Divorce and Separation: How to Handle The Reactions of Family and Friends

“I’ve been separated for a few months now and am still feeling pretty shell-shocked. How do I handle my friends and family? Everyone is telling me what to do, how I should feel, asking all sorts of questions I don’t feel like answering. I feel like shutting down.


The transition from going from married to separated can be pretty rocky. It sounds like your emotional stamina has been really tested, which is to be expected. Your family and friends and all of their advice and questions are well-intentioned, but it sounds like they aren’t really helping. So how do you ask for what you need?

Don’t be afraid to tell your supporters that you appreciate their help but right now the best way they could help you is simply to offer you love and to listen to you. Listening deeply to another without an agenda to “fix” them or solve their problem is such an important gift. Too often people listen more to what they want to say next, instead of ….

just listening and letting someone pour their heart out. Tell them the barrage of advice and “Here’s what I would do” are adding to your sense of overwhelm instead of helping you get your feet back on the ground.

Realize that your friends and family are likely going through their own emotional upset as well. People don’t get training manuals on divorce etiquette, so they are doing the best they can and may simply be feeling uncomfortable themselves. They may have strong feelings about your ex-partner, or are concerned about your well-being, or both. It could be bringing up their own feelings of insecurity or doubt about their own relationship. Regardless, it’s totally acceptable to let them know what you need. If the conversation starts to go down a road you don’t want to travel, simply tell them “You know, I’d rather not get into that right now. Let’s change the subject.” They will follow your cues.

It is important, however, that you do find some forum to express and explore your feelings. Divorce isn’t easy, but it’s an opportunity to discover new wisdom and strength within yourself, if you’re willing to look. So I wouldn’t recommend simply “shutting down” permanently. The risk there is that you could simply repeat past mistakes because the lessons that are in this separation for you haven’t been fully excavated and digested.

The Divorce Resource Kit offers many tools, such as the THRIVE Principles ™ and strategies to help you get your sense of center and confidence back. You may also want to work with a divorce coach or find a local support group where you can connect with others going through divorce. You don’t need to travel the divorce journey alone.

Ask your question, in confidence, by clicking here or you may email us at askthrive@thriveafterdivorce.com. We’ll answer your question in upcoming issues!

Divorce and Separation: Stopping the Negative Mental Loops


How can you stop the negative loops recalling what went wrong (and what was so right)? How do you stop trying to ‘fix’ it in your own mind?”


Divorce, heartache, grief and rebuilding your life – it’s all part of the healing journey everyone must travel when your relationship ends. The mind is a beautiful problem-solving tool. But when it comes to matters of the heart and relationship, our brain is often not well-equipped to help us heal.

Having those cyclical thoughts and questions of “What if….?” or questioning what might have turned out differently if you’d made different choices in the past is quite natural. It is simply the brain sifting, sorting and trying to find patterns and solutions from past experiences it has stored to find a way out of the situation you find yourself in. Sometimes you know your relationship is on the rocks, and sometimes you don’t. So our powerful brain is literally scanning its memory banks to find pieces of data that might help you to create a solution and get to the other side of your heartache.

But your power and choices lie in each present moment. The problem with unchecked cyclical thoughts is that they keep you replaying the past or projecting yourself into a fantasy future that is sheer speculation. The key to making empowering choices for yourself and navigating through your divorce is when you stay present, moment-to-moment.

If you find yourself caught in a mental spin cycle, a great way to break out of it is to write it all down. Use a journal to capture your thoughts and questions. This will assure your brain you’re doing something productive with all of its gyrations and help loosen the grip of these negative loops on your mind.

You can also set some boundaries around this kind of thinking. Give yourself a time limit of some kind to fully review the good, bad and ugly about your situation and how you got there and then once your timer goes off, stop. Break your physical and mental state by putting on some great tunes and dancing, or do some jumping jacks, and then undertake another kind of activity.

It’s also important to ask great questions. Setting your brain to the task of “How could I “fix” things?” assumes that something is broken that you are responsible for fixing. Redirect your powerful mind to answering the question “If this experience is part of my soul curriculum, what are the gifts in it for me and my personal evolution?” or “What can I learn from this that will serve me in all future relationships?”

Have a question about divorce you’d like to see answered? Submit yours to Thrive after Divorce by sending an email to askthrive@ThriveAfterDivorce.com.


Divorce and Separation: Ex-In Laws

Q. “After 24 years of marriage, I am now separated from my husband. I actually love my in-laws, who are now my ex-in-laws. Do I have to lose them too?”

A. In the separation process, a lot of the discussion focuses on things like splitting up the assets of money and real estate. But there’s not usually a lot of awareness of how the social assets, like extended family members and in-laws, can get divided. There are many factors that come into play about whether ex-in-laws will still have a meaningful relationship with you or not. Some of these factors include whether you have children together, how their son feels about you having an ongoing relationship, and whether your in-laws feel they need to demonstrate some sense of loyalty to their son. So it is not a simple “yes” or “no” answer to your question about whether you have to “lose them” as well.

There are a few things I recommend you do. First, take it one step at a time and beware of …making any assumptions on how anyone is supposed to act at this stage. Allow things to unfold as those people also affected by your separation come to terms with this new reality. Second, let your in-laws know how you feel. Whether you end up with an active ongoing relationship, or it becomes clear that you will lose their presence in your life, honor them for the place they hold in your heart. People come into our lives and enrich us. It can be very healing for both you and them to speak to them from your heart about how you feel about them. Third, be open to the nature of your relationship with them changing. Don’t fall into the trap of having the dynamic of the relationship change, which is quite natural after a separation, and then bemoan the fact that things aren’t like they used to be. The one thing we can always count on is change. Be willing to be flexible and open to the nature of the relationship changing, and yet know that those threads of love you feel for them can still connect you.

© 2010 Carolyn B. Ellis

Ask your question, in confidence, by clicking here or you may email us at askthrive@thriveafterdivorce.com. We’ll answer your question in upcoming issues

Divorce: What Happens to Your Friendships

Q. “We’re one of the first couples in our social circle to get divorced. I don’t want my divorce to change my friendships, yet I’m worried that it will. What can I do to prevent it?”

A. This may not be the answer you want to hear, but divorce will inevitably shake up your friendships and social structure. Many of your friendships will stay intact. But some of them will fade away.

The most obvious place that social friendships may change is with family members. For some families, the ex-in-laws can maintain a friendship with the former spouse. But in many families, blood ties tend to outweigh marital ties over time. If you have children together, the research shows that children adapt better after divorce if they can maintain… Continue reading