“When can we talk?”
“We can talk now.”
I sat down on the couch across from him. He motioned me to the bedroom. Our house is single-story, open plan; kids in various rooms would have been within earshot.
Before the door was even shut he said, “I’m done.”
I waited a beat.
“I can’t do this anymore. What just happened, with the kids. I don’t love you anymore. I’m done.”
We had just had an argument about our younger son, his ADHD and his needs. My son was overwhelmed post-orthodontist appointment, and still recovering from a difficult conflict he’d had with his dad on the weekend. He asked if he could skip dinner and lay down in his room.
“I just need some alone time, Mom. I’m so tired and my teeth hurt from the dentist.” I told him he could only to have his father balk at my inconsistency.
“We’re having family dinner; he’s going to sit with us. The child needs consistency.”
“I think he needs some space tonight, he’s exhausted and over-stimulated. Why don’t we cut him a break?”
His dad flew into a rage at my inconsistent parenting methods.
In fact, my son had just — with remarkable courage and holding on to me with both arms — told his dad that he was still upset, that he did not want to fight and was afraid of his Dad’s anger.
It’s hard parenting a child with ADHD. It’s hard parenting a child period. But a lot of strategies that work with non-ADHD kids can backfire or escalate symptoms in one who has special needs.
My ex likes things tidy, and it’s been hard to accept that our boys have special needs.
I don’t know how long my ex was thinking, “I’m done, I want a divorce.” He never talked to me about it. How long was he unhappy? When did he decide he didn’t love me anymore? Was it before the couples workshop where we both cried, talked deeply about ourselves and he said, “I feel like we’re going to make it.” Was that true? Did he know what was true? Was it before Christmas? My birthday?
If you are unhappy, talk to your partner. If you can’t talk kindly without a third party present, hire a third party. This is the most important relationship of your life, especially if you are a parent. Hire a counselor, relationship coach, or mediator — anyone who can help mitigate the anger and let you touch the places of care. You once loved this person; you maybe even still do. Do you want your last words to be cruel and hurtful?
Some things can never be taken back, and even if you feel the words, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m done” are true, you may not need to say it. It may not be the best way to ask for a divorce from the mother of your children, your wife of seventeen years, the woman you have said “I love you” to countless times, traveled with, allowed to care for you when sick, loved and made life decisions with. Do you want to hurt her that much?
There’s no need to stay in an unhappy marriage, or any unhappy relationship. I want to be happy, and I want my children’s father to be. But there are ways to end a relationship without blindsiding your partner, without hurting feelings and betraying trust so much that you obliterate it. By saying words you can never take back, you create a situation where you may only talk through a third party because the betrayal is so deep. Not with another woman, but with silence, with cruelty, with pretending, with emotional lies. Would you want that for yourself? It’s scary to be real and honest. It’s scary to be vulnerable — but be mindful.
Be mindful of the other person’s feelings, even if you are hurt, angry, frustrated, fed up, done. There was once love there, especially if there are children and decades of history. Disentangling a relationship is complicated. Don’t make it more so by being cruel. It’s just not worth it. You’ll regret it. You will. For the sake of my children, I am going to communicate, I will make this work. But I will never trust him again. Some things can never be taken back. They just can’t. People give themselves to you in love. They are resilient but their hearts are fragile. Tread lightly. Be gentle and handle with care. You’d want the same. And you deserve it.
This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project as “The Wrong Way to Ask For a Divorce.”