By: Tess Worrell
Most couples travel a maze of emotion and thought to finally decide, “We aren’t going to stay married.” Once it comes, the decision resonates. The challenge. The people who haven’t traveled the maze with you. How do you break the news to friends and family?
Telling extended family and friends, “create a common message.”
When a couple splits, too often family and friends feel they must choose. Those who can’t choose simply drop out of both lives. At a time when you need all the support you can get, you can help people remain engaged, with both of you, by the information you share and how you share it.
Together–craft a message that shares the decision without sharing the elements underlying the decision. This can be enormously difficult especially for spouses who feel betrayed or don’t want the divorce. Yet, doing so preserves relationships with others.
Phrases such as, “We have reached an impasse we cannot resolve” or “though we continue to care for one another, we cannot continue to share our lives in this way” present the reality with a united front. Though many want more detail, framing the announcement as a choice by the two of you which will remain between the two of you allows people to support both of you rather than take sides.
Tip: Get specific support people, pastor, counselor, a particular friend who know the intimate details of your personal struggle. When someone knows not everyone has to know.
Telling the children. Your children also benefit from a united front and common message. Example: “We have decided to live apart. Please know there are many factors involved, but most we will not share with you because they are private. More importantly, we continue to be your parents and will work together to take care of you.” This frees children to relate to both of you.
This is key. If you put children in the place of choosing, you cut them off from one of you and from each other. This is your divorce, not theirs. Refrain from sharing what will divide.
Instead focus on what matters to them:
- What does the future hold?
—Where will I live?
–-When will I see each of you?
–-How will life change?
Before talking to your children?develop concrete answers for these questions.
- What do you expect of me?
–How should I behave?
Children need to know that they can share their emotions, relief, sadness, confusion, and anger honestly and openly. Even though your nerves are strained, you need to preserve some well of energy to engage your children and help them work through their feelings.
Affirm that they can still relate to both of you as they have. They will have open contact with both. They can still show affection for both. They can still include both in important life events.
–What should I tell others?
Reassure your children that you will do the majority of telling and that they can refer questioners to you. For those they want to talk to, offer guides that allow them to be honest but protected.
–Was it my fault?
Specifically reassure children, whether they ask or not, that the divorce is not their fault. They didn’t play too loudly, ask for too many treats, or cause the fight. The egocentric nature of a child’s brain inherently assumes responsibility for the life around them. They need to hear, repeatedly, your decision is not because of them.
- What can I expect from each of you?
Again, specifics matter. Lay out how you will intentionally engage them and treat each other. Then, live up to it.
Answer these questions rather than focusing on the specifics of the conflict between you, and you will provide both the information and the support they truly need.