I don’t know how to tell people I’m getting divorced

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I'm in a 20-plus year marriage that may be ending and feel overwhelmed by everything involved with actually leaving. Not so much the decision to leave, but how to do it. I know I should seek help from friends/family/therapist etc., but it's not that easy. There is a deep sense of shame and I find myself wanting to hide this and not tell anyone.

In my case, my husband has a problem with alcohol. I have looked into Al-Anon but the religious aspect is a turnoff. Have spent a few nights away and it is really hard to live out of a suitcase. Would appreciate advice from anyone who has been through this. How do you start over?

– Starting Over


Readers who've left marriages, please weigh in with your experiences to whatever extent you can. (Thank you in advance.)

My take is that yes, this is difficult and sad, and I can understand why there's shame, even if it doesn't sound shameful to me. Feelings are feelings. This is going to be a process.

I've had a few people in my life end long relationships – sometimes marriages – and I've watched what happens when they disclose their plans. They start with a friend or family member – sometimes even a colleague – anyone who can take the news without internalizing it too much. After saying it out loud a few times, they get used to their own narrative. Maybe that narrative expands.

As you tell people, you might want to explain exactly what you need from them and what your boundaries are in the moment. As in, "I know this might shock you. Right now, what I could really use is help finding a place to stay and some fun, distracting evenings with your company. I'm not quite ready to talk about the what alcohol did to the marriage or the worst of it just yet." Instructions are helpful.

I'll warn you, some people can't stop themselves from making it about them or sharing their own experiences. But ... sometimes that winds up being helpful, too.

I think that once you tell a few people, it'll feel like reality – something you'd never want to hide. Also, telling your community might make the logistics much easier. Friends of friends might have access to housing, legal help, things to do.

As for Al-Anon, it calls itself spiritual as opposed to religious, but I get it. There are some secular groups (based on my googling) that meet online. I've read that Al-Anon meetings can vary based on geography, the makeup of the group, etc. It might be worth trying one to see if it's what you think.

– Meredith

Readers? Give some previews and tips here, please. How did you first tell people? What were first steps for moving out, asking someone to leave, finding support, etc.? Who did you talk to first?