Dear Coach Bob: I have recently divorced my husband of 16 years; we have no kids, no communication and live in completely different states. Meanwhile, he would be completely shocked and confused to discover that I am now dating a woman, which he will find out at some point. Would it be best for me to find a way to share this news with him personally? Or is it OK to allow him to find this out from other mutual friends?
- To tell or not to tell
Dear To Tell or Not to Tell: What popped out at me in your letter is the assumption that your ex-husband will find out this information at some point. Since you say that he will find out, I guess the question becomes what would be the kindest way for him to receive this information.
(NOTE: I find the hardest thing about answering emails is the fact that I can’t ask questions or get clarity. With that said, here are some thoughts.)
You mentioned that he would be shocked and confused to discover you are dating a woman. Is this true? I am wondering what his reaction was to the divorce. If there were other issues around the split, then perhaps he doesn’t have any idea about your sexual orientation. But if he did have an idea, even subconsciously, I’m wondering what his reactions were to this and how it affected his feelings about the relationship, during and after. Perhaps information you could provide him might give clarity around questions he has/had.
It also jumped out to me that you are not in contact anymore. Unfortunately I don’t know why. The thing that needs to be weighed, though, outside of the actual information you have to give him, is how hurtful or damaging being in contact with you might be for him. Here is also where I need to say, since I don’t know all the details, if you do plan to have a discussion, please make sure that it would be safe and healthy for you to be in contact with him.
I would suggest having an intention of kindness, love and respect when making your final decision about what to do.
Have faith. Confusion and shock are initial feelings. After those feelings, though, I wonder what his next ones might be. Perhaps it would be anger (which I am assuming might be a fear of yours) but perhaps it might be the relief of some blame and guilt for him, knowing that the split is truly what’s best for both of you. You both have the chance, now, to be happy.
Truthful interactions are very powerful. Something for you to consider is how truth or the lack of truth affected your relationship. How might this information, ultimately, be healing for him? How might telling this information be healing for you? Allowing ourselves to tell the truth can validate us to ourselves. I am wondering if speaking your truth might help you release some of your blame and guilt, if you have any.
So if you do decide to tell him, the next question is how. In this situation, he will be very vulnerable. Any opportunity to give him choices will help him feel like he does have some control. Does he even want this information? (Example:”Since our divorce, I have made some self-discoveries that affect my relationships. I would love to share this with you. Is this something you would like to have more information about?”). How much information does he want? How fast or slow does he want the information? You get the picture. What I heard in your letter was the desire to do what is best for him.
Finally, something I always suggest to clients is to talk to someone who has done what they are thinking of doing. Do you know anyone who has come out to a spouse or ex and if so, who? How did they proceed? If they could do it again, what, if anything, would they do differently?
This sounds like a very difficult situation. I wish you the best of luck and please email me to let me know what happens!
If you have a question you would like to ask Bob, email him.