For many years I was married to a man who was smart, funny, and entertaining in company, and an enraged, abusive alcoholic in private. He refused my pleas to get help, and when I finally asked for a separation he sued for divorce and let me know that, from then on, I was as dead to him. I now live in another state and am happily married to a wonderful man. Although my family and friends are glad for me, they ask if I have heard from my first husband, how is he doing, have I “shut the door” on him, etc. I’ve explained that I never hear from him, but they can’t seem to remember. These questions make me feel helpless and sad. Can you suggest a way to handle this?
A.K. / Boston
Bluntly. You will feel less helpless if you take control of your narrative. “If you’re concerned with Ex I’m sure he’d love to hear from you. He behaved differently toward me than he did in public. We are no longer in contact for good reasons. Please don’t ask me about him again.”
If they ask you about him again: “I’ve explained the situation and told you I don’t wish to discuss it further. Let’s talk about something else.” If they continue to harp on the topic, exit the room or conversation. (You don’t need to be tactful or devastatingly witty or confrontational —“Excuse me, I need to visit the bathroom” will do.)
You can envision that “behaved differently toward me than he did in public” as the middle setting on a dial that you can turn in either direction as far as you like. You can omit it entirely, or be far more explicit.
You are in no way required to keep this man’s abuse of you a secret, however disconcerting the truth may be to others.
You’re also not required to show your bleeding wounds to ask your friends to avoid a personal topic. “I’d rather not talk about my former husband (or my health/job search/fertility plans/dissertation/opinions on the primary) so please respect that” is a reasonable and courteous request that friends should be happy to honor.Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.