Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I am ending my marriage after confirming my suspicions that my husband has been unfaithful at various points throughout our marriage.
We have two small children and this will be hard, perhaps terribly so, but the thought of staying in the marriage for longer – and then perhaps ending it when they’re older and more aware – seems like the wrong thing to do.
The thing is, I am not depressed or unhappy. I had suspected the infidelity for longer than my husband knows, and I feel secure in the parts of my life that will continue to be good after the marriage ends. I am not planning to badmouth him or give anyone more than the need-to-know minimum about why we are splitting up.
But from even the two friends I’ve confided in about my plans, I am getting a whiff of, “You just married him to have the two babies, and now you don’t want him anymore.” They are reading my calm feelings as meaning I won’t grieve for our marriage. This is making me dread having to share the news with other, even less charitable people, especially my husband’s family, who I want to keep in the kids’ lives.
I should probably be taking this one step at a time, and worrying mostly about the logistics for now. But this is bothering me a lot. What do you think?
I think your friends aren’t your friends. Wow.
I hope you called them on the “whiff” so they could either confirm or correct the record: “I’m hearing that you think I married him only because I wanted a sperm donor. Is that what you’re saying?”
This is important for two reasons: 1) If they meant it, and if there’s absolutely no truth to what they’re saying, and if they are accusing you of this character lapse without any basis in fact, then you want to hear them own it so you know not to count on them as your friends anymore; 2) “Getting a whiff” means they didn’t say it, you inferred it, which means you could be completely wrong. If they absolutely don’t think this about you, then you want to give them a chance to clear up the misunderstanding.
I hope you’re being honest with your closest friends about what really happened; part of being close is giving people a chance to understand what you’re going through. I realize that opens the possibility of a leak, but that’s all part of knowing who of your friends is solid. Pick the ones you feel you can trust, and then trust them. (The others are free to wonder what happened.) That’s all you owe your husband as far as confidentiality. In fact, it’s generous.
As for your husband’s family, if you get a nasty response from them to your decision to end the marriage, keep it simple: “I’m sorry to hear you think so little of me.”
For what it’s worth, your husband will get a second chance at showing some integrity here. Don’t count on it, of course, but he does owe it to you to defend you against any accusers: “She did nothing wrong – this one’s completely on me.”
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.