Once upon a time, you mailed poetic words printed on pearly paper to friends and family, inviting them to share the joy on your wedding day.
But sometimes what begins as marriage ends in divorce. Sharing that news? Just what is divorce announcement protocol? Write a personal letter? Call people? Send e-mails? Preprinted announcements with a lighthearted twist?
Aside from telling your spouse before you tell your neighbor (yes, it happens), if you’re the initiator, and putting your children’s needs first, few hard and fast rules apply.
"There are no two divorces the same," says Carlton Stansbury, an attorney specializing in collaborative divorce in southeastern Wisconsin. "It takes energy to pick and choose the information you get and the information you share."
Helpful guidelines do exist, however, and it helps to begin by categorizing the people in your life.
Make a list
Imagine concentric circles around you, offers Cathy Crandell, a Milwaukee psychologist and divorce coach. "Start with the people closest – the people most directly affected," which would be your children, she says. The next layer is family, depending on how close you are, then friends and co-workers and neighbors.
What you say depends on your individual situation and how well you know each person.
"The temptation is to get people to rally around you, to go into too much detail, and that pulls people in too far unnecessarily," says Stansbury. "You really just want people to give you leeway and understanding."
Sam Margulies, a North Carolina lawyer, mediator and author ("A Man’s Guide to a Civilized Divorce: How to Divorce with Grace, a Little Class, and a Lot of Common Sense"), agrees.
"Generally, tell people as little as necessary. Tell them that you and your spouse, after a lot of thinking and discussing, are splitting up. You’re sad, but you’re optimistic . . . then leave it there," Margulies advises. "The hardest part is shutting up. There’s still nothing as admirable as dignified restraint."
Keeping it short offers you an unexpected benefit.
"In divorce, there’s what I like to call a ‘Greek chorus effect.’ Friends and relatives feel like they have to be advisers. They counsel based on their worst fears," which usually doesn’t help you at all, he says.
Speaking with your children
"Parents need to (agree on) the story, about what’s happening to the family," advises Crandell, adding there’s some information children don’t need to know, such as details about extramarital affairs.
And after you’ve shared basic information, ideally together if your divorce is amicable enough and ideally just before things start looking obvious, wait for the children’s questions and answer them as fully as possible.
In the discussion, Crandell says it’s important to tell them:
• You both love the children and you always will.
• The problems are between the adults and the problems can’t be fixed.
• You will live separately, and when that will occur.
With smaller children, she says, it’s best to cover just the basics and avoid undecided issues. But figure out as much as you can in advance, she says, which means you may need to wait until you know concrete details, such as a move-out date, before you hold the conversation.
Keep in mind you’ll most likely repeat the conversation as the news sinks in and the kids contemplate the changes they’re facing. Just make your points again and again, and keep the information consistent.
Also be aware that kids may overhear you talking with others. "It’s essential to think of the impact (your words have) on the children," even if you’re not directing comments to them, she says.
Telling extended family
Maureen Kolb of Fox Point, who divorced 10 years ago, said she felt anxious about sharing the news with some of her family members.
"How do you tell your 85-year-old grandmother who’s been married 65 years? But you really have to do it as much as you . . . just want to crawl in a hole and hide," Kolb says.
If you don’t spill the news, she says, someone else will.
"Make it clear, be concise, then be quiet," she says.
Additionally, she suggests, you can mail a letter in advance, then follow up with a phone call.
Timing is key, Kolb says. She recalls when an out-of-town relative came for a visit and saw the living room missing furniture. "Then the evening had to become about (the divorce). I wish I had reached out sooner," she says.
Sharing the news with close friends
If you’re in regular contact, many won’t be surprised by the news. But you may be surprised by their reaction.
Some will say raw things like, "That’s good news. I never liked him anyway," which may hurt to hear. Others will offer support. Some may even react emotionally and cry, and feel compelled to evaluate their own marriages, which you may be pulled into discussing.
As much as you need time and space to act and react, so do they.
"Put yourself in their shoes," offers Stansbury. "How would you like a friend or family member to tell you?"
In all cases, respect that your divorce affects them, too, but keep the conversations short. Using friends as therapists can strain the friendship. If you feel the need to talk at length, rely on a trained counselor or support group.
And if friends push you for details, simply tell them you’ve chosen not to discuss it.
What to say at work
The dynamics of the workplace often are more difficult than you’d encounter with family or social contacts, says David Goehner of NEAS Inc., an employee assistance program and work / life services company.
"The likelihood is great (someone experiencing divorce is) impacted psychologically, emotionally, maybe even physically, so that could impact work," says Goehner. Plus, you’ll most likely need time away from your duties, if only for a few minutes to take a phone call from an attorney, or for a few hours for counseling or court dates.
So it’s good to have someone in the know – could be your boss or someone in human resources – someone to fall back on, he says. "But limit who knows to who needs to know," he says, or rumors and hallway whispers could steal time from your workday and affect your performance.
In Tim Browne’s case, several people needed to know. Browne, of Manchester, Mass., faced the worst-case scenario: he didn’t want the divorce, didn’t expect it, and was only six months into starting a new company and regularly in front of customers and with his management team, each member knowing his wife.
"I was quite certain they’d know something was wrong – that I had to be away during meetings or that I’d suddenly begin to cry," recalls Browne.
So he met individually with each member of his team and asked them to cover him in client meetings if he needed to gather his composure, or needed extra time to attend to divorce-related tasks.
"It worked perfectly," he says, during what he describes as an enormously anxious time.
But six years have passed, and he’s moved forward. "I’ve put time between the ‘it’ and ‘now,’ " he says. "Life does go on."
This article by Laura Velicer. A big thanks to her.
Originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.
SOURCE FOR POST: California Divorce and Family Law Blog