My husband Philip and I are in the process of getting a divorce that I wanted and he didn’t. We’ve been married for eight years, but I haven’t been happy for the last three years or so. I love him, but I’m not in love with him, if you know what I mean.
A couple of months ago when I was moving out, he asked me if I would still go with him to his college reunion that is coming up this summer. (We live in Texas and he went to college in New Jersey.) I said yes because it seemed really important to him. At the time, I thought my going would help him to deal with things. In other words, I thought it was the nice thing to do. And even though we aren’t going to be married anymore, we can still be friends, right?
But now that the event is a couple of weeks away, I feel differently. The idea of going with him to his college reunion when we’ve already split up and our divorce is almost final seems like a sitcom-worthy proposition – and I’m talking about the kind of scene that elicits nervous laughter because it’s so painful and awkward, not the kind that makes you laugh because it’s a rollicking good time.
And it’s not just me I’m thinking of here. This will be painful and awkward for everyone involved. (Okay, cards on the table: It will suck most of all for me; but it will be seriously weird for everyone else, too, right?) But more than that, I really worry that the trip will set Philip back and make things harder for him than they already are. The whole reason why I said yes in the first place was because I thought it would help him. If it’s not going to help him, I don’t feel right about going – even though he really wants me to.
Last weekend, I told him that I was having second thoughts about the trip, and he got furious with me. He said that I promised him I’d go, and flaking out on him at the last minute – especially on something as important to him as his college reunion and double especially at a time when his life is in the toilet (his words, not mine) – would be tantamount to kicking him when he’s already down. He said he’s given me eight years of his life, and all he is asking for is this one last weekend. Now, on top of feeling terrible, I have no idea what to do.
Rethinking the Reunion
This may be one of the easiest questions that I’ve ever been asked. The answer is so simple that I only need two words to convey it: Don’t go. But since we’re already talking (and brevity isn’t my strong suit) I’ll elaborate just a bit.
First, I hope to God you didn’t actually use that whole, “I love you, but I’m not in love you,” line on him. I don’t know why people who are in the power position of a breakup think that this will make the other person feel better. It doesn’t. The only message that comes across is the “I’m not in love with you” part, and that goes without saying. The fact that you’ve packed all your stuff, rented a U-Haul, and are moving to a new apartment in the “cool” area of town already tells him that. You don’t need to punch him in face with it.
Also on the list of things to never say? “It’s not you; it’s me,” “I love you like a brother,” and “I want us to still be friends.”
That last one is important, because that’s what’s really going on here. You’re trying to be a friend to him in his time of misery. But you can’t, and here’s why: YOU’RE the cause of his misery. And time is the thing that he needs to get over feeling miserable. As long as you’re around, the “feel better” clock won’t start to run.
It’s clear that Philip hasn’t yet accepted the fact that you’re getting a divorce. If he did, he wouldn’t want you to go with him to his college reunion. He’s still hoping you’ll change your mind about the whole thing and call off the divorce. As long as you’re hanging around him, you’re giving him false hope. That’s neither healthy nor fair to him.
If you really care about Philip, you’ll do what you can to help him accept the fact that you two are getting a divorce. This requires being impervious to his guilt trips; and the best way to do that is to not be in a position for him to lay one on you. Tell him that you are going to give him some space and that means you’re going to stop talking to him for the time being. I know that might seem mean, but you have to understand that what you’re really doing is giving Philip the very thing he needs to feel better. He might not realize he needs it, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t.
And when it comes to your feeling guilty about everything, just stop already. True, you said you’d go with him to the reunion and then you changed your mind, but that doesn’t mean you’re being cruel or uncaring. That means with the passage of time, your feelings about the reunion changed. And if divorce teaches you anything, it’s that feelings can change over time. So, quit beating yourself up over this.
Eventually, you and Philip may well get to the point where you can be friends. That might involve things like grabbing lunch once in a while, or exchanging friendly emails on your birthdays; but that will never involve going to each other’s college reunions together.
Bottom line: If your real motivation is to help Philip to get over the divorce rather than to help yourself to not feel guilty about it, tell Philip you are not going to his college reunion, then give him the time and space he needs to move on.
Christina Pesoli is the author of Break Free from the Divortex: Power Through Your Divorce and Launch Your New Life.