Breaking up is hard to do
April 9, 2012 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm ending my marriage. How do I do it with kindness?

My husband is a kind and loving soul, but he refuses to participate in our life together or contribute to our household. I'm pretty sure he's depressed, but he refuses counseling.

He's also been lying to me repeatedly over the last few years about very important things and my trust in him has been shattered.

I've been the sole earner for several years, not because the job market is bad here, but because he won't look for work. He went to school for a while, but dropped out half way and pretended to keep going for months before I found out.

He whines when I ask him to do housework, despite being home all the time. What housework he does do is done half-heartedly. Our sex life is non-existent, not because he doesn't initiate, but after all the lying and apathy, I don't find him attractive anymore.

Frankly, I feel like his mom, not his wife.

It's time for me to end the relationship. It's the hardest decision I've ever made and my heart is breaking over it, but it's the right thing to do. I want a partner I can depend on and enjoy life with, not a dependent to drag along behind me.

I've never had to break up with someone for whom I still care deeply. How do I do it with kindness?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think being honest with him is the kindest thing you can do in the long run. Perhaps if he realizes that his lies have lost him a marriage, he will get help for that as well as for his depression and lack of engagement with the world.

Or not, but ultimately it's his choice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:51 PM on April 9, 2012

Do it in a public place and after you've drawn up divorce papers with a lawyer. I can tell that you are going to need a lot of support from what you've shared with us. I know you wish to be kind, but it is also time to take care of yourself now.
posted by 200burritos at 3:55 PM on April 9, 2012 [11 favorites]

Seconding Sidhedevil - perhaps realizing that not seeking counseling/a job/etc could cost him his marriage will be the kick in the ass he needs.

However, think hard about this before you make it conditional - would you still want him as a partner if he gets better? Or do you feel like you're just done with the marriage entirely?
posted by krakenattack at 3:56 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to be clear, I wasn't suggesting that the OP's breakup should be conditional, or that that would be a good idea--just that being clear with the ex about why this happened might help him put a life back together and have a better relationship with his next partner. "Rock bottom" as they say in the 12-step universe.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:05 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're certain that it pretty much doesn't matter at this point what he does, that you're just done with this and nothing would make you want him again - which is entirely fine and a feeling you should never apologize for - start by telling him you're leaving and then tell him that the lying and apathy and general sense of being a parent and not a partner have just killed your desire to be with him, and you're sorry but this is how it has to be. Be prepared to feel terribly guilty, but know in your heart that you are doing the right thing. This really is, in fact, how it has to be.

To be kind about it, do it quickly and don't let it drag out. Don't offer false hope. Don't offer any hope for the relationship at all. Make the break quick and clean and then let him take care of himself.

And take care of yourself too. You're going to find that taking care of yourself involves more than just ending a bad relationship. Pay attention to your wants and needs and do what you need to do for yourself when you need to do it.

Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 4:05 PM on April 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

Here's the kindest scenario I can come up with:

1) Don't make this about his (considerable) flaws. He's not going to gain anything by you listing the above.

2) Don't discuss it, at least initially. Just keep saying "I'm so sorry, my mind is made up." Be gentle but firm. Don't make it conditional; that's a form of hell. He'll either fix his shit or won't. It's unlikely he doesn't know that, you know, the joblessness and housekeeping are issues.

3) Don't screw him over financially, just because you maybe can. Please protect yourself and consult an attorney first; then be prepared with a dissolution that at least gives him time to get his shit together.

4) Wish the best for him. Tell him you really hope he gets the help he needs.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:09 PM on April 9, 2012 [19 favorites]

Be honest, be direct, be consistent, be firm, be brief, and accept deep down that he's going to be hurt and angry and frustrated and shocked and so on, but also that those aren't reasons for you not to go through with it.
posted by davejay at 4:11 PM on April 9, 2012

Talk to a divorce lawyer, do what's best for you first, then broach the topic with him. Keep it short, keep it firm, and tell him that you do care for him deeply and you wish him the very best. Give yourself, and him, space.

Then stick to your boundary of "no, never again" and don't let guilt sway you into violating that boundary with conversations, hang-out time, etc.

On preview, DarlingBri said what I wanted to say, but much more eloquently.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:14 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do it in a public place and after you've drawn up divorce papers with a lawyer. I can tell that you are going to need a lot of support from what you've shared with us. I know you wish to be kind, but it is also time to take care of yourself now.

Seconding this. I did it the night before my cousin (with whom I was close) came over for a visit, at a restaurant, after I'd visited a generic lawyer for a no fault divorce proceeding (even though...). See if you can plan it so that you have a friend or family member (who is aware of all the facts) visit for a few days afterwards, at least for me that was a big help in minimizing the emotional outbursts(and etc) due to the presence of a third party being there. While this might not be appropriate for everyone, my circumstances were such that I don't think it could have come off as smoothly as it did otherwise. (more or less)
posted by infini at 4:25 PM on April 9, 2012

It's unlikely he doesn't know that, you know, the joblessness and housekeeping are issues.

I bet he is lying to himself about how big an issue the lying is, though. That's what I think he needs to hear about.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:33 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a little tangential, but since this question is anonymous, I can't email you the suggestion directly. In any case, I don't recall if this book had specific info/suggestions about how to initiate the actual "I'm divorcing you" discussion with kindness (though I seem to recall it did), but I do recall it being immensely helpful in general around the time I initiated my own divorce. Good luck.
posted by scody at 4:38 PM on April 9, 2012

In my book, the one who initiates the divorce/breakup is the one who moves out, at least temporarily. So have a hotel room or spot at a friend's house secured for a little while. When my parents split, my dad was the one who initiated (and served my mom with papers by a courier, which you probably already know is a bad idea) and then he didn't leave. They both spent like a month at the house, living in separate rooms and communicating by email. My mom had to scramble to get a lawyer, apartment, etc. It would have been a lot easier for her if he wasn't in the house.
posted by radioamy at 5:28 PM on April 9, 2012

Talk to a lawyer 1st. Do an inventory of any possessions, bank accounts, etc. Be as fair as possible. Consider that you could be asked to pay alimony. Once you've told him, talk to one or 2 people in his friends and family, so they know he needs support.
posted by theora55 at 5:29 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

radioamy, I know you mean so well, but that advice could be dangerous. Don't move out until you have spoken with a lawyer about the laws in your state. Vacating the property could give you less leverage later.
posted by 200burritos at 5:40 PM on April 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

I wonder if this would be a good time to book an appointment with a counsellor, break up with him with the counsellor there and then leave so the counsellor can advise on next steps and resources to support him.

I'm sorry, that is a really tough situation for you to be in, be kind to yourself.
posted by saucysault at 5:51 PM on April 9, 2012

When I wanted to leave my husband, I took 3 months "off." I moved out into a studio apartment and got my head together. It also allowed for a sort of taper off period for him. He was crushed when I said I didn't want to continue the marriage, but he at least had an idea it was a possibility. It was incredibly valuable to me to do it that way - I don't think I could have felt the way I felt when I left for those 3 months and also break the news to him.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:03 PM on April 9, 2012

I wonder if this would be a good time to book an appointment with a counsellor, break up with him with the counsellor there and then leave so the counsellor can advise on next steps and resources to support him.

Sounds like a reasonable idea, but don't do this. My ex wanted a counselor there after she told me, but when I asked why. She wanted the counselor to answer the why part. Big bunch of crap. He may need legit help, but it will appear to him that you are hiding behind the counselor.

Again, from experience, there really is no way to do this with kindness. This should be done with efficiency. He will never see it as kindness or does not want your pity. Get your ducks in a row (lawyer or whatever -- I recommend mediators, but ymmv), tell him you want a divorce and why, and give him a date for him to move out or you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:52 PM on April 9, 2012

You absolutely need to talk to a lawyer first. If you do this wrong, depending on where you live, you could end up owing him alimony for years or having to give him a substantial portion of the assets you've earned while he sat at home and lied to you. You need to find out what your rights are and how to make the break in a way that doesn't result in him continuing to sponge off you indefinitely.
posted by decathecting at 7:06 PM on April 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

Personally, I can't think of anything less kind than doing it in a public place. I wouldn't want to receive that kind of devastating news with lots of people watching. At least allow the man the dignity of having his life destroyed in private.

I have broken up with/divorced some real assholes in my lifetime, but I have never felt the need to publicly humiliate anyone. And regardless of how quietly you do it, it's still humiliating to be dumped in public.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:54 PM on April 9, 2012 [22 favorites]

Honestly, I think doing it in a public place is a little cruel. Yes, meet with a lawyer beforehand & definitely have an exit strategy, but since it does not sound like he is abusive, just a bad partner, I think you can provide a more intimate space to deliver this news. If you need the protection of another person, perhaps a counselor's office or a relative's/dear friend's kitchen will do the trick.
posted by katemcd at 10:34 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be prepared for for him to turn on you. I could be wrong, but his (non) behavior strikes me as passive aggressive which, when thwarted could turn aggressive aggressive. Don't let your need to feel like a kind person turn into guilt and worse. Certainly talk to a lawyer before you do anything.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:50 AM on April 10, 2012

I agree with Light Fantastic. I did the same when things were very bad in my previous marriage (ex-husband out of work for a long time... similar situation to you actually).

Keep in mind, your husband is most likely deeply depressed and has been for sometime, battling with feelings of self-failure and for various reasons, you are both unable to discuss these things anymore, its a sad sort've limbo. Severing a marriage is a very painful process to go through for both parties, not just for him but for you as well. Because it hasn't been discussed yet, you are probably slightly insulated from the coming trauma you too will experience.

Thats why its a good idea for you both to have the 3 month apart foremost - even if your mind is 90% made up. It gives you both a chance to understand what is happening, to be apart and to accept things within a transitional period. Make sure you tell your close friends/family and his family / friends so you both receive support.

As for actually passing on the news, i think DarlingBri has the right attitude... And, I think you owe it to your husband/ex to do this in person in a private space. Choose the right time and place and be honest but sensitive in your responses.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:28 AM on April 10, 2012

Honestly, I think doing it in a public place is a little cruel

I concur. While of course you need to be mindful of your own safety in terms of his reaction, and "doing it in public" does probably mean attenuating the duration of his reaction, I'd feel like my partner had gone out of her way to humiliate and hurt me if she did this in public.
posted by ead at 7:45 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

N'thing DarlingBri's response.

You should do this quickly and firmly and don't let him think he is in any sort of limbo with your relationship and that he could recover it. The "limbo" thing is the worst thing you could do here, IMO. That way, he can begin any work he needs to do on himself immediately. Giving him that time to begin healing is probably the most compassionate thing you could do. This is typically why I never advocate any sort of "trial separation".

If people are honest with themselves on the subject, trial separation is usually just lingo for "trial singlehood".
posted by PsuDab93 at 7:55 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there any way you can make his getting some help part of the breakup and divorce? A financial incentive, maybe? Not only because he obviously needs it, but because it will be easiet on you if he has support. Obviously, you can't make anyone do anything, and your first priority here is to protect yourself - but anything you can do to help him along the way will probably also help you.
posted by ldthomps at 8:13 AM on April 10, 2012

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