“I’m leaving my husband.”
It was girls night out, and my small group of gal-pals was catching up over wine when Jen* dropped this bombshell on us.
“What?!” After twenty years and three kids together, their marriage was one I held up as a role model for making things work. How did it suddenly come to this?
That night I learned she’d been going to counseling for years, trying to make it work, trying to overlook her husband’s shortcomings for the sake of keeping their family together. She’d wanted to leave him months earlier, but the timing wasn’t right, and now she was ready to take the leap and begin to build a better life for her and her children.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked, as I reached over to touch her hand.
“Because you are so happy and in love, and I didn’t want to take away from any of your pre-wedding romantic bliss.”
I quickly replayed our recent visits in my mind and looked for clues that things were amiss, some hint of her pain that I hadn’t picked up on, some expression or comment that gave an opening for my to check in with her, to ask her deeper questions, to see how she was doing. Had I said anything that made her feel worse? Had she felt I was rubbing her face in my happiness? Had my joy in my new role as bride-to-be added to her hurt? I hated that I had not been a good friend to her in her time of need.
I respected her choice to hide her situation from me, yet it also broke my heart. “I wish you’d told me. I want to know so that I can be there for you.”
“But you have so much else on your plate with all the wedding stuff.”
“I’ll always have stuff on my plate, but my priorities include taking care of my friends.”
As I mulled over this in the ensuing week, it reminded me of our conversations—on LWB—about talking to our friends and families about our struggles with infertility and childfreeness. When do you tell them? What and how much do you tell? It’s not dissimilar from Jen’s decision to not tell her friends what was going down in her marriage, and I found it interesting to be on the other side of the conversation for a change.
And here’s what I learned: It’s important that we share our pain so that we can allow our friends to support us. Allow them to be better listeners, to learn how to help you with a hug or by knowing when it’s better to ignore the elephant in the room. Once you open up to a close friend, you also have an ally in groups. Moving forward, when the dynamic shifts to all things pregnancy and mommydom, and you feel yourself being pushed to the periphery, your informed and sensitive friend can help steer the group back to more inclusive topics before you have a meltdown.
Please share. How else will I know what you need? I want to help. I want to be there for you. I say to Jen, as I say to you, “Please let me know how I can best support you.”
*Not her real name, of course.
Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.