While at the moment I am technically still married, I have been separated from my ex for eight months or so, with divorce pending. In certain situations, I find myself unsure of when/if to tell others about this change in my life, and asking myself, When should I tell others that I'm divorced/separated?

I have told some close friends and family about the situation, but there are some people with whom I am not close, that I'd prefer to not have to deal with the uncomfortable conversations that inevitably result, should I broach the subject (or should I object if they reference our marriage).

The problem is that a lot of people I interact with are aware that I have been married (10 years), and so ask questions about my ex like,

How is your wife doing? What is she up to lately? Is she done with school? Can you tell her I said hi?

Usually, if it's a simple question referring to my "wife," I just answer the question, because I just don't want to deal with any additional drama. If I were to say anything like "we're actually separated" or "we're actually in the middle of a divorce," I feel (proven out by experience) it will inevitably lead to other questions and comments that I don't want to answer, like

Oh no, I'm so sorry! What happened? I can't believe it! Why are you getting divorced? You guys are so great together! Why aren't you trying to work it out?

One place this happens often is at my kids' elementary school, where I volunteer frequently. As a result, a lot of people know me, and a fair amount of people also know my ex (though she is less active than me), which frequently leads to situations like the one mentioned above.

I actually told one guy at the school that I'm relatively good friends with about my situation and now he's repeatedly trying to convince me to get back together with her, which is not the desired experience I want to have multiplied 20 times over.

The problem I have is that the more I perpetuate the idea that we are together, when we are not, it's essentially giving credence to a non-truth. But do I really have to have 100 mini-therapy sessions with each person to convey the reality of the situation? Is there any way or time to bring this up that doesn't result in many uncomfortable follow up discussions?

One part of why I don't want to get into it with these people who are essentially just acquaintances is that the reason behind our divorce is due to repeated infidelity on the part of my ex, which I do not want to gossip over or potentially tarnish her reputation over. I also obviously don't want it to reflect negatively on my children in any way.

In addition to the school scenario, I also have similar situations arise at work, but less frequently, and also with neighbors, etc.

In general, I just don't know when or how to bring up our divorce to people in our lives, in order to minimize the negative impact on myself, my ex, and our children. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • Could you perhaps refine your question some more? It's not up to us as to when you tell people, but if you decide you want to (or not want to) we could help you in how to tell others that you have had a divorce. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 9:08

3 Answers 3


Having been through this myself, the one piece of advice I would pass on (and this does kind of link in to my answer to your question) is this - you can pretty much determine your genuine friends from their initial response to the news. If their first question is "how are you?" then you can tell their first concern is you; whereas the ones that ask "What happened? are just after the gossip*.

I would use this as a basis for how much information you want to give. I understand that you don't really want to keep giving the same response over and over again, but you also do need your friends especially at this time. Telling somebody how you are right now is really not so bad, especially as this is pretty standard small-talk, as well as being subject to change on a daily basis! But you don't owe it to anybody to "tell the story" of how it all happened, so my advice would be to just cut short any conversation about that. True friends will understand that you don't want to talk about something painful anyway.

So: when should you tell others that you are divorced/separated?

Answer: As soon as possible. But you don't have to go into detail.

If someone asks about your ex, just and say:

We're no longer together.

If you can manage a half-smile with that statement it will show that you're not annoyed at them for mentioning her. And then respond to any follow up questions with either "I'm fine" or "I'd rather not talk about it", however you feel.

You'll find your true friends cut you a lot of slack at this time, so while my answer does seem rather obvious I do stand by it because you may be over-thinking at this time. You will look back on the situation with a lot more clarity.

*After a helpful comment that suggests this distinction may not apply in other languages I want to add that this part of my answer IS personal opinion but the point of it is to have some kind of filter on your responses rather than a blanket decision not to respond. I believe you should bring your true friends in on this, so if you don't agree with my filter then decide for yourself who deserves a detailed response and who does not.

  • 3
    As a non-native English speaker, I would probably disqualify myself as a friend by your definition. The question of "What happened?" is one I ask my friends (we communicate in English) to make clear I am ready to listen to anything they want to talk about. Asking for whatever they want to share is neutral to me. They can either talk about their feelings, talk about the facts or just give a short answer. I will react accordingly. "How are you?" kind of implies they should feel bad and for me it can even be a trigger to "have the feelings come up again", so I avoid it (as a first question).
    – skymningen
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 14:25
  • @skymningen That's a useful perspective. On IPS I do try to consider alternative cultures in my responses, but as an English language site I can only express myself in that language. Perhaps the reader can use some discernment and employ their own 'filter' to determine whether someone is actually concerned about them as a person rather than just fascinated by the story behind the tragedy.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 14:30

Been there myself. My answer is, as soon as possible. I don't mean make a point of telling everyone you know; only if it comes up. Tell the truth about the situation but only if you feel comfortable doing so. You are not obliged to discuss personal matters with anyone. That's where this can become difficult; our human nature doesn't want us to upset anyone, and it certainly doesn't want people thinking less of us in any way. We seem to think there's a stigma to breakups. I'm sure there was way back when but my how things have changed.

I won't tell you what to say verbatim; I don't agree with that kind of hand-holding. This is a difficult situation you're going through and my heart goes out to you. But it's also an opportunity for growth. Fighting through that fear of saying the wrong thing will only make you stronger. Who cares if you say the wrong thing anyway? What is the wrong thing? Be straight with people in what you say, and you will enjoy, at the very least, the comfort of a clean conscience.

If I might add, with regard to the children; focus on them. I found it a great help to meet my obligations where they were concerned, make sure they were having their needs met, and make sure I was always there for them. Everything else just was just more manageable then. It is commendable that you consider your ex, as well as your children in this difficult time. More power to you.

  • 1
    The question is not how to help the kids or how to be stronger or how to cope. It's when to tell people. There is nothing in this answer about that. (And the side swipe at answers that provide wordings is uncalled for.) Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 14:29
  • @KateGregory. When to tell people: "My answer is, as soon as possible." It's the second sentence in the first paragraph. Also, I believe answers that provide wordings are unhelpful. You're free to disagree.
    – user11728
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 20:47

I think what you're really trying (or needing) to find out is actually

How do I set clear boundaries, so that when I inform an acquaintance of my recent irrevocable separation from my soon-to-be ex-wife, there will be little or no attempts to persuade me to reconcile with my ex?

And for this there is no one-size-fits-all phrase or action for boundary setting. However, I can give you one scenario as an example. Notice the earnest tone that just assumes that the listener has your best interests at heart, over sentimental or religious notions. Another key feature of my suggestion is the change of topic after three iterations.

A: So, John, what news can you give me of Alice? My wife and I were just talking about her yesterday at dinner. We were remembering how much she likes lobster.

B: We've been separated for ten months now. We're coparenting and the kids are with her every other weekend. I know it's a bit of a shock for people who didn't know us very well, but among all our family and close friends, the consensus is that this has been a change for the better. It's been a really healthy change for all of us.

The kids have been amazing. They really get the rhythm of the every-other-weekend visit. I guess one thing that's helped has been that they actually take our dog Suzy with us when they switch houses.

And what's new with you? I remember you were taking a class last semester. How did you like it? Are you taking another class this semester?

And now, an example of pushing back a bit if the person starts pestering you and you're uncomfortable.

(after the conversation already reported)

B: Yeah, I finished out my course and yes, I'm taking another this semester. It's going well.

A: That's good to hear.

B: Oh, man, I just can't get over what you just said about you and Carol. Man, that kind of news can really shake up a person's universe. I just can't get over it.

A: Yes, the news often triggers something in people. I can assure you, the moral support feels really good. But actually the best way our friends can support us is by just accepting us for who we are now. Trying to rehash for the umpteenth time those old decisions isn't fun, especially when it comes from people I respect. But I'm glad I had this chance to tell you our news. I wouldn't want people to be finding out from the grapevine. I'd rather be able to tell them our news myself.

Now, there is another approach possible -- I call it "come out swinging." It requires forward momentum:

We're separated and our divorce will be finalized next month. The kids are fine, Alice is fine, I'm fine, and I don't want to talk about it. Now, change of subject. How 'bout them Yankees?

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