In a joint statement shared last week, Channing and Jenna Tatum announced that they were separating after almost nine years of marriage. “It feels odd that we have to share this kind of thing with everyone, but it’s a consequence of the lives we’ve chosen to lead, which we also happen to be deeply grateful for,” it read. “We have lovingly chosen to separate as a couple. We fell deeply in love so many years ago and have had a magical journey together. Absolutely nothing has changed about how much we love one another, but love is a beautiful adventure that is taking us on different paths for now.”
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Divorce and Kids
The divorce announcement, gentle in tone and positive in outlook, was certainly not the first of its kind to be made on social media. But it was an example of a document nobody ever wants or expects to write, though many will, unfortunately, have to. And it was a reminder that the Internet has wormed its way into every aspect of our lives, making public many of our most private moments — even if we’re not celebrities.
Still, it’s probably fair to say Hollywood A-listers, if only out of necessity, are pioneers of the divorce announcement. In 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin published what might be one of the earliest (in internet years) celebrity divorce posts, on Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop. The post’s five sentences read in their entirety:
It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate. We have been working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us, and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate. We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been. We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.
Like the Tatums’, this statement models elements that experts agree are essential to any divorce announcement. It’s succinct, positive, respectful, and it makes clear the finality of the partners’ decision — once you go public, after all, there’s usually no going back.
The rapper Logic struck a similar tone when announcing his divorce from singer Jessica Andrea last month, on Twitter. “After two years of marriage, we have come to the loving conclusion that we are much better as friends,” he wrote, then moved quickly to dispel any rumors that might emerge about the split. “It’s very simple: It just didn’t work out. There is no anger involved. No fighting, no cheating, no nothing. We love each other and will continue to support each other for the rest of our lives.” And like Paltrow, Martin, and the Tatums, Logic emphasized the love he and Andrea continue to share with each other: “There are no sides, there is just us. Two people who loved each other in marriage and will continue to love each other for the rest of our lives.”
When Trish Sammer made the difficult decision to end her marriage eight years ago, there was no model celebrity announcement for her to use as guidance. The author, lifestyle writer, and mother of two could only turn to her intuition, which told her she couldn’t bear to explain the situation to every last friend and acquaintance as it came up naturally. “Telling just a few people who were close to me was awful,” she told Fatherly in an email. “I couldn’t imagine going through that over and over again every time I ran into someone new.”
So, she went to Panera Bread, drafted her own “press release” of a Facebook post, made a few revisions with her husband, and posted it: a threeish-paragraph statement that apologized for the sudden bad news, made clear that they had exhausted their options, and stressed that they were making this decision to “maintain congeniality so that we can continue to raise our children together with love.” They also thanked their friends for supporting them, offering their own love in return.
“I know that announcing the divorce on Facebook may have seemed odd to a lot of people at the time, but to this day I think it was a great move,” Sammer reflects. “I was so emotionally wrecked at the time that it was more a matter of utility than anything else. It saved me a lot of awkward conversations down the road.”
Eight years later, Sammer is newly remarried and almost 1.5 billion more people are on Facebook. There’s no easy way to tell how many of those people have used it to announce a divorce, its utility remains clear — if somewhat diluted. “Back when my ex and I split,” she says, “Facebook was in its heyday. Everyone we knew was on there. We were pretty certain the news would get where we needed it to go. Today, I think it might be harder to get that kind of reach with just one announcement.”
If a couple chooses to make the announcement on social media, Sammer advises they do it with unity and mutual respect. “I wrote the post and tagged my ex in it, so it officially came from both of us,” she said. “I even sent it to him before I posted it.” In posting together, Sammer hoped to head off some of the instant-war mentality some people get into when they hear about a divorce. “They feel they need to pick sides and make one person a villain,” she said. “Announcing it jointly took some of the venom out of the situation.”
Taking the venom out is only the first step, however; equally important is keeping it out of future posts. This means: Keep it classy and, obviously, don’t dunk on your ex.
“Keep in mind that anything you write anywhere on the Internet has the possibility of taking on a life of its own,” Sammer says. “Your kids could read it someday. Someone you forgot you were connected with (there’s always someone) can copy the message and send it to your ex or your former in-laws.” She’s right. Spouting off to your friends in person or on the phone is one thing. Leaving a permanent record can come back to bite you in so many ways. “Plus,” Sameer adds, “You’re probably going to have to negotiate money and custody with this person. It’s going to be a lot harder if you’ve done the equivalent of taking out a billboard calling them an ass-clown.”
Samantha Rodman, a clinical psychologist practicing in North Bethesda, Maryland, also stresses the importance of avoiding blame and bitterness.
“Friends or family do not want to or need to be drawn into the nitty gritty details of who cheated on who, or who was believed to be emotionally unavailable, or so forth,” she told Fatherly. “If you are announcing your divorce on social media, be even more careful how you word things, because your partner and all of their friends/family/coworkers, as well as your own, will be reading and analyzing your announcement. The best is positive and brief, stating that you’re divorcing but remaining friends and co-parents.” If an amicable relationship isn’t in the cards, Rodman says, then a public announcement might not be the best approach.
Social media offers a (relatively) easy, efficient way to mitigate the pain of breaking difficult news to friends and family. But there’s no way around the difficulty of breaking it to your kids. “Don’t wait; tell them as soon as it’s decided,” Sammer advises. “There is not going to be an easier time later. Remember that what is happening is their story, too. Later on, they may hold you accountable for how and when you told them. You don’t want to have to answer for why they were the last ones to know.”
Rodman, who’s written a book on the subject, recommends parents approach the discussion with transparency and respect. “The key points are that you want to be calm, not ruin any holidays or special occasions with the announcement, and respect your co-parent by never saying any bad or blaming about them to your children,” she says.
Rodman suggests a blunt approach: Say that you have stopped getting along and you have decided to divorce and live separately. Explain it in a simple way that your kids can understand. And understand that your kids will be sad and may want to be alone after the announcement, so don’t do it in a public location.
“Have as much information as you can available to them,” she said. “For example, tell them the custody arrangement and where each parent will leave.”
If you think you can get away with omitting some parts of the story, well, your audience may be smarter than you think. “I thought I did a great job of being as transparent as was healthy with my kids when all of this was happening,” Sammer recalls. “But many years later, my daughter called me out for lying to her about dad having to work in another town while we were having a trial separation. She was six when that happened. I explained that I didn’t want to upset her prematurely — that it was trial separation so I wasn’t sure if we were going to get back together or not. She seemed to understand that explanation, but I was really surprised to learn that she’d been puzzling that out over several years.”
Sammer’s experience demonstrates what might be the most crucial thing to remember about making a divorce announcement, or indeed any announcement: words matter. They have a deep, lasting effect on the people you care about and the people who care about you. That’s why it’s so important to choose them with care, empathy, and respect.