Why your friends and family are sometimes the worst support during your divorce

Although your friends and family are an important part of your life, you may find that they’re ill-equipped to support you through your loss. I found that even though my friends and family were well meaning, they often said or did things that were inappropriate.

Whenever we hung out together, my friends would try to distract me from the pain I was feeling, invalidating my emotions and my right to feel lousy. I’d leave feeling superficially better but also feeling as if I’d moved 2 steps backwards. I soon realized that I’d have to get divorce support elsewhere.

Before you chuck up this well-meaning lot, remember that although they’re trying hard, they’re just not equipped or trained to help you. Society has conditioned them to deal with loss in a particular way. It’s not their fault. They love you very much and they hate to see you suffering. They’ll try to take the pain away and will do whatever they can in the moment to achieve this.

Here are some points to bear in mind about some of your friends and family (you’ll probably recognize some of these points):

They are afraid of our feelings

It’s not popular in today’s society to express negative emotions in public. This represents being ‘out of control’ and can be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Friends and family may feel uncomfortable when we express strong emotions. Expect comments like:

  • “You can’t fall apart.”
  • “Be strong for the children.”
  • “Keep a stiff upper lip.”

These are attempts to take the pain away, moving you ‘out of’ your emotions and intellectualizing your experience. You’re left with a sense that it’s not safe to display your emotions. This is unhelpful and damaging to your overall healing. Remember that in our society we’re taught that emotions are unpredictable, feared and need to be controlled.

They offer intellectual theories and want us to stay positive

Common intellectualizations include:

  • “Thank goodness this happened before you had children.”
  • “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
  • “You’ll find someone else.”
  • “There’s someone special out there for you.”
  • “It’s better to have loved and lost than not loved at all.”
  • “Be grateful you were married and knew love once.”
  • “Now you are free to relive your teenage dreams of being single.”

These are awful platitudes designed to make you feel better. But they don’t! Intellectualizing the situation will not encourage your healing.
They have no idea what to say, so they change the subject or pretend to not hear.

When I was young I attended my best friend’s mum’s funeral. I felt so awkward. I was standing next to my friend, both of us in black and her face was a picture of despair and grief. We’d been playing dolls a week earlier and now I had no idea what to say. I stared at my shoes. I couldn’t wait to get out of the church and away from the coffin and her pain. I looked at her and cracked a joke, trying to lighten the atmosphere. She didn’t look up. She simply turned and walked away.
You’ve probably experienced this with one or 2 of your friends. When you talk about your divorce, they change the subject or, pretend not to hear you, or crack a joke. They do this because they love you, they want to make things better for you, but they have no idea what to do.
Understand their ineptitude!

They don’t want to talk about divorce

After a while you’ll realize that some of your friends and family simply don’t want to talk about your divorce and will encourage you to do things to ‘get over it’ so that hanging out with you is fun again.
The bottom line is: You need to talk. You need to be heard. You do not need fixing. There is nothing wrong with you or the fact that you’re emotional or struggling.

They are afraid of ‘catching’ this disease called divorce

I remember coming home after a night out with a girlfriend, feeling awful and deflated, like an insect that had been squashed and scraped across a pavement.

I had just recounted my divorce story (OK, it was the second time) but halfway through, she looked out the window, absorbed in her own world. I was shocked. Had I said something wrong? Was I boring her? Was she disinterested?
She then changed the subject.

While I sat listening to her rattling on about her cat, the conversation in my head went something like this:

  • It’s OK for everyone that I feel the pain, but I cannot appear to be floundering
  • I am expected to discuss the divorce with my friends only once (don’t overdo it as no one wants to hang around with a basket case).
  • I mustn’t mope around because it’s not ‘healthy’. It also makes people feel awkward.
  • But while falling apart I can’t seem ‘too happy’ either. That would brand me as ‘insensitive’ or ‘immature’.

I realized that I was alone in my divorce. I had ‘caught the disease’ called divorce and this made me persona non grata.
When I mentioned my ex husband’s indiscretions, I knew she was wondering about her own husband. I could see that all she wanted to do was go home to check that they were OK. (Months later she admitted this was the case.) I excused myself and gave her the opportunity to do that.
Friends are fantastic, but all have their own lives and issues. I was the only one that could help me.

I know my friend felt awkward. She wanted to help but didn’t know what to say. I remember the same feelings of inadequacy at my friend’s mother’s funeral.

Here are some common phrases that my clients have told themselves in the past or have heard others say:

Give your family and friends a ‘Weirdness Pass’

Give the people in your life a Weirdness Pass. This is a ticket allowing them to say weird or inappropriate things while you’re dealing with your divorce.

They don’t know any better and no one trained them how to deal with the situation.

NOTE: Remember not to take on board anything that they say. Remain aware of what they are saying, and of the myths and possible generalizations in their comments, to guard against becoming enrolled in their intellectualizations.

Till next time

Lots of hugs!

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