Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Note to Husband: Don't Blame Our Break-Up on My Boyfriend
How do I tell my husband that I don't want to be in a relationship with him anymore, and how do I help him understand that it has nothing to do with my boyfriend?
As gratifying as it is to be asked for my advice, as edifying as it is for me to discover what I think by seeing what I say, and as satisfying as it is when I manage to “nail it” every once in a while with just the right phrase, there is a definite downside to this Dear Viny gig: it makes me worry about people I don't even know.
Ending a well-established relationship is serious business. I don't have a whole lot of experience with it, myself. I have been in several long-term romantic relationships that transitioned (or are still in the process of transitioning) into friendships, but I have never needed to tell someone, “I no longer want to be in a relationship with you.” I'm trying to put myself in your position, to imagine why it would be necessary to make a definitive break with someone, and I'm not enjoying the mental exercise. Best-case scenario, you and your husband are already so profoundly disconnected that divorce will merely bring your outer reality into better alignment with your inner experience. Worst-case scenario, your life might actually be in danger.
Please be aware, as you read on, that my advice is predicated on an assumption that we're dealing with something more like the best-case scenario.
With that caveat out of the way, then, I suggest you tell your husband the truth, straight up. Say, “I want out of this marriage.” It's not going to be easy – for you or for him – but it's necessary. I suggest that you deliver the dreaded line in person, as soon as possible, and with as much open-hearted honesty as you can muster. That's the only way you're going to have a snowcone's chance in hell of him really hearing what you have to say about the reason(s) why you're leaving him.
Conducting yourself well during this initial phase of extracting yourself from the relationship -- being transparent about your intentions, setting clear boundaries, treating your soon-to-be-ex with compassion, and working hard to make the split as painless as possible -- may help to minimize the erosion of trust that is an inevitable and unfortunate part of every break-up. Or, it may not. And you need to be prepared for that possibility. You need to realize that you could say everything right and still utterly fail to communicate.
This is because, if your husband is not already closed to you and your point of view, there's a good chance he will be, as soon as you inform him you're planning to leave him. He will feel hurt, and when people feel hurt, they tend to play oyster: retreat into their shell, and immediately get to work on making their tender ego more comfortable. Like an irritating bit of grit, the truth (as you see it) may eventually get coated with so many layers of misinterpretation that you no longer recognize it.
The question I have for you is this: Why do you care what he thinks? What's wrong with him getting it wrong, and blaming this break-up on your boyfriend?
I'm not trying to be obtuse here. I have definitely experienced the frustration of watching an ex spin a break-up story that seemed way off the mark to me. For example, one of my exes decided that the reason we didn't work out is that I was too afraid of the depth of my passion for him. He believed I saw the intensity of my feelings as a threat to my predictable, safe, well-ordered life. Whereas my opinion is that I ended things because his wandering, wishy-washy way of just letting life happen to him was ultimately incompatible with a long-term, committed relationship. And let's not forget his charming double-whammy insult to my husband and a new lover of mine, delivered soon after meeting the latter: “Oh, great – you found yourself another intellectual asshole!” So what if that comment was uttered in confidence, in a moment of can't-see-straight jealousy? Some things just can't be unsaid. (See how devoted I am to my version of the story? See how I can't resist the opportunity to tell it how I see it?)
The fact is, you have very little control over the story your husband is going to tell himself about why you're choosing to end the relationship. Do your best to tell your story straight – staying open to the possibility that there are truths he sees better than you do, and admitting those gritty bits into your otherwise smooth narrative – but don't be surprised if he writes a maudlin memoir and titles it, "She Left Me for Another Man." That's a tale of woe that everyone understands, and it's just about guaranteed to get him some sympathy. Yes, it's hard to let someone else have the last word, especially if that last word is wrong. Yes, it's deeply distressing to think that your husband might refuse to listen to anything you have to say, preferring instead to admire the precious pearl he'll be forming in the darkness of his own denial to the end of his blame-benighted days. I get that. I'm not saying the truth doesn't matter. I'm saying this is one of those Serenity Prayer moments when all you can do is surrender to whatever will be.
A dear friend of mine recently shared with me a life lesson that a wise old woman once shared with her: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” I'm sharing that thought with you now, A., because I have a hunch that getting your husband to understand and accept you has been a struggle from Day One of your relationship. And here you are, still struggling, hooked on that same line. The time has come to let it go.
Animae & Anemones,