peace with your decision soon. You are doing the right thing.

    1. Thank you for this.

      From an another private person who may verbosely comment a lot but has certain things I don’t talk about here, and who is Going Through Some Things and needed to hear exactly what you’ve said here.

      also past you

    2. Never posted here before but had to finally do so – your story is amazing and encouraging and I am really impressed by your strength. When I divorced, I was desperate for any friend to give me an encouraging word rather than judgement or advice.

      My church’s response was to ask me to read a book about the effects of divorce on children. A fairly large book – and I read the whole thing. It had a very explicit conclusion which was that divorce was always always horrible for children (aside the obvious exception when a parent was abusing the child). It certainly framed its conclusion as irrefutable science. I still couldn’t stay in the marriage, but it was effective in piling on the guilt!

      This whole thread is amazing.

  29. I’m super into the long term commitment of marriage, super into the resiliency of making it work for everyone, hot on every decision being win-win and honest-to-gods LW, you are too. You have actual standards for marriage and you’re not willing to dishonour your principles and let those standards slide all the way down into merely ‘we stayed together’ and to let that be the example for your child. That is in no way representative of what a marriage should be. I know that doesn’t help with snappy comebacks for nosy nellies, but sometimes just knowing that yes, you are a commitment-phile helps with the steely eyed gaze of ‘Duh’. Sometimes knowing that you know more about commitment than they ever could can give you a frightening edge. Most importantly it helps you recognise that these comments wouldn’t upset you if you weren’t so hot on this stuff. Being private makes you secretly awesome. Happy Divorce! I know it feels like the worlds most god-awful failure, but it really is a truly exciting new life.

  30. I was miserable in my marriage. I thought that i needed to stay and try to make it work for the sake of my child. All it did was make me feel trapped, like in some jail. My story was similar to yours, he just wasn’t remotely interested in working on anything. One day it just hit me: i remember where i was sitting and everything. I thought: how could i do this to my child? Let them grow up thinking THIS is what marriage is supposed to look like? I wanted them to think that marriage was a happy union. We weren’t fighting and yelling or anything, but there was no happiness or joy. It was awful. And was THAT what my child should grow up to accept for themselves? To put up with a marriage in which they were unhappy? It’s weird, at the time i wasn’t empowered enough to feel i deserved that for myself, but i was so upset at the idea that my child might one day accept the same level of unhappiness, due to my modeling. It completely changed the way i thought about it and i knew from that moment i had to get divorced, for the sake of my child. It was the best decision i made. And yes, i got the same well-meaning crap advice. I got the idiots asking ‘but why?’ As if it’s any of their business. I asked them, did you ever break up with someone? Am i asking you why? Ugh. I learned eventually to avoid people who were so thoughtless. You don’t owe someone your private business. When people ask, use the scripts above, just tell them it’s your own private business, thanks for your respect of my privacy… during this difficult time… When i read your letter what struck me is how you felt the need to justify why it was ok to leave. Like you had to tell us all the things you tried, so you could have ‘permission’ to get divorced. This is part of the problem, you maybe feel that you need to justify your decision. Please please know that you don’t. This isn’t our business or anyone’s. And modeling unhappiness for kids is never good. You’re doing the right thing. You don’t need a laundry list of reasons to be ‘allowed’ to leave. Jedi hugs if you want them. Please see a therapist or similar, to maybe help with these things? I felt the same way, and years later (after therapy) i now know i never needed to justify myself to anyone, but i remember how hard it was at the time. And i’m glad you’re strong enough to be angry at the idiots trying to tell you what your life should look like.
    Your life should look like you want it to look. Your parenting should model healthy decisions. And that looks like what you’re doing. You’ve got this!

    1. Yknow… that made me think.

      I got out of a 7-year relationship semi-recently. In the last few years of that relationship, I had become extremely unhappy with how little my ex paid attention to me. But I stayed because I felt it was normal and why would I deserve anything better?

      You know who paid very little attention to their female partner while I was growing up? My dad, of course. He ignored my sister and I even more. I jokingly say sometimes that I had my first conversation with him when I was 15 – except it’s not a joke.

      I think I did pick up from my mom that it’s normal if your male partner doesn’t pay attention to you. I’m a huge feminist, and it’s like somehow a part of me still doesn’t believe that women deserve respect and attention in relationships? Internalized misogyny, ew.

      Anyway, all that was to say: good job on refusing to model for your kid that it’s fine to be unhappily married. It really DOES have an impact on what your child will think is acceptable in the future. Instead, you showed your child that you can stand up for yourself and make choices for your own happiness and that’s a very important life lesson because those things are HARD.

      1. I just wanted to say your dad sounds exactly like my dad, down to the “not having an actual conversation with him until I was [in my case] 19-20.” My parents divorced when I was in my early 20s due to my mother being fed up with my dad’s lack of partnership and parenting, and I’ve wished for a long time that she had done that sooner so I wouldn’t have had to grow up thinking that it was normal for men to treat their wives and daughters like strangers.

      2. It wasn’t so much he ignored me, except he ignored everything except his own needs. There was some low level abuse that would have gotten worse if i’d stuck around for it. He would tell me what i was allowed to spend (i had a job with my own money and our incomes were similar) after i had a child he wanted me to stay at home, whereupon he felt he owned all the money yet became very angry if i wanted to go back to work (i went back in 6 months against his vehement objections), he would freely spend money and never seemed to need my ‘permission’ but i needed his, even when our incomes were very similar. Even for things like a sweater. Mind you, i rarely spent money. 3 months into our marriage i realized he had 10k in credit card debt. I had zero debt. Needless to say i took over all that and paid it off in less than a year bc who keeps that debt around??? If they don’t have to? Tried to keep me from going to grad school, i went anyway, tried his best to sabotage me in every way possible, i had to arrange all daycare and if child was sick i had to miss school bc ‘he made more money therefore i had to deal with it.’ All kinds of passive aggressive sabotage, used to try to molest me in my sleep and god help me i was relieved, rather than creeped out, bc he at least left me alone when i was awake, after it got so bad i couldn’t bear him to touch me. It was like i didn’t feel ownership over my own body and was just relieved i could be asleep while it happened. Stuff like that.
        So it was a lot worse than him just ignoring my emotional needs (or any needs like i was a sofa or something), but it’s all the same, if you’re unhappy. And any unhappy relationship that a partner refuses to work on, is grounds to leave.

        1. Doesn’t sound that ‘low level’, frankly. Of course it could have been even worse, but ‘it could have been even worse’ is no standard…

          Anyway glad you are out now!

  31. The only thing I would add to all of the above is one or two more more items to the list of potential responses you could use:

    “Thank you for your concern.” End of conversation, followed by blank stare and silence if they continue to push, followed by walking away (or ending a phone call) if necessary.

    LW, I was where you are now 10 years ago, except that the marriage issues were somewhat different – he was a frequent/constant screamer. There was no physical abuse but my adrenals were completely whacked from being with a partner who would start screaming in rage at the tiniest provocation. Kitten under the bed? Scream. Kids don’t have shoes on and we’re leaving? Scream. Dog barfed on the carpet? Scream. Can’t find my keys? Scream. I reached that point where I too frequently considered driving into the nearest overpass abutment. I often cried most of my 50-mile drive to and from work and woke up one day to the realization that if I didn’t change something then nothing was going to change. I chose for my children to have a more emotionally stable and healthy mother and I chose for myself to no longer live in a home where I was subjected to the constant adrenaline push from another person’s uncontrolled yelling.

    Because those matters were private and because I don’t air my partner’s dirty laundry, nobody and I mean NOBODY knew just how bad it was. My tiny group of close friends and my parents of course knew things weren’t good, but they had no idea just how actually BAD it was.

    I hadn’t yet done a lot of boundary work back then, and I feel you for how those kinds of responses from others can trigger you when you’re in an already emotionally charged situation.

    I am sending you much love and I wish you the absolute best as you pick up the pieces of your life and start finding ways to fill your heart and your soul.

  32. Dear LW,

    I’ve been in a place of such misery that I thought about driving off of an overpass. IT was job related more than relationship related. It was not a great time.

    I’m glad you are leaving. I’m glad you’re getting help. Congratulations on taking care of yourself and people who pry and assume they know better than you in your life can go jump in a lake.

  33. One little perspective I will give you about divorce. Mine looked very different, but no matter your reasons – even if your reason is about an incontrovertible as it gets – Folks Have Opinions. They will want to tell you why to stay, why it’s fix-able, how to fix it, why you shouldn’t just give up (as though that is what anyone does – wakes up one morning and decides, after no heart-wrenching soul-searching and hard work that they’ll just up and end their marriage because they were looking for something to do that day).

    Divorce is scary territory. It’s really common, and so is marriage. Everyone who gets married is betting, hoping, crossing their fingers that it won’t be a part of their story. I can tell you that these people who are vexing you are using their words like talismans, trying to ward off this common and scary thing. They’re telling themselves that all marriages need to be fix-able if we work hard enough, because they often have their own reasons for wanting – desperately wanting – that to be true.

    They have to create as much distance between themselves and the idea that sometimes things just don’t work out and no one is a bad person – or even the idea that sometimes things change, people change, or relationships become less tolerable or even that Bad Things Happen for little reason or no reason at all. This is a human thing – we do it with everything from disease to crime. Any bad thing, we need to try to feel like it wasn’t just random, that something could have been done and we would have done that thing if it was us.

    What they’re saying to you is About Them and not at all about you. Knowing that doesn’t always make these interactions feel better in the moment, but it may, over time, help you to relate to them differently, to realize that no matter if you had the (according to them) Best Reasons or the Worst Ones, you’d be having this same conversation. That this isn’t about you as a mother or a wife – that you could be anyone, with any set of facts. It feels less personal.

    Then, on the other side of a divorce, you get a sort of clarity that comes from relief. Relief that you did this hard and sad thing and it’s over and you now know that you suspected but couldn’t yet prove – it was the right thing. That will help this, as will time – little moments of joy at doing things or saying things you missed and thought you’d never get to do or say again. You’ll be okay. Hugs if you want them.

  34. LW, I LOVED your rant that you said you don’t necessarily want to use. The Captain’s scripts are also great alternatives. But personally, I am definitely going to keep YOUR rant in my back pocket because it just felt so damn correct for some situations. Good luck with everything. And I second the concept of you don’t have to perform okayness for anyone. We should all get more practice with that.

  35. The people who say awful stuff like that sure are confirming your choice not to confide in them in the first place, aren’t they?

    Good work on that one, keep it up and I wish you a bright future.

  36. This one is my favorite: “Wow. I think the words you were looking for were ‘that must be a really hard decision, is there anything I can do?’”

    The “wow” acknowledges how off-base the commenter was, and the rest says EXACTLY what it is the LW needs. Awesome, Captain!

  37. LW, I’m going through a divorce myself right now, with its own set of complications. I’m sorry that people are saying such unkind things to you.

    I just wanted to add – one thing I am learning in therapy – is that rage is also part of my healing process. I wanted out too, but there is still some grieving for what was/what maybe could have been/what was dreamed of or hoped for…and anger is part of the process. But it’s also life-affirming – that you deserve better treatment, that you deserve to be happy. This is your body telling you this – and I hope soon, you can celebrate how true you are being to yourself.

    I also wanted to add one little bit of advice that someone gave me when I started this process – that everyone is going to want to know, “What happened?” Because I was private about our problems too. And so prepare a response in advance, so you can tell a brief answer to everyone. It can be, “I don’t want to talk about it.” It can be “It just didn’t work out.” It can be a spin on one of the Captain’s scripts. It can be whatever you need it to be. But having a response in advance helped me.

    The other thing I want to tell you – when I was finally honest with people, when I wasn’t keeping it all in, and private, what surprised me the most was that then many people opened up to me about their unhappiness, and thanked me for having the courage to reach out, because they had felt so alone. So, I’m not telling you to open up if you’re not comfortable, and maybe some in your circle who are giving you such crappy, unasked for advice might not be the people to open up to, but that opening up and being vulnerable (and eating the sandwiches of love, or in my case, many homecooked dinners of love), has deepened many friendships for me and built me a stronger Team Me.

  38. Just because you’re a private person who hasn’t disclosed your struggles doesn’t mean it’s your fault (at all!) that people are responding in a crappy way. So please don’t feel the need to take part of the blame there.

    Also, I want to share with you some wise words a friend once shared with me: “It has taken me all the years of my life and all the experiences I’ve had to get me to where I am today. I could not have become the person I am right now by taking any other path.”

    You did not make a terrible mistake by marrying your husband. You made the best decision you could at the time. That was the decision you needed to make in order to find who you are and who he is.

    1. Thank you for posting this — this is really helpful for dealing with all kinds of regrets.

  39. Happily married with problems here, and SO PRO DIVORCE. My parents-in-law should have divorced about 30 years ago. They were both wonderful people, really interesting and loving, but not good for each other. My father-in-law just passed away, and you know what? In all my grief, and all my husband’s, the saddest thing we thought together was, “wow, he could have been happier so easily.” (Not that divorce is easy, but sometimes it is clear the right thing.) So, good for you, lW, it seems like you are setting yourself on a better path, with more chances for happiness.

    1. My parents have been married for 63 years, and unhappy for at least 47 of them. It was the saddest thing to watch Mom get old and start to lose her memory, and become increasingly dependent on Dad, whom she despises, and doesn’t trust at all. When he finally put her in a memory care unit, they were both happier almost instantly, despite Mom being enraged that Dad was trying to “put her away”. She’s still pissed off at him, but at the same time, she’s obviously more relaxed and enjoying herself without him around. Dad has blossomed almost unbelievably.

      My brothers and I have been saying for years that they should have gotten divorced when I was about 2. I’m now 49, and it’s clear we’ve been right this whole time.

  40. Another brief shut-down script is a flat “I’m not rushing into it.”

    Slightly snarkier: “The only thing I’m rushing into is telling you what’s going on.”

  41. 4 months after my separation and 2 months after I moved out I had to have a conversation with my mother about not coming to me for emotional support regarding MY breakup.

    But, when the news broke, the main thing I said was along the lines of:

    “We’d been in therapy for a while, and given it our best, unfortunately, we weren’t able to make this work. I’m grieving the end of the relationship and I don’t want to get into a blame game. I wish him every happiness. Without me.”

  42. “We tried really hard to make it work for a really long time. This was a necessary decision for me.”


    “I’ve always believed in teaching my children how to live their lives by example. That they shouldn’t just give up on things at the first sign of discomfort, but nor should stay in painful or miserable situations no matter what.”

  43. Dear LW, I just wanted to tell you that I could have written the exactly same letter a few years ago – and I understand your frustration and anger very well and also the thoughts that you should not have married this man. The Captain is absolutely right: you have done your absolute best to make this relationship to work, even more than we can possibly imagine based on your letter. You have done so very, very much. You have learned a lot of what you need in order to be happy.

    This is not about me, but I will tell about my life quickly, hoping that my strange route will make you less alone in your situation. People often enter relationships not knowing themselves fully or they and their needs change during the relationship. My first long relationship began as a very happy one but turned out really tormenting. I am still wondering how we finally managed to break up and still be supportive to each other. Now this ex of mine has finally become a calm and happy individual after realizing that they are transgender and the whole time fighting the symptoms of gender dysmorphy – and they are not really attracted to people of my gender sexually. They are the other parent of my children and together we have done everything in our power to be supportive, involved parents, including also the children to our development as human beings. In hindsight, yes, it was a mistake to be in relationship with this person, but I am so happy of the children. I did get my share of really inappropriate reactions when we broke up: one relative accused me of cheating this ex spouse – and also the same reactions you have got. I am so sorry you have to live through that. I do not know if it helps at all, but it will pass. In my opinion people should not say things like that. In front of what they think is a tragedy people are often clumsy and at loss – and what is worse, they try to “be helpful” and fix things when that is not often what people need unless they clearly state otherwise. That is why I, at least in internet, tell stories of my life. In real life I would just make some tea or coffee or other beverage and possibly food, sit down with the person and to see, what they would like to do – but that does not really translate well in text. In the internet only few readers comment so I hope that you can in your mind translate all these answers here to at least ten times more people who look at your letter with empathy and support and I am sure many of them think exactly what I do: “You are great! Look how much you have tried and you have probably learned a lot from it. It is absolutely necessary to think of your own wellbeing. You are doing the right thing. Also, in the future, you are very well equipped to raise your child to appreciate their own wellbeing.”

    I wonder if in your mother’s case there is more to it: perhaps she would like to be closer to you? Now is clearly not the right time and she is doing it in a way which is hurtful. People often falsely think that of course they are close to you because they are your parent/friend/aunt/uncle etc. I am quite sure your mother’s behaviour is not about you but about them and their needs. Right now it is time to pay attention to your needs, you do not have to be responsible of your mother’s needs.

    You are a fantastic person! Take care of yourself!

  44. If this ends up as a double-post, please remove the other one.

    My ex, more than once, literally said “You’re just trying too hard.” Yet, when we broke up, he was the only person who seemed surprised. Even his friends said to me “I understand why you are not staying with him.”

    Parenting got a little easier; things that he was supposed to be doing, but didn’t, I just did. Our child, now in their 30’s, turned out as well as they were going to. They’re a great person, but a complicated one, and I suspect their father and I staying together longer would have made them more complicated.

  45. Something I’ve found effective when people give me stupid, unsolicited advice without understanding my experience at all is to thank them meanly and sarcastically.

    “Oh! I should just work harder! Crap, why’d I waste all that time and money on couples therapy, researching different communication styles, asking him directly for what I needed, and years of personal therapy. I could have just worked harder! Why didn’t I think of that?”

    I’m usually pretty understanding of others when they say dumb things (like we all do), but if you’re going to boil down a huge, painful part of my life into a “just do blank” piece of unsolicited advice, I think you deserve to spend a few moments stewing in how stupid and insensitive that response really is.

  46. Geeerz people need to get over their chocolate box cutesy pie family ways. Why can people simply say I’m sorry your marriage didn’t work out if you want to talk about it I’m happy to listen. Ans then keep their insensitive traps SHUT whilst continuing to include you.
    We are way too invested in others having the perfect married life!!

  47. As a child whose life was probably saved by my mother divorcing my father, I am all for divorce for any reason when parents aren’t happy. Then it’s up to the parents to maintain good relationships with their children. If they can’t, then they couldn’t have done it within the bounds of marriage either. And a bad marriage is a terrible role model. I particularly like the last few “scripts” from the Captain. Going to go work on my “basilisk stare” now for similar situations… And when are people going to learn to not give advice or say platitudes when people share major emotional events or problems?

  48. Question: what is the best thing to say to someone when they tell you they’re getting a divorce? Is “Sorry to hear that” presumptuous somehow? I’ve tried, “Oh. That sounds difficult.” but it seems a little distancing. It’s especially hard if you’re not close friends — like you’re just enough in their circle to know their relationship status, but not close enough to be their go-to for support.

    1. Here’s the sort of thing I liked hearing: “If the divorce is good news, congrats! If things are rough, please tell me how I can help.”

    2. I think you can say “oh I’m so sorry to hear that” with a questioning inflection, my leaving my husband was absolutely the right thing to do for me him and the child but fucking hell the process is exhausting and wrenching and it hurts. If the person is thrilled/relieved it’s over, they can let you know that still. I am still utterly relieved I left nine months on but I’ll still take sympathy/empathy/offers of support. In my head I think I translate them into “I’m sorry your marriage was so shitty you had to leave”.

    3. I like “Oof, that’s big.” and gauge their response. Then if I don’t have a bead on what’s an appropriate follow up, “How you are feeling?” “How are you doing with it?” or “How are you getting through?”

      One of my current things to ask after someone ramblings big heavy news at me is also “What are you doing to take care of *you* around this right now?”

    4. I liked people who treated it like it was no big deal and who followed my lead. So things like ‘Oh I hope that goes smoothly’ or even just an understanding nod. If people want to expand or breeze past it they will.

  49. First of all: congratulations on deciding to get out of what sounds like a very toxic relationship. Such decisions are never easy and I hope you’ll find happiness and peace going forward.

    Now for the question: I’m going to stray from the majority here and say: I strongly advice againt using the rage scream against anybody who makes those comments you mentioned for the FIRST time. I am not saying “don’t be angry/upset/hurt/disappointed”. Those are all very valid feelings and you should definitely allow yourself to feel them when you feel them, but that doesn’t mean screaming at someone over ONE comment would somehow be ok. Like you said, you have been very private about this. People can’t read your mind. They don’t have a magical crystal ball that tells them what’s happened in your life. Are some of them making those comments to play crisis manager / savior and stroke their own ego by “helping” you? Yes. But unless you are surrounded by 100% shitty people, there will also be plenty of people who just genuinely care about you and are merely trying to help, if in misguided ways that upset you. I believe it’s worth it hoping for the best FIRST.

    However: note the emphasis on FIRST and ONE. You can tell a lot about how much respect people have for you, based on their response to you telling them they did something wrong / hurt you.

    As a bit of background info: I suffer from several chronic health conditions, which I can mostly manage in ways that hide them perfectly from people, but sometimes something flares up in noticeable ways. If I had a nickle for every person who told me “X looks/sounds pretty bad, maybe go see a doctor?” I’d be fucking rich. Those comments hurt and they make me angry, because I know that I have been managing these conditions for more than three decades now and I already know how much they suck. But people who see one of those flare-ups for the first time? They don’t know any of that. So here’s how I go about it:

    Other person: X looks pretty bad, maybe go see a doctor?
    Me: Thanks for your concern, but this is a chronic condition I’ve had for years. I’ve already seen all the doctors. I know what I’m doing. [subject change]

    Pick one standard phrase and go with it. The more often you say it, the easier it will be. From that point onward, conversations really only go in one of two ways, because the person’s reaction tells you everything you need to know about their motives and their respect for you and your feelings:

    Reaction 1: Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. Well, I do hope you’ll feel better soon. / If you need anything, just give me a shout.
    Me: Thanks. [subject change]

    Reaction 2: Oh that sucks. But have you tried X? / My brother had that too! What worked for him was X! / I know this really great doctor though.
    Me: It’s really none of your business, Janet. [subject change or walking away, depending on whether this person is someone I had wanted a conversation with in the first place or not]

    Any comment after that? Fuck ’em. I gave them the chance to back off and respect my privacy and they didn’t take it. My standard response in those cases is “None. Of. Your. Business. Janet.” in the coldest, most hostile tone I can manage, although if my patience is wearing particularly thin, I will yell and swear, usually something along the lines “I already told you it’s none of your business so fuck off and shut up!”

    Does this extra step take emotional effort on my part? Yes. Do I sometimes slip up and just yell at people at the FIRST sign of slightest provocation? It has happened. It was always followed by an apology, because nobody deserves that. The golden rule remains: don’t do to others what you would not want to have done to yourself. I wouldn’t want people to scream in my face over one well-meant comment, so I do my best not to do it to them.

    As for letting out the rage: I usually bottle it up for a venting period at the end of the day (or at least lunch break, though if you can do it sooner, that’s great too), when I go on a walk where I direct the angry rant at the nearest, inanimate object I and just let it all out. As a bonus, walking is a pretty decent way to relief stress in general (more oxygen, natural light, very mild exercise, and a stimulating yet not over-stimulating experience for the senses).

    1. That’s what it’s reminding me of, as well. I’ve never been pregnant or divorced, so the major Here’s My Bad Advice thing of my life has been my health.

      Me: “Hey, I have this thing, it affects me in this way.”
      People: “Oh, have you tried [incredibly obvious solution that was the first thing I tried back in 2005]”

      We’re talking “Hey my computer is literally on fire” “Well have you tried turning it off and on again?” levels of oblivious advice-giving. We are way past the easy solutions, friend.

      LW, I know it’s a different situation, but I feel pretty free to get sarcastic depending on who I’m talking to. My usual standards are
      – “Yeah” with a very condescending look
      -“literally the first thing I did,” with a “come on now, bro” look
      – “What? No way, that was an option? Oh my god, I had no idea!” with a Nic Cage over-acting vibe

      1. “We are way past the easy solutions, friend.”

        This is a perfect response in and of itself, tbh.

      2. Back in 1990 there was an SNL sketch called “Helmet Head,” which was about a guy who’d put on a helmet that was too small for him when he was in the military and couldn’t get it off. He and his wife have guests over. One of the guests, after learning of the guy’s plight, asks, “Have you tried soapy water?”

        “Have I tried soapy water? SOAPY WATER WAS THE FIRST THING I TRIED. AND THEN IT WAS THE TENTH THING I TRIED. AND THEN IT WAS THE HUNDREDTH THING I TRIED. Soapy water … Soapy water …” (breaks down in tears)

        It was a pretty stupid sketch, but I’m grateful to it because “Don’t offer suggestions that they’ve almost certainly thought of themselves” is a useful lesson to learn the not-hard way, and one many people never get around to learning.

  50. I am a child of divorce where they waited years and years and ‘stayed together for the kids” and thank you so much, you are so awesome for taking yourself out of that situation and taking care of yourself and your kids. Whenever my friends who have kids mention even the possibility of the end (and want advice) my advice is “If the kids are what’s keeping you together, don’t stay. Leave now.” You are doing a super difficult thing and your rage feels are 100% valid and I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with that.

  51. I’m guessing these people are saying what they are because they’re shocked and had no clue anything was wrong…but yeah, if they know you, they should know you’re fairly private. I TOTALLY get why you’re fighting back the rage screams.

    This is yet another example of why unsolicited advice is so self-absorbed and disrespectful and just not something that is EVER a good idea. Particularly with something as heavy as divorce. You don’t need to be a top psychiatrist to know that’s an emotional minefield. Unsolicited advice on, say, an outfit might be more easily shrugged off (but it’s still disrespecting that the person knows what’s best for them).

  52. ““Sure, ‘Marriage takes work’ but people never seem to say that to the person who isn’t doing any of the work.””

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  53. I broke things off my Darth Vader husband _yesterday_ and the advice is amazingly helpful and affirming to read today. Just wanted to chime in to say thanks for this. And solidarity with the LW. For me, stopping working on the marriage was one of the healthiest (also hardest) things ever. I too had exhausted myself trying to fix it all by myself, when most of the problems were never mine to fix. They were his. Our culture is all like, “Women! If you get stuck in an unhealthy relationship it is because you lack self respect ergo we don’t respect you either! Your fault!” So you’d think when you enact the self respect of leaving the relationship, the culture would be like, “Congratulations, a job correctly done!” But of course this is not how it works because double standards. Also there is no correct way to do live as a woman in our culture: you are always already doing it wrong. So when you have the strength to jump ship you get the other blade on the sword: “But don’t you value commitment? Have you thought of working even harder?You are probably immature. Why are you opting out of work when you could grind yourself into the earth by working on an unsolvable problem that lives within another person’s psyche? If you don’t want to fix this man (who does not want to be fixed) you are uncaring!” I for one fully support the LW in any and all rage screaming at helpfully-helpful helpers.

  54. Hi! First comment here. Been lurking for months – thank you CA, love the site! Seriously, my life would have been so different if I’d been able to read and understand this kind of thing in high school. :/

    I didn’t see any comment looking at this from the other side. I find understanding is a good way the diffuse anger sometimes, so let me try…

    My circumstances are different but I relate to LW in that I am a very private person. Despite having plenty of “issues” (for lack of a better word), I excel at presenting myself as 100% A-OK. This leads to awkward things like:

    Case 1: An acquaintance/co-worker who is a therapist, on hearing me admit to being horrible at remembering names (I really am) gets this look of awe and joy on her face and tells me she’s so happy to hear that I’m bad at *something*, cause I’m just so AWESOME AT EVERYTHING. I have to inwardly scratch my head that she has picked up no hints at my paralyzing social anxiety, years of depression, lack of family and other close relationships in my life, etc etc. But no, of course she doesn’t see any of that. How could she? I am very good at looking OK.

    Case 2: In the rare event that I have a conversation with my dad, he always talks and talks without letting me get in a word, then he goes into this spiel: “It’s so great that all these amazing things just happen for you, which is great after, you know…” [he doesn’t say: “the completely fucked up childhood you had with us”] “It’s really just so great to know that something great came out of this family and you are SO AWESOME and your life is SO PERFECT and it makes me REALLY happy!” which makes me want to scream because he has been in therapy with me and he has heard about The Things and I have tried many times to cut through this bullshit with him because he should know better.

    Anyway, so in case 1 (which is a much milder situation than LW’s but bear with me…) I’m annoyed, because a trained therapist should know that what’s on the outside of a person doesn’t tell the whole story, and she should not revel in finding a flaw in me, no matter what else she thinks about me. That’s not nice. But when this kind of thing happens with acquaintances, and it does fairly often, I am always aware that I have actively created this image they have of me. I don’t want to talk about my shit with co-workers. I don’t want them to even know about it. That’s a rule I set, and I like it. The drawback is that I can’t expect them to react to my dark scary truths and address the realities of my life in a sensitive way.

    LW, if I read your letter right, some people have been hearing from you: “Marriage is great!” every day for years and years and then suddenly “Divorce! Over! Done!” and that can be confusing. They may ask or say stupid things because they are confused — not because they are trying to belittle your experiences, not because they want to tell you what to do, but because they really just don’t know a thing about it. And really, like my co-worker, what they are reacting to might be that image you have showed them over the years. Which is not AT ALL to blame you – for me, thinking about it this way is empowering. You have controlled the narrative, and you can continue to do so. They are only reacting to what they know, and they know very little. Which makes what they say and do… kind of meaningless, right?

    YMMV, but I find that keeping in mind that disparity between their image and my reality helps me react with information or redirection rather than rage or hurt. No matter that they are being dumbasses, the interaction loses its weight for me. I can walk away and leave them in the dark. I can inform them. Whatever I choose.

    Big caveat: for people like my case 2, the people who ought to know better: after months of reading this site I’m down with harsh boundary setting and the Captain’s lines are brilliant. If it’s your family or close friends who have seen what you’ve been through, and they’re still pulling this stuff? Yep. Definitely shut that down. I’m all ready with similar lines the next time my dad passive aggressively thanks me for allowing him to live in denial. Grrrrr.

    All the best LW – and congratulations for choosing your well being and that of your child. I think a great weight is going to come off your shoulders when you’re free of this!

    1. I agree with your bottom line that the opinions of the ignorant can be ignored, perhaps better to say the disparity is not reality vs “the image [LW has] showed them” but rather reality vs their assumptions about and projections onto LW.
      If LW hasn’t told them anything, anything they’re hearing is coming from inside their own head. As worded it sounds like LW is responsible for others’ assumptions about her.

      Your father: ugh. Sounds like he’s trying to inoculate himself from any responsibility for damage you suffered.

      1. No – she’s not responsible. But she needs to be informed. In her letter she says that only two people know the reality of her marriage – her best friend and her therapist. I think this is totally reasonable. But let’s not ignore the ramifications.

        I’d hate her to lose allies who want to be on her side, but they never got the chance because they have no idea what she’s been through and maybe they are like us — the people who come to this site. Socially awkward and subject to asking stupid, insensitive questions when we are unsure of ourselves. When we don’t know the facts of a situation.

        The imperfection of the internet means that we can’t separate one side from another based on a single letter. Certainly both things are happening for LW. She is dealing with douche bags who project their baggage on her, but also there may be kind, caring people who asked stupid questions of her because they didn’t know her truth and didn’t know better. I want her to be able to see one from the other, and she can only do that if she can see clearly, and that means stepping away from that (very understandable!) rage reaction.

        In my experience, feeling empowered is the best way to step away from rage. Rage comes from helplessness and powerlessness.

        But again, YMMV.

        1. The LW says “I realize I set myself up for this response by my own preference for privacy…”, so no, she does not “need to be informed” and she is not “ignoring the ramifications” and your wish that she could “see clearly” is not helpful.

    2. I don’t see anything in the letter to suggest that LW was saying “Marriage is great!” She said she’s a private person, and didn’t talk about what was wrong–that could equally well mean that when she’s been asked how she is, or what’s going on, she talked about the last movie she saw, or the kids’ swimming lessons, or having to shop for new winter coats.

      Yes, some people will infer “my marriage is wonderful” or “spouse and I are a great team” from “we’ve signed Marigold up for swimming lessons” or “we went whale watching and it was amazing,” even if the only mention of the spouse is “we almost missed the boat, because spouse overslept.” Once they have any reason to believe that–which might include, literally, having been at the wedding, or a desire to believe that their daughter/niece/cousin/old friend’s marriage is happy–it’s easy for people to read things as supporting what they already believe and/or want to believe.

      1. Which doesn’t change the point – these offensive questions may come from people whose brains have no idea there was a problem.

        Isn’t that what people do, according to your post? In absence of a message saying “I have marriage problems happening here and now…” What do you assume? Your friend Stu is posting about swimming classes and picnics… Are you reading that and preparing yourself for sudden divorce news?

        If you do hear of such, what is your first reaction? “OMG my head has been buried in this hole of all this stuff in my own life and I had no idea of Stu’s marriage because of his/her posts, so now…. ugggghh?” And, if you weren’t a CA informed reader who knows social rules, might you make a dumb post or ask a dumb question? Even though you love Stu dearly and would never harm or doubt him/her?

        I don’t want LW to lose allies. I want LW to be empowered and in control.

        1. I’m not LW, but: Being told that I needed to disclose more than I was comfortable with so that people didn’t make their own preconceptions my problem when I have just told them their preconceptions were wrong, and hearing that people who harmed and doubted me would never actually harm or doubt me, would not make me feel empowered or in control, tbh.

        2. I’m not expecting to hear that Stu is getting divorced, but I hope I wouldn’t respond by telling him he shouldn’t rush into it, or ask whether he had considered working on the marriage. Yes, I might thoughtlessly blurt out “what happened?” rather than “Are you okay?” or “do you need anything?” Those questions can be answered with “we realized it wasn’t working” or “I’d rather not talk about it. How about that subject change?” rather than any kind of explanation, whether it’s “I’m not sure myself, it wasn’t my idea” or “she was cheating on me” or “I’ve fallen in love with someone else” or “I’m getting in a flying saucer to Zeta Reticuli, and I don’t want to leave too many loose ends here on Earth.”

        3. Lee,

          It isn’t on the LW to figure out why her acquaintances behave badly. Nor is it on her to placate them with more knowledge.

          It’s a useless strategy.

          Feeding rude people’s curiosity won’t win her courtesy or allies.

    3. @Lee, the LW has said that the most common response she’s getting is variations on “Don’t rush into this”. That’s… telling her what to do. (Or at least, what not to do, which is the flip side.) Whether or not they ‘want to’ tell her what to do, that is exactly what they are doing. They need to stop.

      They’re not just startled at the news. They are leaping straight to the assumption that the LW is rushing into something, that she hasn’t worked on her marriage, that she wouldn’t possibly think of working on her marriage or taking time over the decision if they didn’t tell her. They are not even feeling any need to stop and gather information first as to whether this is the case (there’s a difference between “Don’t rush into this!” and “So… um… have you been thinking about this for a while, then? I had no idea.”) They’re leaping straight to “Must… give… advice” mode, even though it requires them to make lousy assumptions about the LW and run with those assumptions. That’s a dickish thing to do, whatever their reasons for it, and their lack of prior knowledge of the LW’s situation doesn’t make it less dickish. It’s fine for the LW just to want it to stop.

  55. The kindest thing ever said to me about leaving my first children’s father was by a stay at home dad who was way before society’s timeline.

    “I can’t imagine how bad it must have been for you to need to get to the point where the best option was to leave.”

    I often think of him & try to model that insight & gentility when I interact with newly separated people.
    Because it’s not a light decision & rarely is it taken lightly.
    LW, the rage stops eventually. I’ve heard every fucked thing “well meaning” people have to say about separation & the negative effects it will have on my children. Don’t be afraid to live the life you choose & just remember they aren’t walking in your shoes. And seriously, most of them couldn’t even stand in the front porch.
    Go live, you & your child are worth it.
    Bless ✨💕

  56. ““Sure, ‘Marriage takes work’ but people never seem to say that to the person who isn’t doing any of the work.””

    OH DAMN. Nice work Captain 👏👏👏

    Love and luck to you LW ❤

  57. LW, if you do end up having to rage-out on someone, or make an extra angry Facebook post and tag everyone who is being an asshole, it’s okay. People can mean well and still piss you the fuck off. This is a time when your other-people’s-shit-taking abilities are at an all-time low. They can cut you some slack.

  58. LW I am so sorry you have to deal with this on top of navigating a divorce. It reminds me of why I stopped talking about my mental health issues is because everyone suddenly turned into an armchair psychologist and would pepper me with ‘well, why didn’t you just…’ ‘well, you what you should do’ and ‘you should just get over it’ (that’s my favorite). I’ve come to the conclusion that the world is filled with fucking idiots.

  59. Dear LW,

    I was married to my first husband for over twenty years. Our marriage didn’t end because we were a couple of slackers who hadn’t worked on it enough. It ended because we had a choice…. divorce and work on setting aside our personal shit and learn how to become effective co parents or continue our marriage and raise our kids in a toxic swamp of pain and resentment. We choose our children’s best interests and divorced. It’s been twelve years since the divorce and I can say with confidence that our divorce allowed us not only to be better parents, it let us rebuild a friendship that exists even now that our youngest is grown up and moved out.

    I can’t add anymore to the Captains scripts, but I will say that I found the need to set a very clear boundary with the “why don’t you work it out crowd” when it came to the kids. I told them that the best way to support the kids was “xyz tailored to each kid” and that neither my ex or I was interested in the children being pumped for information, being forced to listen to people bash their parents, etc….

  60. Repeat after me: Divorce is better for kids than being stuck with unhappy parents.

    Caps words and scripts are spot on.

    1. Thanks for the reminder, sorry. I process so much stuff in my inbox that I can be really oblivious to what would get a note at times.

  61. Here, here. Here’s a chance for a new life as a happy person being happy around her child. Better for her, you, and spouse. No advice, just want to add to a soft emotional support cloud for you to land on. ❤

    1. Good luck with your divorce! Years of being sexually incompatible can really take a toll on a person.

  62. I have a child with special needs and many people have made suggestions about his care that suggest I’m either a lazy or careless parent or a stupid one. So I know the incandescent rage thing pretty well.

    The Captain has wisely mentioned my favorite response, which is to look them dead in the eye and say something like “What could possibly make you think I haven’t considered my child’s well-being?” or “What makes you think I’m not aware of that?” or “Why would you feel the need to say something so hurtful to me?”

    The trick is to say it firmly (as Captain says, it isn’t a question, really) and flatly. Let it land awkwardly. And then don’t say anything else; let your questioner twist in the wind. You didn’t make things awkward; they did. In my experience people either get huffy and leave (good riddance) or they realize they’ve been hurtful and apologize, and then we can move forward in a more positive way.

    Good luck.

  63. My mum is also very private, and my dad’s response to conflict is aggressive avoidance/pretending the thing isn’t happening. As a result, they managed to be separated for 18 months while living in the same house WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE, INCLUDING THEIR ADULT CHILDREN WHOM THEY LIVED WITH. I spent most of that time telling my friends how unhappy they seemed together and how I wished they’d just split up, so when mum finally told me what was going on, my reaction was basically “/oh/. Thank God!”

    Be grateful you don’t have a meddling relative with a terminal illness. My mum confided in her sister about her marriage problems and sister tried to keep them together by making my dad the executor of her will. There were trusts and things that weren’t supposed to be paid for years to come, and it ended up being just one more annoying way their affairs were entangled. My unmarried, hopeless romantic aunt probably thought she was doing a great thing for their relationship but seriously, don’t die and leave your misguided fairytale ideas for someone else to deal with.

  64. LW, I am you. I married a person I never should have married, and I was -so miserable- and angry, and sad, and it was just not good. They are not a bad person, at all – we both did some shitty things in the depths of our unhappiness, but that doesn’t make either of us bad. My current go to response to any and all inquiries about what happened is “We grew apart, it happens, we’re still on good terms, and I’m glad for that.” People, in my experience really want to just like….KNOW THE DIRTY GRITTY details, and stonewalling them out of any of that is really useful for fending off that ugly drama that you super don’t need. Good for you for making the choice to make yourself happy, your child will absolutely be ok, and now you’re free to be happy ❤

  65. Just adding my personal favorite to the arsenal of potential responses to prying noses –

    In a rather surprised tone say, “Oh, I didn’t tell you?” in the way that suggests it must have been an oversight.
    And when they reply with, “No… You didn’t…” thinking they are about to be rewarded with more information,
    You whisper conspiratorially, “Probably because it wasn’t any of your business.” or “Must be because it doesn’t concern you.”

    Unsolicited advice-givers get the modified form –

    “Didn’t I ask you about this before?”
    “There was a reason for that.” or “That’s because I was avoiding exactly this kind of clueless advice.”

    Alternately, “I apologize if it sounded like I was asking for advice/input – I wasn’t.”

    Now, I wouldn’t exactly use this with my mom, at least the first time she started in. She’d probably get some version of, “The only person who gets to decide what constitutes ‘doing enough to save the marriage’ is the person who has done the work.” But the nosey neighbor, and people you run into at the grocery store, and anyone else who wants to assume the position of Designated Adult and treat you like a child? Yeah, those people absolutely get put back in their place.

  66. See, the reason the Captain is an advice columnist and I’m not is that I read that letter and went “…yep. Screaming sounds like a good reaction to me.”

    Congratulations and good luck in your divorce, LW! It’s clearly ABSOLUTELY the right decision for you, and screw anyone who doesn’t get that. As for the kids…

    So my brother and his ex split up while she was pregnant, and the break-up was acrimonious and the child custody case got dragged in front of the courts My niece? Strikes me as a happy, well-adjusted kid overall. She has two parents who love her and want what’s best for her, gets to stay with Mom most of the time and visit Dad every other weekend and some holidays. I obviously can’t speak for her, and I know there were tough times for her, but then I imagine the utter shitshow it would have been if these two incredibly incompatible people had forced themselves to stay in a relationship – with an innocent child stuck in the middle – and am 1000% sure this was the best option. I am really, really not sure why the cultural narrative seems to be that it’s better for children to grow up in one dysfunctional household containing two adults who don’t like each other and are deeply unhappy as a result than splitting their time between two functional households where all relationships are wanted.

  67. “Wow. I think the words you were looking for were ‘that must be a really hard decision, is there anything I can do?’”

    Nothing helpful to add, but I love, love, love the idea of suggesting the response you’d *like* to have got.

  68. My parents divorce was one of the best things to happen to me in childhood. I know it’s not the same for everybody, but maybe once the dust settles you and your kid will find some new happiness alone together or with someone new.

  69. LW, this really hit home for me, because I was in a similar marriage, and it took me way longer than 10 years to get out of it. I am SO much happier now, as is my son. I think sometimes people forget that a partner doesn’t have to be abusive or Darth-y to be not the right partner for you. I like all the Captain’s scripts, and I think even just saying ‘we did work on the marriage, we’re just not right for each other’ is all the explanation anyone needs to hear. Also my friend, when she left a very similar marriage (and her child was small too) had a divorce party when hers was finalised. It wasn’t a vindictive thing, she and her ex are still amicable to this day, but she wanted to celebrate the fact she was starting a new chapter in her life. I hope you do something like that too! And good luck!

  70. So. I recently decided that I couldn’t stand a single more gram of my mom’s abuse and my family has been giving me a lot of shit about it. And I just wanted to say, **thank you** Captain and everyone who provided scripts and validation, it’s like a balm for sore hearts.

  71. One other thing stands out to me, LW: you say he’s not an abuser or a Darth, but for 10 years you have been asking and begging to get your emotional needs met and he won’t even go to therapy with you to see if there’s a way to fix this. Your needs have been unmet to the point that you have contemplated suicide. Are you sure he’s kind?

    1. Sometimes people are unaware of how much damage they are doing, or really how miserable their partner is. I will agree that being oblivious is not exactly kind, but you can be kind in the framework of what you are aware of.

      And yes, LW has been telling him, but a certain type of mind is really good at filtering out what doesn’t “make sense”. I came *this* close to divorce this year because my husband has been–utterly unintentionally and unconsciously–isolating me from my friend circle and social group. He had NO IDEA I was so miserable and it took a few months of me repeating “this is what I need; if I don’t get it I can’t stay” before it finally sunk in and he realized that yes, it was in fact unfair of him to expect that he be my only friend. I don’t think he is cruel or a Darth, he just has a hard time understanding in a real way that other people are in fact different from him, and think in different ways and value different things.

  72. I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments, but I am happy to share ideas that have been helpful to me:

    1. Punch something. Not a person or something you value, but maybe legit sign up for an exercise class where you get to punch things. Rage about something led me to some serious cardio sessions, which ended up having some interesting side effects. a) I lost some weight and was really happy to fit in to some clothes that hadn’t fit right in a while. It was a bit of an added boost; b) I made some new cardio class friends. When I told these people about the rage-inducing stuff, there was the advantage of them not knowing the situation prior. They had no basis upon which to say things like, “well, these things take time” or whatever middle-ground stuff people say when they have knowledge of both sides. Their responses were, “that sucks, let me know how to be supportive” (or thereabouts). c) endorphins. I’d feel ragey and then go to class and then feel good. And eventually I just sort of felt good, and I was able to shift my outlook on certain things.

    2. Not applicable to LW, of course, but when I hear someone is getting divorced, I’ve learned to give a different response. I say something like, “that’s unfortunate; I hate to hear of things not working out.” Then I take my cues from there. I never say “but think of the children!” because sometimes the kids are better off with parents apart (not everyone, but some).

    3. The people who are responding to LW may be shocked. Things probably looked okay from the outside. Use the Captain’s suggestions to deflect and set boundaries, but also don’t push away your people unless they need to be pushed away. Some people will adjust their responses when they hear what you have to say. Some will keep pushing their agendas or ideas onto you. Select from them who you want to keep in your life and who you can be done with.

    1. Enthusiastic support for punching things, here! I’ve been taking karate for about 15 years now, and I can’t tell you how many times a good session on the heavy bag, or an intense round of sparring was exactly what I needed to get rage out of my system. At this point, my teacher and I are good enough friends that I have been known to ask him for the kind of class I need, and if he can, he will give it to us. Nothing like on the barrel sparring (pretty much continuous sparring, cycling through opponents without breaks) until you’re ready to drop to work some cathartic magic.

  73. Not for first-time offenders, but–can you spock one eyebrow? Such a useful social skill to have! Practice in a mirror.

    Anyway, for those who push, and push, and push, even after you deploy all of the Captain’s scripts, spock that eyebrow and say, “Are you seriously standing here in front of me and saying to my face that you genuinely believe you know more about my life than I do?! Are you seriously saying that? Or are you saying that I am so utterly brainless that I am incapable of thinking for myself of any of those incredibly obvious, trite, and simplistic things you just told me?! Are you seriously saying that?!” Just keep talking over them until they give up and go away. “Seriously? Are you really– Can you possibly believe– It’s amazing to me that anyone could–” Etc.

    Actually, do Zara Em’s thing instead: I quickly figured out the best way to quash meddling and judging. I would say, in an almost-confessional tone, “Do you know what happened?” (as though I were about to let them into my confidence). And when they INVARIABLY leaned in hungrily and said, “Noooo, what happened?” I would say, briskly, pulling back, “I didn’t think so.”

    So much more fu-ful than mine.

  74. My paternal grandmother took her three boys and left her alcoholic, physically abusive husband. Back in the early 1950s, when such things just weren’t done – at least, not in her circles. She had to move across the country and pretend to be a widow to get a job and a church community to support her.

    My own parents didn’t divorce until we were all out of the house. What I learned from them is how to hurt each other, mostly. My mother abused my father and made damn sure none of us in the immediate family liked or trusted each other – a dynamic that has caused irreparable harm that still affects us today – and my dad steadily withdrew until we barely knew him.

    After the divorce, he blossomed. He got an amazing job, moved across the country, got a girlfriend and now basically has a second family that he loves and that loves him and he can be close and affectionate with in a way that he still can’t find his way back to doing with his biological kids.

    I’m happy for him, but sad because it shows me how it could have been. If my parents had divorced early instead of doing what they did, maybe that happy relationship my dad has with his new family would have been *our* relationship. He loves us and supports us, but he can’t/won’t talk to us. I think we trigger his trauma, or his feelings of failure. It sucks.

    So yeah. Divorcing your husband now, before all this pain you’ve been carrying stunts your relationship with the people you love, may be the very best thing you can do for your child and yourself. I wish my parents had done that for me.

  75. As a child of a similar marriage, LW, I would like to most heartily harmonize with your FUCK YOU. “Divorce is bad for the children” well it’s not sunshine and rainbows but living in a persistently, intensely, unescapably unhappy household is worse, and as you said, a dead mother is MUCH WORSE YET.

    My parents’ divorce was one of the best things they could have done for my brother and me. (My mother’s remarriage to an awesome guy who has spent the next thirty years giving us and her all the love our bio-father isn’t capable of is another.)

    No marriage is better than a bad marriage.

  76. I came here to second the transformative power of Dear Sugar’s “The Truth That Lives There” column. When I was contemplating leaving my marriage of 2 years and wrestling with the guilt of having made a commitment that I subsequently discovered was a mistake even though my ex-husband wasn’t abusive or a bad person, just not a good partner for me, that column and specifically the sentence, “Because wanting to leave is enough.” literally CHANGED MY LIFE. I got chills reading it and felt like my skull opened from the top and a cool wind rushed through, sweeping away my doubt, guilt, the weight of cultural expectations, and my self recrimination.

    LW, I was in your position (minus the child), having been with my ex for nearly a decade in total and also being a private person who didn’t advertise my struggle and pain. Everyone other than my closest friends were shocked at the news and I got a lot of well-meaning but ultimately terrible advice. Just know that it will pass and people will move on. It’s painful now, I know. Even the most friendly and amenable divorces are still a bitch. But on the other side awaits a life awash with the possibility of happiness, contentment, and fulfilled emotional needs. Those of us who have already made the trek will be here waiting for you. ❤

  77. “Sure, ‘Marriage takes work’ but people never seem to say that to the person who isn’t doing any of the work.”


    I’m not quite in LW’s situation, but I needed to see this.

  78. “oh, don’t rush into this; marriage takes work, you know, and divorce is bad for children.”

    Wow. Just…. wow.

    First of all, it is stunningly rude to assume that you “rushed into” divorce. Your mother in particular should know that you are not the kind of ridiculous asshole who would ever just randomly get divorced on a whim.

    I realize I set myself up for this response by my own preference for privacy

    Oh, LW, I would like to offer you the biggest jedi-hug. You did do anything to deserve these people’s assholery! Here’s what someone who is not an asshole but perhaps a bit awkward says when they’re very surprised to hear a friend or family member is getting divorced: “Holy shit what happened? I thought you two were so happy together!” or “Oh my god are you okay?” or even “Wait, what?!”

    Assuming you didn’t think things through, didn’t put any effort into trying to save your marriage, and didn’t think about how divorce might affect your children is incredibly insulting and your urge to scream is completely and utterly justified.

    Now, let’s talk about how divorce affects kids. My parents got divorced when I was 10 or 11 and it was a huge relief not to have to listen to them scream at each other anymore. I’m not saying my parents’ divorce was never scary or hard for me and my sibling but after the dust settled things were so much better. Sure, it would have been great if my parents had actually been compatible, but if we’re talking fairy tales I’d really like 1 million dollars and a pony. Here in the real world the best option for me, my sibling, and both of my parents was for them to get divorced.

    One last thing, LW. You deserve to be happy. So fucking what if you married the wrong guy for you? You still deserve to be happy! You didn’t murder anybody, you didn’t steal someone’s family heirlooms and pawn them to buy beanie babies, you didn’t embezzle money and frame an innocent person for it, you just made an innocent and well-intentioned mistake. You don’t deserve to suffer forever for it!

    1. Augh, typo! I hope it’s clear from context but just in case: I meant to say “You did NOT do anything to deserve these people’s assholery!”

  79. “Sure, ‘Marriage takes work’ but people never seem to say that to the person who isn’t doing any of the work.”

    And it happens that way Every.Fucking.Time.

    I haven’t even finished reading this but had to rush down and comment on how BRILLIANT an observation it is, how OBVIOUS it is, yet how RARELY pointed out.

    Thank you for another good one to add to my arsenal!

    1. That script really hit me, too. I recently ended my marriage, and one reason I stayed in it about 20 years longer than I should have is because my ex constantly lectured me about how “Marriage takes work!” It took me years to figure out that when he said “Marriage takes work” he really meant, “Marriage takes work…from YOU.” He used that line to bully me into sacrificing all of my needs and putting in way more than 50% of the workload.

      I’m in a really happy relationship now, and it does NOT feel like work. It requires time and energy, yes, but I never feel that sense that my relationship is yet another chore to be attended to that I did in my marriage. Marriage shouldn’t be yet another job. If you don’t feel like you are better off for being married than not being married, move on without guilt!!!

  80. So many people asked me, when I finally left my 13-year misery, why I hadn’t told them. Well, because running around bad-mouthing the husband I loved wouldn’t have been conducive to the whole marriage-saving thing I was trying to pull off. Don’t beat yourself up for not sharing your marital woes with everyone you knew just so they could have some foreshadowing. Not a damn thing wrong with keeping your marital issues between you and a close friend and your husband.

  81. Divorce is lonely and there is a stigma. It’s just you deciding. It’s really no one else’s business, but so no one can make that choice for you. If all you feel is crushing weight in a marriage for years, seems best to end it though. I think in your heart you know what is right. It will be very hard and you’ll learn a lot and with time you will probably be thrilled you did it, and totally indifferent to what other people think. It’s not their life, it’s yours.

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