It's that time of year again: Thanksgiving. The relatives gather, friends come calling. Some genuinely want to know how you — and your relationship (or lack of one) — are doing; others are just plain nosy.
Here, FWW offers scenarios and questions you might encounter this T-Day. And since how you may be tempted to respond might not go over so well, we’ve enlisted Dr. Diana Kirschner, a psychologist specializing in love and relationships, to explain what you should say to avoid awkward moments and deflect any uncomfortable questions thrown your way. So sit down to a family dinner prepared to volley polite, PC answers right back at 'em. No curve balls this Thanksgiving!
As Dr. Diana explains, "These are answers based on the idea that you don't want to open up to these relatives. In general, feel free to simply smile and not answer a question — instead answer a question with another question directed at the person."
If you're contemplating divorce, it's unlikely you'll be assaulted by countless questions about your relationship. But you'd be surprised how perceptive people can be to all your little unconscious clues that something is amiss (eye rolling, heavy sighs, involuntary grimaces, or just that permanent look of AHHHH on your face). If someone does ask a question, don't pounce. Remember that everything is magnified in your mind right now, and even the most innocent questions can seem like a personal assault.
Scenario 1: Aunt Cynthia catches (and corners) you in the kitchen while everyone else is watching the game.
The question: “Do I notice some tension between you and Marty?”
What you'd like to say: "Wow. You are very perceptive. Was it because my voice rose three octaves when I asked him to help me unload the groceries from the trunk — or when he blatantly ignored me?”
What you should say: “We’re just working some things out. How are the kids?”
Scenario 2: Your brother-in-law catches you as you head outside for a quiet moment.
The question: So why isn't Marty here for dinner?
What you'd like to say: "I'm pretty sure he's sitting at the bar at Applebee's waiting for his new girlfriend to finish her waitressing shift."
What you should say: "Oh, you know, since the holidays are such a hectic time, we decided to visit our families individually. He went to see his (grandmother, mother, etc). How are your folks doing?”
If you're navigating divorce, this might be the first holiday gathering since your separation. Unfortunately, it’s also a time of great stress, where your emotions are barely contained by your skin. Take a moment before answering questions, and keep details to a minimum. Inquiring minds will get the hint that you're really saying, "Next topic, please!" Should you slip up or fall apart, well…you’re entitled (and your family will still love you). But check out a couple possible scenarios anyway.
Scenario 1: All pleasant dinner conversation comes to a screeching halt as Uncle Max voices what everyone's been thinking.
The question: “So what's going on? Are you two ever going to get back together?”
What you'd like to say: “Why? Do you want him? I hear he likes them nosy and bald.”
What you should say:"Hard to say — we're working on it everyday. But I’m handling it fine. So who made these sweet potatoes? They’re delish!”
Scenario 2:As you wash the dishes with friend-of-a-friend Marcy, she assumes this intimacy makes it acceptable to ask detailed questions about your finances.
The questions: So is he treating you well? How much will he owe in child support?
What you'd like to say: Well, last night we went 12 rounds arguing over who will pay for Jason's ski lessons this winter, but, yes, we're on the same page about financial support.
What you should say:"We’re negotiating right now and we’ll definitely come to the right settlement for both of us.”
MOVING BEYOND DIVORCE
If you’re moving beyond divorce, you may find yourself subjected to the “overly helpful” assistance of family members who feel they know what is best for you: a new man. Maybe it is, maybe not yet, or maybe it’s about you now. Regardless of where you are with dating post-divorce, you know these questions will come, so be ready with some answers.
Scenario 1: Your perpetually single (and slightly competitive) cousin Kate attempts to "catch up" while plating pumpkin pie.
The questions: Why aren't you dating again? Aren’t you lonely?
What you'd like to say: Oh, I’m dating someone, actually, but he's not eligible for parole until 2012.
What you should say:"I’m really enjoying my freedom right now." Or "I’m integrating all that has happened. This is a big growth period for me, and I'm learning a lot."
Scenario 2: Your 15-year-old niece's inquisitive nature is no longer "cute" when she asks about your next move as a single woman over hot chocolate.
The question:So, are you ever going to get married again? (As in, are you going to get it right next time?)
What you'd like to say:“Well, with the divorce rate hovering around 50%, I'd say my chances are pretty good next time around. Ask Nana and Pop to throw in $20 each and we’ll get a family pool going.”
What you should say: "I'm just concentrating on the day-to-day stuff right now. I'm so busy, I haven't really had time to think about next steps!"
GENERAL AWKWARD MOMENTS
Scenario 1:Your brother's girlfriend stops you in the hallway on your way to the basement to bring up another bottle (or case!) of wine.
The question: How are you? (You can feel the pity as they emphasize "are")
What you'd like to say: My therapist says I'm doing really well. I was about to call her right now, actually. Shall I put us on speaker phone?
What you should say:"I'm kind of in a transitional phase right now. Working everything out. How are you?"
Scenario 2:Stationed by the curio cabinet, you and cousin Cathy have scrutinized every knickknack and keepsake behind the glass — twice. It's clear she'll talk about anything but your divorce.
The question: The avoidance of subject. Do you say something when someone is obviously doing everything he/she can to not talk about your love life/marital status?
What you'd like to say:Perched atop the coffee table, you use your bullhorn to notify everyone in the house (and the neighborhood) that "things are just not working out with Marty and I, but with the help of my friend Jack Daniels, I'm getting on just fine — thank you very much!"
What you should say: Absolutely nothing. If no one wants to bring it up, might as well smile politely and be thankful you don't have to brief your extended family on the highs and lows of family court.
Additional articles on dealing with divorce through the Thanksgiving Holiday: