We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.
However, I wish I could share the reasons the marriage went belly up. I have been hurt, and my life plans have been suddenly and drastically overhauled. I now must manage the impact of this life-changing event on my kids. I am exhausted, struggling, hustling and giving every last ounce to my kids. I have no interest in mudslinging or playing the blame game. I definitely do not want to say anything that would be harmful if it got back to my kids. I do want to convey enough of my situation so that people in my life understand my mental state, my limited capacity to engage socially and that, out of respect for the kids, I won’t be engaging in negative talk about their father. Do you have any advice for a more encompassing scripted response to “But why???”
— Don’t Ask
Don’t Ask: First of all, my condolences. My divorce was so painful, and it was compounded by the many people saying, “Why? We thought you were the perfect couple.” Like you, I suddenly became a struggling single mom without an ounce of energy to spare. I didn’t know what to say to acquaintances until I was telling a close friend about the many reasons for the divorce, including my ex’s point of view. She said, “There are so many ways to tell a divorce story, aren’t there?” My answer to people became exactly that.
When asked, I responded, “There are so many ways to tell that story — so, you know, I think it’s better not to. It’s hard for everyone now, but we did the best thing for our kids.” This turned out to be a good answer because it shut off questions yet felt respectful to the (usually kind and sympathetic) questioner.
Best of luck to you! I hope this helps. Know that you will come out the other side with your sanity and strength intact — life will be much better!
— Nina P.
Don’t Ask: I got divorced in my early 30s from a marriage that everyone else thought was without flaws. It obviously wasn’t. Over time, I realized that most people who wanted to know the details were asking out of curiosity rather than compassion. Those approaching me with compassion cared more about how I was doing than the details of why everything unraveled. All of that to say: You don’t owe any time, energy or explanation to anyone’s curiosity.
A deflection might sound like, “It’s no one thing, but I appreciate your understanding that I don’t really have the energy to go into the details. The most important things to know are that the kids and I are good, and we are grateful for the support of our community.” If someone truly cares about you, that’s all they really need to know. And if they press further, you don’t owe them any more than that.
Another realization that helped me was understanding that people’s feelings about their own relationships (past or present) often show up in the conversation. Hearing about a divorce brings up a lot of emotions, and you don’t have to help anyone manage them. However, you can recognize that if someone has a less-than-compassionate reaction to your news, it’s probably more about their own state of mind than what they think of your divorce. Worry more about protecting your (and your kids’) feelings than indulging theirs.
— This, Too, Shall Pass
Don’t Ask: You’re being very kind to him. But the older I get, the more I believe being vague or refusing to share information just helps the wrongdoer. My advice is to state the facts simply and without detail.
For example, saying, “He was financially unfaithful,” sounds better than, “He had a gambling problem and ran up the credit cards without telling me.” Or saying, “He cheated,” is easier than giving the details of who, how often and when you found out. Or saying, “He declined to help me carry the household load,” instead of explaining, “I nagged him for years to pick up his socks and help with the kids’ bath time and finally gave up.” You can follow up the facts with statements about yourself like, “I’m drained right now and I’m in mourning. I’ll hopefully see you this summer.”
In my view, he should not get to do whatever it is he did to you and get the benefit of your silence. The kids deserve to know the facts, too, without details and trash-talking. I’m very sorry you’re going through this.
— Who Is the High Road For?
Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.
More from Carolyn Hax
From the archive:
Breaking up is hard to do. Staying in your ex’s life is torture.
Fears that a second kid would ruin their perfect life
Turning down a friend who invited herself to a birthday celebration
Man deals with assumptions about his child-free status
We saved our marriage, but our friends remain skeptical
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