Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: My spouse told me this week he/she wants a divorce. I had a gay affair. I was pushing for us to work past this. We love each other, but I guess emotional love isn't enough.
The thing is - I don't even know where to start. I can't tell my family. I don't want to come out. I feel like a failure. No one in my family is divorced.
We have no kids and agreed to split everything 50/50, so this will be painful but not spiteful. Is there a step-by-step guide to this? Where do I live? What do I tell people? How do I navigate?
Answer: "I can't tell my family": Yes, you can. Your current agony began with this truth: You are one person trying to live as another. Until you resolve this fundamental dissonance, you will always struggle. "Where to start" is accepting who you are, then deciding how you want to live. If you choose again to be one thing but live as another - which I certainly don't advise - then let this experience with your spouse teach you at least to be honest with any co-stars in your act.
"I don't want to come out": See above.
"I feel like a failure": You are not a failure; your marriage has failed. Big difference. Please resist the urge to see cosmic meaning in earthly things. When it all feels overwhelming, take each piece and deal with it as pragmatically as you can: 1) Find a place to live. 2) Schedule the move. 3) Notify people on a need-to-know basis. Etc.
"No one in my family is divorced": Hey, somebody had to be first. Flippant, yes, but you know what? You go with it. It'll keep you from going nuts.
"Is there a step-by-step guide to this?": There's a step-by-step guide to everything. Google away.
A good, reputable therapist is an investment in your future. Try PFLAG, too, for coming-out support.
"What do I tell people?": "Spouse and I are separating. I'd rather not get into details now, thanks."
"How do I navigate?": With confidence that you will be OK. Such seismic shifts are scary but also necessary and, for that reason, ultimately to your benefit. Hang in there.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.