Carolyn Hax: Telling parents about pending divorce can be done without shame or guilt


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
Columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion and continued from yesterday’s column.

Hi, Carolyn!

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’m going home this weekend to tell my parents that my 21 / 2-year “happy” marriage is ending in divorce and I’m so anxious! We are a close family but I kept a lot of my unhappiness secret from them. They saw the happy, young couple, not the couple that bickers and argues and held grudges.

How do I break this to them? I plan to mention that we went to lots of counseling and both feel at peace with restarting our lives before 30, but I feel as if I’m letting them down big time AND know this will be a shock to them. Any tips?

Telling Parents

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Yes. Repeat as needed, in your head, “I don’t have to justify my life to my parents.”

Answer their natural questions honestly, and as fully (or tersely) as your comfort dictates, and recognize that people who love you will be sad for you, but don’t “plan” your reveal around making this palatable to them. It’s just not your job to live a life that serves their needs.

Re: Divorcing:

“You are not a failure; your marriage has failed” [from yesterday's column]: I think this is so important! I felt like such a failure over my divorce, but I wasn’t a failure. I did make some bad decisions that led me to a bad marriage. But I’ve learned and won’t make the same mistakes again!

Anonymous

Right! You’ll make new ones! Presumably. And that’s best case: Even those of us who learn from our mistakes will also repeat some. This business of being human is basically a jalopy ride over potholes, which is why it’s so important to ride with the best people you know, wherever possible, and to make sure you take note of any particularly beautiful scenery.

Re: Divorcing:

When I was going through a divorce, the best piece of advice I read is that it is completely normal to feel the full range of human emotions in a single day — maybe hour. There is nothing wrong with you for feeling them, and most of the time the best thing to do is let yourself feel them. Therapy makes a huge difference, and also helps “fixers” feel like they’re taking steps to fix something broken in themselves. But, simply knowing I wasn’t crazy for feeling so many conflicting things, and giving myself permission to feel them, made it all just a little bit easier to handle.

Also, have an answer you’re comfortable with for those few nosy people who ask what went wrong. And, if you have the kind of relationship with a boss or co-worker where you can (1) let them know the basics of what’s going on, (2) let them know you’re fine but may sometimes need to excuse yourself, and (3) ask them to tactfully spread the word, it can truly help with the day-to-day when you’re trying to function as a professional.

Finally, appreciate that this is a loss for your family, too. That doesn’t mean feeling guilty — you don’t need another layer of guilt right now — but it does mean giving them room to grieve in their own way, too.

Anonymous 2

Good stuff, top to bottom, thanks.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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