How to Tell People You're Getting a Divorce

How to Tell People You're Getting a Divorce

Divorce specialist Mason Henderson

Mason Henderson

You may think that your divorce is your personal matter, an issue that’s just between you and your spouse. However, we all live as embedded units in a broader community. Were it not for society at large, we would not need to register a union between two individuals. Society affects our relationship to a certain extent. In return, it expects that we comply with its written and unspoken rules – particularly, the sanctity of marriage. Hence, people want to know about the marital status of other people.

Your separation affects many people, from your family and friends to your children’s teachers and neighbors. Many people believe that a divorce is a dramatic event where there are winners and losers and feel obliged to ‘take sides’ by supporting one of the parties more than the other.

Your in-laws and friends want either to remain on good terms with the two of you, or to choose a side to support. Distant acquaintances may want to know about changes in your marital situation, just in case you ‘get back in the game.’

People you are not close with often feel compelled to share their opinions and ideas on marriage and divorce even if you did not ask them to. Let us not go deep into the psychological causes of their behaviors. Simply remember that people tend to do this, and be prepared to hear all their questions.

Digitalization

Currently we live in a great time, and it would be unwise not to use all the blessings of technology. Social media, for example. By posting an announcement on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or any other social platform, you significantly reduce the stress you would otherwise deal with when reporting the news over and over again to all your friends and acquaintances.

To share any kind of news with a large number of people, social media is indeed a great method; it prevents you from melting down and getting too emotional when your wounds are raw and unhealed.

Also, it gives you time and space to formulate your thoughts and see where you stand on the subject of divorce. Finding time to sit and write a social media announcement about your divorce gives you the opportunity to define and come to terms with said divorce.

You can think about how you want this divorce to play out, and give a message to your friends based on your expectations. For example, you may want to emphasize that you and your spouse are viewing it like mature adults and are coping: “It’s amicable, and we think it’s best for us both. We’re doing our best not to let our children feel the negative repercussions.”

If the divorce is not as amicable as you would like it to be, speak about what you want. “We want a cooperative divorce and are working to get there.”

If you’re divorcing because of someone’s wrongdoings (e.g. one of you has had an affair), you can address it indirectly but without criticism of your spouse. “Each of us did things we regret now. Though we are no longer husband and wife, we remain parents for our children. Raising them remains our top priority.”

However, announcing your divorce publicly may seem too uncontrollable and distant, even though you crave distance from people right now.

Is It Possible to Avoid a Divorce Announcement Altogether?

Right now you are chafing from the pain of the mid- or post-divorce period and would rather be left alone. You think that you don’t owe anybody anything – especially explanations.

It is true that you are not obliged to explain things and go into detail. However, people will notice anyway, even if you pretend that nothing has changed. You will turn up at an event without your spouse and hear, “Where’s [your spouse’s name]? Will he/she join us later?” You will cringe when you hear the question, “What are you and [your spouse’s name] doing this weekend?” and people will see that something is off in your relationship.

The bottom line is that people will learn about your family situation sooner or later, and will ask you about it. But can you be sure that there will be a time when you are ready to talk about it? This conversation is inevitable, and you’d better be prepared.

Be Prepared

Without preparation, not only are you emotionally unstable, but you may also you be at a loss as to what to say and how to respond to questions. Do not fool yourself into thinking that there will be a time when it will be easier for you to talk about your divorce. There won’t be. Plus, your close and not-so-close friends and acquaintances are not going to wait for you to pull yourself together.

When you are in the position of ‘respondent,’ you may feel defensive, as if you did something wrong and now you are on the spot. However, if you pluck up the courage and are the first to start a conversation, you are actually in more control.

For this reason, work out a simple plan:

  • Who you are going to inform about your divorce;
  • What exactly you are going to say;
  • How you are going to say it.

Who You Are Going To Inform About Your Divorce

As any writer knows, what you write is highly dependent on the audience. First you think who you are going to talk about your divorce to, and then you tailor the message to fit their age, predicted reaction, and a degree of closeness to you.

Usually, when breaking important news, we move from the circle of our closest people to the more distant ones. Therefore, your children probably come first in line to learn that massive changes are about to happen in their life. Especially if you are in early stages of the divorce process, it’s probably only the children who need to know about it; they’ve probably witnessed arguments and confrontation between the two of you and need more time to adjust to any future changes in the logistics and dynamics of the family.

The deeper you go into the divorce process, the more people you may feel the need to share it with. If you are extremely private, you may prefer not to share it with anyone at all. However, if your children are young, it is advisable to tell their teachers that they are currently having a rough time adjusting to the new family situation.

A lot depends on where you live. If you live in a small area, or if you are well-known in your community, you probably won’t even consider some of these items, as everyone will know about your divorce right away.

Children

The conversation with your children can be the most difficult. Small children do not filter what they say. They speak whatever is on their mind, so their questions can be the most painful and sharp.

Remember to choose words that are appropriate for your children’s age so that they easily understand you. For toddlers and youngsters simply say, “Mommy and Daddy are going to live separately, but we love you the most and we will see each other as often as possible.”

Children aged 5-9 are able to understand the general concept of divorce, so you can say something like, “You probably noticed that Mom and Day have been having a rough time lately. We don’t want to live like that, so we made the difficult decision to get divorced. So, from now on we will live separately. We are still thinking about the housing arrangement that will work best for you. And we want you to remember that we both love you very very much.”

Teenagers too can be a handful, though. As demonstrative as teenagers are, they can also hide their emotions and toss a ‘whatever’ at you, when all the while they are highly concerned and do not know how to handle this information.

You might say something to the effect of, “Hey, so you’ve probably heard us arguing a lot lately. We’ve tried to make this relationship work for a long time, but it’s now clear that we just can’t get over our differences. We do not want to live in this atmosphere of animosity and tension. Therefore, we’ve decided to separate and start a divorce. We will do what we can to make it less stressful for you. We want you to know that we both love you and will always be there for you. Now feel free to ask us any questions.”

Remember that the sooner you deal with your own tensions and approach the conversation with your children as amicably as possible, the better the results will be. Children react not so much to the divorce itself as to the parents’ relationship and tension. If you are able to interact without enmity, if you promise to turn up at school functions and children’s birthday parties, they will feel relieved. The main thing is: do not make your children pick sides.

Another important thing when talking about the divorce to your children is to show them that you are in control, and that you are ready to provide comfort to them. Do not give your children the idea that it is you who needs comforting. You are their rock, not the other way around.

Parents

A lot depends on how much your parents and your spouse’s parents have been involved in your life. Try to speak calmly and not blame anyone for what has been happening in your life. Now is not the time and nor the place to go into details. Just keep your message at a comfortable level of clarity.

You may say something like this: “Mom and Dad, I have something to share with you that I know will upset you, but I want you to know that I gave it a lot of thought and concluded that it is the best decision for my family right now. [Your spouse’s name] and I have decided to get divorced. This decision is well thought-out – we believe it to be the mature course of action, and we expect you not to question it. I will appreciate your emotional support.”

Closest Friends and Family Members

For those who were especially close with your family, the news about your breakup with your spouse is going to be devastating. Reassure your closest ones that you do not expect them to take sides.

“You have probably noticed that my spouse and I have been experiencing turbulent times. We’ve given it a lot of thought and we now see that we cannot carry on like this any longer. We’ve decided to get a divorce. Right now I don’t want to talk about it. I just wanted to let you know what is going on with me and my family in order to avoid any personal questions. I hope you understand. We will talk about it later when I sort it all out.”

Other Family Members and Casual Friends

You want to send with this message because you want them to find out about the divorce from you rather from someone else. However, you expect them to respect your privacy and not to bother you with inquiries.

You can draw it up as follows: “I just wanted you to know about some major changes in my life. [Your spouse’s name] and I are getting divorced right now. I am not ready to go into detail, but I fully hope to continue our friendship.”

Co-workers

The only reason why you would need to let people at work know is some legal or accounting details. Let the people who have to be informed know the bare minimum.

Your Boss and Accountant

It is advisable to let your boss know about the divorce because you will need some time off to attend meetings with lawyers and proceedings. Also, the accountant and/or the tax department will need to know about a change in your marital status for tax purposes. Be sure to mention that you would like them to keep that information private.

When talking to your boss, inform them that you will compensate for missed hours. “As I am in the process of a divorce right now, I may need some time off on occasion, but I will make sure it does not affect my overall work productivity.”

In some cases, it may be a good opportunity to point out your contribution to the company. “Despite being in the middle of a divorce, I managed to put in some extra time this past month and it has had a positive effect on our sales numbers.”

Teachers and/or Babysitter

You should inform the important people in your children’s life about this major change in your family situation. First of all, they need to know about any custody arrangement you are about to reach. Second, the children’s behavior might be affected by the divorce. It is always better for the people who take care of your children during the day to be aware of possible reasons for this, so that they give your children adequate and pertinent attention.

Say something like this: “My spouse and I are now in the middle of a divorce. We are doing our best to shield and protect our children from the negative consequences. However, it would be naive to say that they won’t be affected by it and start misbehaving or acting unusually. Let me know if you have any difficulties with them. I hope we can help them by treating them patiently and kindly.”

What To Say

As you can see from the examples, you need to stick to a certain pattern. The idea is not only to let people know that you are getting a divorce, but also to respond to their implied or directly asked questions.

What do people want to know? People want details and some explanations. So do not just tell them, “We are getting divorced.” Give them the details that you are comfortable with (“We have been having difficulties for some time and decided it would be better for all of us to separate”). At the same time, send them a signal for how you expect them to act. Here is where “We appreciate your…” comes in handy. Say something like, “We appreciate your concern/support and we hope you can respect our privacy.”

However, you should brace yourself for questions from people. No matter how classily you phrase your statement, people will ask you about your problems with your spouse, about your children’s future, about cheating as a major reason for the divorce and whatnot.

Their intentions are unimportant to you. Many people ask questions because that is how they view support: that is their way of showing concern. So just be ready not to give away information you are not comfortable to share, under pressure.

Think up something that acknowledges other people’s feelings but requests privacy. Say something to the effect of, “I know that this news may be shocking/surprising to you, but right now I am in no position to discuss it any further. Thank you for understanding.”

For the most brazen ones who cannot refrain from grilling you with questions, do not hesitate to tell them that they are being rude: “It’s out of line to ask so many questions about such a sensitive matter.”

Remember that it is up to you to decide how much you want to share with people. Do not let yourself be pressed into saying more than you intended.

How To Say It

As we already mentioned, a divorce announcement on social media is a modern thing to do. The main thing you need to remember is that you might want to run your post by your spouse and/or lawyer in order to avoid any misunderstandings and awkward situations. Social media updates are now used in child custody cases, so you need to be careful.

Not everyone likes and wants to post something as direct and straightforward as written announcements though. Some prefer something more subtle – for example, a picture of your left hand sans the wedding ring or a New Beginnings picture that symbolizes your new status.

The definite advantage of social media is that you can limit the amount of feedback you normally get on similar announcements. You can always turn off comments so as not to deal with online questions and suggestions at all.

However, non-millennials may be uncomfortable with announcing their divorce on social media. You can go old-fashioned and do it by snail mail or in person. The text to use can be identical to the ones suggested earlier.

Another subtle way to send people a message about your new life without your spouse is to send a holiday card of your family without your spouse. Upon seeing you and your children smiling with the caption ‘New Beginnings,’ the addressees will understand that you have divorced.

Conversely, announcing your divorce in a creative way like this will not stop people from asking questions. In fact, they will have even more questions, because some of them might want to clarify whether they understood it correctly or if something has happened to your spouse and they somehow missed it.

A Few More Tips

Shift the Attention

If you do not want people’s attention to be focused on your divorce, be prepared to fill in the pauses in conversation. As soon as you break the news to someone, ask a question about the person you are talking to. People love talking about themselves and easily get distracted.

Do not worry about your questions not being too subtle or sophisticated. Anything will do: “Thank you for asking. How are you doing?” Or, “While we are on the topic of family, how is your engagement going?”

Get a Friend to Shield You

If you feel absolutely unequipped to face the crowd but you are about to attend a function where you cannot avoid questions, you can ask a trusted friend to help you out and spread the news.

Obviously it is not a valid method to let your family know this way. For other people, it works like a charm.

Your task is to instruct a friend to tell certain people the news of your divorce, but not give away any details and not discuss it in a way that becomes gossip.

A trusted friend like this can even stop some people from gossiping about you by asking them to respect your privacy.

Do not worry that this method of divorce announcement looks like you are demonstrating your weakness. You should not get concerned with it, because you need all the strength you can summon to survive your divorce. If it works, great.

The Bottom Line

Often, people get exploited simply because they do not know how to say no. However, it is very simple: you just say no. If you do not want to answer a question, do not waste any time looking for a nice way to suggest it. Simply say: I don’t want to talk about it. If you think that the person asking you personal questions is stepping over your personal boundaries, say so: You are being rude; that’s personal.

You can never prevent other people from gossiping. Do not even get concerned with what other people think or say about you and your family. It is up to you to decide who to inform about your divorce, and how.

Remember that the details of your divorce are your personal business. Even if it is expected of you to let other people know that you have gotten divorced or are in the middle of it, you do not owe them any explanation. Do not fret over being too rude. The people who pry are the rude ones. Do not hesitate to let them know about that.

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