My dad is a Vulcan
November 19, 2010 2:55 PM   Subscribe

I need help breaking the news of my impending divorce to family members who I do not think will be supportive because they see me as the family fuck-up.

My spouse and I have agreed to divorce after two years of marriage and six of being a couple. This is my second divorce. I didn't have kids with either person, and am childless by choice.

I've had some career ups and downs that I consider to be part and parcel of being a freelance writer as well as being a GenX-er. My income has fluctuated with the economy. My dad and his side of the fam have always given me the impression that they think I've made a stupid choice to be a freelance writer because of the lack of financial security. They all had great jobs with pensions, from the 60s to the 90s.

When I was much younger, I had other relationships which my dad judged as being too serious before I was ready, although I was in my early 20s and not a child. In his opinion, I had too many relationships, and they were too important to me when I should have been focusing on career. (I was focusing on career too -- he just did not see that).

I'm certainly not happy with the fact that I'm getting divorced AGAIN like Ross in "Friends," but I am in therapy and getting a handle on these issues and completely committed to growing in self-esteem and forging a satisfying life for myself, in a way that I was not when younger. I'm optimistic about the future and I know this divorce is the right thing for me and the STBX.

I understand my dad's concerns, but his and the other members' judgmentalism hurts and makes me doubt myself. I realize that I can't control what they think of me, but I'd like some advice for handling their reaction, which I expect to be along the lines of: OMG, you fucked up AGAIN? Are you going to end up on the STREET???? Are you ever going to be HAPPY????? You'll never change!!!

My dad and their side of the family cerebral, emotionally stoic, and ultra-logical people who never deviated from the college-marriage-job-kids-retirement path. They can't understand why I or anyone would want a different lifestyle.

How can I minimize them going ballistic on me for yet another thing that doesn't fit their worldview?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Don't engage with their judgmentalism and don't allow it, while still being polite. Simply refuse to engage with it as a topic of conversation at all. I'm not trying to blame you at all for how they treat you, but it seems like you allow it in a way by replying to them when they say these things, maybe trying to convince them of your side etc. Just don't. Like this:

Grandma: "What?? Getting divorced again??? Are you going to end up on the street???"
You: "I really appreciate your concern, Grandma, but this is something I'm just fine dealing with on my own. Want to go out to lunch at that new diner, later this week? Hey, did you hear Uncle Clyde is getting a new boat?"
posted by Ashley801 at 3:05 PM on November 19, 2010

How can I minimize them going ballistic on me for yet another thing that doesn't fit their worldview?

You can't. In these instances I would make a simple, short announcement, preferably 5 minutes before I'm going out the door. Not because I'm trying to control how they feel but because I found that dealing with their judgement was emotionally exhausting and unhealthy for me.

Any questions such as the ones you describe would be met with smart ass answers. When they asked why I was being so cavalier or a smart ass, my response was something like "You are calling me a fuck up. Again. I'm tired of it and I'm not going to entertain, accept or deal with it. When you can respect my decisions as being mine and different from yours, let me know. Otherwise I gotta go. Love you, goodnight"
posted by nomadicink at 3:05 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you ask them for money? Do you ask them to support your life in any tangible way? If not, when they are all, "ROAR you suck, we're so great" just say, "Listen, I've lived my life. Do I ask you for money? Or to support me in any way other than not judging me? No? Then please just relax."

Either way, it's more important to just realize that this is one of those things that stops being a problem once you stop caring.
posted by milarepa at 3:14 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You probably can't minimize them going ballistic--somewhere this is probably all rooted in their concern for you--but you can minimize your emotional reaction to it.

I can think of two strategies:

1. "Dad, right now I need your support more than I need your judgment." or
"Dad, I'm feeling pretty upset about all this right now, and I'd rather not argue about it with you."

In this approach, you let them know you're feeling sensitive.

2. Sometimes the best way to disable this kind of stuff is to just own it. Even the stuff that's ridiculous.

Grandma: "What?? Getting divorced again??? Are you going to end up on the street???"
You: "Yup, I sure hope it isn't too cold out tonight!"
Grandma: "..."

Dad: "I'm really disappointed. I think you could have avoided this by x, y, z."
You: "Yea, Dad, you're right."
Dad: "..."

I suspect some of what's going on is that you are judging yourself by your family's standards even when you try hard not to. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:30 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

I suspect some of what's going on is that you are judging yourself by your family's standards even when you try hard not to.

I agree with this. It's a hard thing to not do. I have judgey parents and it took me a long time to get out from under this [and I'm still not totally there] but here are some things that worked for me.

- Your dad is a judgey pain about how you're never going to be happy. Chances are that's genetic and your old man is a grump because he's got ootchy unhappiness genes too. I'm not saying you need to have a big Kumbaya hug over it, but it might help you sort of roll with his grouchiness some more.
- Good for you for doing something difficult and getting out of a relationship that wasn't good for you and going to therapy and taking care of yourself. That's good news. Sorry about the divorce. Sucks. Oh well. Can't change it. Moving on.... To me that's the way you internally manage this. You are taking care of you and this was the way to do that. All the other OMG OMG stuff is not helpful, it's noise and it's drama. You can choose how much noise and drama you want to bring to this and my choice is always "almost none, thanks" I agree with others, tell them briefly, tell them because it's kind to tell them, tell them this is not opening a discussion about it, it's passing on news, it's a sore spot right now and you're not going to talk about it now. If they try to talk about it, walk out of the room or hang up the phone. They will live. They may learn how to treat you more respectfully too, over time.
- your life works for you, you are not them. That is your easy mantra to say to yourself. Over time they may accept that about you [mine have, for the most part, I am older than you] or they may not. But if you're supporting yourself and living up to your OWN standards for you, then you're doing fine and other people's opinions are noise and drama. I hope they come around. They may come around. But really the larger question is "what do they want from you" and if they want you to be like them [to possibly justify some of their owbn painful or difficult choices they may have made, it's tough playing the straight and narrow game too] they're not going to get that. They can choose again or they can sulk.

So I am sorry about your divorce but it sounds like you're taking care of yourself. You may need some grieving time for your absent sympathetic and/or empathetic parents too. Or they may surprise you. If not, stick to the mantra, stick to the plan, tell them this is part of you being happy/successful/okay in your own eyes, they can take it or leave it, you'd appreciate their support but you're not going to beg for it and you love them and that's pretty much it. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 4:00 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

They're going to judge you regardless of what you do. If they come back at you, tell them you were anticipating it. You don't have to have a real response, just "I was wondering if you were going to make this harder than it needs to be." It's just a side-effect of not having supportive parents.

For what it's worth, not saying anything would make it 1000x worse, such that they might assume you are lying about the whole thing, your ex is now in jail (or murdered by you), your genitals have disintegrated, or something equally imaginative, so I'd say just rip the band aid off.

They can't understand why I or anyone would want a different lifestyle.

This is actually fairly simple to counteract, just use logic. It's not their job to understand, they don't seem capable of understanding, so it's unfair to expect them to. Ignatius J. Reilly is instructive here.
posted by rhizome at 4:46 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I always use guilt trips in situations like this, eg. "Hey dad, I'm really hurting and upset right now [doesn't have to be true, but can be], I really need to know you're there for me and supporting me in this. When you say things like [whatever he's just said] it makes me feel like you care more about how this makes you feel/makes you look to outsiders than how I feel. I would really like it if you could just give me a hug/whatever and let me know I'm still a good person and that things are gonna be okay."

Note: that could all be true, or it could all be lies; it's immaterial. The goal here is to get your dad/family to give you the support/reaction you want or need, and the most effective way of doing that is by making them feel bad about their current behaviour whilst simultaneously highlighting and encouraging the behaviour you want by making them feel valuable, needed and fulfilling a 'traditional' familial role of support etc.
posted by smoke at 4:49 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Went through a little of this. I just gaze into the far distance, and when they finally notice I'm not listening at all, I snap my attention back and say, "Sorry, I was just thinking about how I'm going to be happier in the future. Like, all the bad stuff is behind me, and I know that it's going to work out. Don't you love that feeling?" And then gaze into the distance again until they get the point.
posted by Etrigan at 5:36 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can't expect your family to ever change or stop doing the things they've always done. They persist because they think they've got all the right answers or they want to protect you from hurting yourself. You know they're wrong because they haven't live the life you did.

So, they are treating you like a child when you're really adult? Just deliver the news like an adult and treat them like a child if they mis-behave. Don't argue, don't let them get a rise out of you, don't yell and don't name call. And be confident.

You: I wanted to let you guys know that I'm getting a divorce.

Dad: I knew it! If you had listened to me from the beginning this would have never happened.

You: look if you guys aren't going to be supportive, I'm just going to leave now.

See how you're imaginary dad was trying to start something, but then your imaginary self ignored the bait and immediately delivered your current feelings, expectations and the consequences all in one sentence. Follow up with the consequences if family doesn't follow through.
Also, keep your voice calm and collected to best deliver the news, because raising your voice will only break the image that you're an adult now.

If your family cares enough you about to give you unneeded advice then you can expect them to immediately fix up their act and treating you a bit more appropriately.
posted by nikkorizz at 6:28 PM on November 19, 2010

My approach was to go into a ballistic rage whenever someone said someting unsupportive. I didn't change anyone's mind about the divorce, but I sure as hell got them to stop talking about it.

This is serious advice, but, you know, YMMV.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:04 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like bluedaisy's 1st strategy, letting them know you're feeling sensitive. The second one would give me pause. Whenever I've tried the 'complete agreement' strategy with the judgy relatives in my family it just leads to more grief. Instead of:
Dad: "I'm really disappointed. I think you could have avoided this by x, y, z."
You: "Yea, Dad, you're right."
Dad: "..."
I usually would get something like this:
Dad: "I'm really disappointed. I think you could have avoided this by x, y, z."
Me: "Yea, Dad, you're right."
Dad: "That's what I've been saying all along! You need to [plan your life more|set more realistic goals|think before you jump|etc.|"
Me: "I agree."
Dad: "So what are you going to do about it? You need to act now before you [make more mistakes|fall further behind|get into another tough spot|etc.]"
Me: "..."
...and as soon as the judgmental person starts asking specific questions, the door is open for even more criticism, judgment and the resulting self-doubt (unless you refuse to answer, which sometimes makes things worse.) Your relatives may vary.

The good thing about letting them know you're feeling sensitive about this is that it offers you a chance to have him examine his words.

You: I wanted to let you guys know that I'm getting a divorce.
Dad: [something judgmental]
You: Look, I need some time to absorb this and could use some support in getting through it. If you can't be supportive, then let's not talk about this now.
Dad: [ongoing judgmentalism]
You: When you say [those judgmental statements] I feel like you aren't respecting my need to have some judgment-free time right now. I asked you to talk about this in a supportive way, or to let it go for now. Can you respect my wishes and do that?

If he doesn't drop it, tell him you are sorry that he doesn't seem able to respect your wishes, and that you're done talking to him for now.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:28 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know, you don't have to engage in the conversation at all. It's not your job to tell your dad he's being a judgy ass. Plus, if you talk about your need for "judgement free support" he's going to think you're making excuses.

Instead, go with the stoicism he understands. If he feels the need to spout, then try this response, "Thanks for your advice, Dad. We've made the decision to divorce and I'm finished talking about it." Then, just don't talk about it.
posted by 26.2 at 10:54 AM on November 21, 2010

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