Things Fall Apart: How do I tell people I'm getting separated?

In the last year, Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart. She is now working on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she is exploring the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.

I find myself telling people "my husband and I are separated,” rather than ‘my husband and I have separated’. All the people who knew us before have been told. It is a relief.

Beforehand, I did not realise the extent to which telling people would be so exhausting; at times so upsetting. It is nice to be able to say it and not have to follow up with explanations; to deal with a big reaction.

I remember finding out friends had separated but not told anyone for six months. They had still lived together and it had been amicable, so there had been no pressing need to announce the change to the world. At the time, I found this strategy completely baffling, but now I understand. They were taking the time to get used to the 'new normal' themselves, before bringing it out to their world at large.

Having done this ourselves; having come to terms to some extent and gone beyond the shock, I was taken by surprise at how the telling, the coming out, meant having to deal with everyone else’s shock, their surprise. It was draining; almost as if going through it all again, only a watered down version. Thankfully, the closest people knew by a sort of osmosis of intimacy, so there was no earth-shattering revelation to be made there.


The reaction

How people react to news like this can largely be broken into two camps. There are those who, to a degree, don’t break stride. Usually, these are the people who have in some way already experienced something of life’s less-palatable side. It doesn’t need to be the ending of a marriage, specifically. Illness, death, a family member in trouble. The bad stuff. They are not shocked by these things. Neither do they see it as some sort of car-crashingly-awful-can’t-look-away-will-never-get-better sort of event. They may be brisk, they may have similar stories. They get it. These things happen; yes they are tough, sad, difficult, exhausting and stressful, but then you move on. They are the kind of people you can have brutally honest conversations with and they will never be shocked. They will not be pitiful. They will never make you feel 'other'. They are hardy and you will feel hardy from time in their company. Stick with these people. They will get you through.

Then there are people who, as much as they try to hide it, are looking at you with what I think of as the Homer-Simpson-learning-to-be-an-astronaut face. That scene from The Simpsons in which Homer and Barney’s faces are blown back during their NASA training. The effect is a sort of extreme ‘eeeeeeek’ face. These people tend not to have come up against the sort of blow that changes your life; they are, in varying degrees, horrified, scared, or appalled by the sight of yours. Avoid. It will escape them that while in the abstract, your life has temporarily, to some extent come off the rails. The day-to-day is, in fact, full of pleasure.

Some people, I could not face telling. I did not want to see their great upset which came purely from a place of love and affection. I outsourced the telling of extended family to the parents. The weekend they did, we were on a family mini-break. The three of us; Herself, myself, the Ex. I contemplated sending a picture to the family WhatsApp, subtext, "All fine here, nothing to see, everyone getting on with things". But I thought better of it in the name of 'no need to over-egg the matter'. And really, what the hell would they respond to that?

Every internet top-ten you read on the subject will warn you that you might notice some friends falling off post-announcement of the split. Unbeknownst to yourself, you have become a threat to their marriage. I haven’t yet noticed any such ridiculous behaviour on the behalf of married friends. But you will be surprised that some, who you thought were close friends, turn out to be not so great.

Mostly though, this is not the case.

Some are easier to tell than others. The school girls; my friends since primary school. We are at a breakfast at one’s house, and, nervous, I announce the fact when half of them are across the room, filling their plates with brunch options. They do not hear me. By this stage, I am crying, to the consternation of the two still at the table. Not wanting to tell them, then retell five minutes later when everyone is sitting, farce ensues. I end up having to shouting the fact of our separation across the cavernous open-plan kitchen. "We’re getting separated," I shout. "SEP-AR-ATED". By which stage I am crying with laughter.


Support where you least expect it

The people you expect to be the most dramatic; the most chest-beating; those who proclaim blissful family life from every social media platform available, will surprise you with simple texts of understanding. No shock and awe. My cousins offered up quiet support; coffees, meals, contact; which felt like a network of support subtly making itself felt underneath and around us.

Sometimes the ones you haven’t even told directly are surprisingly (and touchingly) the most supportive. The husbands of the best friends, who when told, tell their wife that anytime they need to drop it all (be it Family Sunday or the middle of the night), they should go. The ones who take the baby and manage things when you ring in the middle of weekend outings. The cousin’s husband, who you slightly dreaded seeing because he has the kindness which can undo you. "I’m so glad you came", he says quietly with a big hug when you go back to attending family outings.

I have been spared the two potentially most difficult tellings. Telling your parents can, I am told, be another huge trauma in this process. Mine have been with me from the outset. And Herself. She is young enough that it is all she will ever know. All she will know is a family which co-parents; co-holidays; co-Christmases; co-Sunday lunches and Saturday pancake brunches; co-sportsdays, and co-birthdays. There will be nothing to tell.


More like this:

  • Your social life shifts when you’re no longer a twosome... click here.
  • Things Fall Apart: where to put your ring when it’s all over... click here.

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