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

Question:
“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.

Answer:

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.

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