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Yes, there really is a wrong way to ask for a divorce

My ex-husband and I had an argument about our son, who was overwhelmed after an orthodontist appointment, and recovering from a conflict he had with his dad on the weekend. He asked if he could skip dinner and go to his room.

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“I need alone time, Mom. I’m so tired and my mouth hurts from the dentist.” I said yes 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 space tonight, he’s exhausted and over-stimulated. Why don’t we cut him a break?”

His dad flew into a rage.

In fact, my son had — with remarkable courage and sitting next to me for comfort — told his dad he was upset, did not want to fight, and was afraid of his father’s anger.

It’s hard parenting a child with ADHD. It’s hard parenting no matter what, but strategies that work with non-ADHD kids can escalate symptoms in those with special needs. But my ex likes things tidy, and has not accepted that his sons have special needs.

“When can we talk?”

“We can talk now.”

I sat on the couch across from him. He motioned me to the bedroom. 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 now, and I don’t love you anymore. I’m done.”

More: I’m happy to celebrate with my friends when they get divorced

I don’t know how long he was thinking, “I’m done, I want a divorce.” He never said a word. 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, 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 50th birthday?

I wish if he’d been unhappy he’d spoken to me first, or hired a third-party mediator to help us have this conversation. Some things can never be taken back. Even if he felt the words “I don’t love you anymore” are true, he did not need to say them. 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 to whom you have said “I love you” countless times, traveled with, allowed to care for you when sick, loved and made life decisions with. Why would anyone 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 as well. But, there are ways to end a relationship without blindsiding your partner, without hurting feelings and betraying trust so much that you obliterate it. When you say words you can never take back, you create a chasm 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, and 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 not worth it and you’ll regret it. For the sake of my children, I am going to communicate, and I will make this work. But I will never trust him again. Some things can never be taken back. 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.

More: My son’s cat helped him heal when his dad and I divorced

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