Coming Out of the (Divorce) Closet
I am one of the most expressive and open people I know. My friends and colleagues have always told me this. So you can imagine how difficult it would be to keep my plans for divorce to myself. Sort of like keeping the first couple of months of being pregnant secretive… only when you share THIS news, it won’t bring immense joy and happiness. After months of keeping my divorce intentions to a very small and select group of close friends and family, I was ready to begin sharing the news. The problem? I had to tell my kids first. I was painfully aware that they needed to know before the cat was out of the bag for fear the news would spread without any control over it (gossipy neighbors can be quite ruthless) and I wanted them to hear this from me and me only.
My therapist helped and guided me through this process. I knew that it would be one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I knew I hung in (to the marriage) for as long as I did because of my kids. How would I ever tell them that I was breaking our family apart? My therapist told me that I would have to be honest with them and let them know that it was MY decision to divorce their dad. She explained to me that if I didn’t “fess up” from the get-go they could eventually blame me.
Knowing the moment would be forever etched in their brains, I carefully planned what I was going to tell them and rehearsed over and over. I knew that it would not be the “words” I used but rather my tone, my voice and my actions that they would not easily forget.
We gathered into the family room that evening. “Come sit down with us, we want to talk with you for a little.” My youngest crawled into my arms like she always does, sensing something. I took a deep breath and began explaining…
Me: “You know how I have been sleeping in the guest room for a few weeks?”
Kid #1: “Yes, because you have been coughing at night and it keeps dad awake.”
Me: “Well that was something I said because I didn’t know how to tell you…to tell you that dad and I have not been getting along very well… and I have decided that I do not want to be married anymore.”
Kid #1: “Really? You are going to get a divorce?”
Kid #2: “What? Why?”
Me: “I am sure you two have noticed that we have been arguing a lot and I am sorry for making things uncomfortable. You two are the most important people to us and we both love you. Our love for you two will never change, we just are not going to be married anymore…”
My youngest took off out of the family room and ran upstairs and into her own room. I expected this from #1, not #2. My #1 had no reaction other than a look of concern- no words. I went upstairs and my youngest was in her bed and hiding under her covers.
Me: “Honey, please come out.”
Me: “Can I come under there with you?”
I went underneath the beautiful shabby chic bed spread, the one I carefully picked out when she moved into her big girl bed.
Me: “I love you so much honey and I am so sorry that this hurts. I promise things will work out and we will be great.”
Many minutes went by in silence. I heard deep breathing and I wondered what her small 5 year old brain was telling her. I knew this was painful and I didn’t know what I could do to take it away. Then my own Mom’s voice popped into my head. “Distract her! She responds best to distractions.”
Me: “OMG!! I have this crazy idea… wanna hear it?
Me: “What if tonight instead of having dinner then dessert, we do dessert before dinner?”
Now you must understand that as much as I would like to be considered a fun mom, back in those days, I wasn’t at all and offering dessert pre-dinner was simply cray cray for my daughter to hear me suggest.
I heard giggling and then #2 took the covers off of the two of us.
#2: “Let’s go to Dips.”
Me: “Let’s go!”
We went downstairs and told #1 and my soon-to-be ex that we were heading out for ice cream and would bring some back to enjoy before dinner. #1 and the ex thought it was pretty funny and they realized it was indeed lightening the gloom in the house. Smiles all around.
As we drove in the car, I prayed. I prayed that the hard part was behind us and the future would be brighter. I was grateful that my Mom’s advice came to me when I needed it most and the dessert before dinner idea came to mind.
Even today, several years later, #2 will tell of the night we told them the news about our break up and how we had dessert before dinner. I see this as a success if there could ever be one.
I went to bed feeling a release of sorts. I was no longer carrying this horrible “secret” around my children which prevented me from feeling joy around them. I felt that I did the best I could explaining the reasons behind my decision. In the weeks and months and even years later… questions (almost always asked by #2) about our break up do come up and they are not always easy to answer. I still try and do the best I can. I am always honest and speak from my heart. I don’t try and sugar coat things but rather gently explain without putting down their dad.
Telling my friends and colleagues wasn’t nearly as difficult as telling my children but tough nonetheless. Many of my girlfriends knew something was up with me and after months of avoiding them, their questions and being in a position where I had to make up excuses– I dropped the divorce bomb. A few friends were happy to hear it wasn’t an illness as my (divorce diet) weight loss was pretty obvious. Most of my friends were amazing and comforting although not one bit surprised. Not one of my friends told me it was a mistake to leave. They all knew and saw through our years of friendships what my marriage was really like. They knew this was the right decision.
After I came out of the closet I felt like I could breathe again. I was relieved to no longer be holding it inside. I was able to receive the comfort and support from my loved ones which was a difference maker at such a tough time in my life. One thing I did not anticipate was the people that came out of their own “closets” to get my opinion on their relationships. I felt in my breakup, people felt open to talk about their marriages with me. I heard all kinds of “secrets”… sometimes more than I wanted to hear. But in the end, if I was able to help anyone I was glad for it. Hiding in the closet is cold, alienating and often frightening…but we do it because we feel we are protecting those we love. And for me, there was no other way.