Five ways friends and family members add divorce stress

You know that divorce is stressful. So you’d hope it would be a time family and friends rally round, helping you get through it all. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Here are five subtle and not-so-subtle ways family and friends add divorce stress, and what you can do about it. 

1. They give you bad advice

Family and friends can often create stress simply by trying to be helpful! Perhaps they’ve been through divorce themselves, or their own close friends have. Perhaps they picked something up on the news or in a magazine. Chances are when they come at you with their unasked-for advice, they’re trying to help.

The trouble is, they’re layering on stress. If your cousin says how she got divorced with a fantastic solicitor and it was the only way she got the financial settlement she wanted, that’s going to leave you stressed. Stressed about what to do if you can’t afford a solicitor, or if you choose the wrong one. Or maybe your neighbour tells you about the time her son got divorced and it only took two months. You get the picture.

Once the news is out that you’re getting divorced, you become public property. Your friends and family want to help. They want to share their stories. But there are a few problems with this:

  • Their stories are not your stories – just because it happened to them like that does not mean it will happen to you
  • They are not experts, however much they think they know! Having to nod and smile to half-truths or outdated information just adds on the stress
  • They can feel rejected if you don’t follow their advice. So you end up worrying about their feelings, rather than focussing on your own needs. 

So, what can you do about it? Remember that they are trying to help. Most offers of advice or suggestions for what to do can be handled with a simple “Thanks, I’ll look into that”, or “Oh, great, I’ll run that past my divorce coach.” You don’t owe friends and family any more than that. 

But what if they persist? 

2. They put you down

It would be wonderful if we surrounded ourselves with people who always wanted the best for us, and wanted to empower us to make our own decisions. Sadly, big life events such as divorce can bring out the worst in people, and not just the two main parties. 

Maybe they blame you for divorce. Or maybe they’re indignant you’re not following their advice. Whatever it is, sometimes your loved ones aren’t as loving as they should be. 

This might show up in little digs or outright insults: 

“I’m not surprised he left you if you act like that”. 

Or it might be more passive-aggressive:

“Of course, we’d never get divorced.” 

Or they might criticise how you’re coping once separated:

“You need to get your act together for the sake of the children.”

Whatever it is, you’ll know by how you feel when the put-downs happen. No, you’re not being oversensitive. You can trust your gut on this one. If it feels like a dig, it probably is. Whether it was consciously done or not. And you do not need it in your life.

So what can you do if family and friends are bringing you down? It will depend on your relationship with them. For some, you might feel able to be completely honest and say something like, 

“When you say this wouldn’t happen to you, that feels like a criticism of me. It’s not something I need right now, so please can you stop?”

For others you might want to remain in contact but make divorce an off-limits conversation. Stick to walking about the weather or holiday plans for a while. This might be a reasonable tactic with elderly aunties, for example. 

For others, this might be a time to exit the friendship. At least for a while. You don’t need to announce it if you don’t want to. Just make yourself unavailable to them. And consciously head towards the people you know will offer you unconditional love and support. 

3. They centre themselves

Many of my clients put off telling relatives about their divorce because they know it will add emotional stress. Their parents will be distraught. Or their brother will worry. Whatever it is, emotional centring of them adds a burden on you.

It’s acceptable in dependent children, of course. Children are likely to feel anxious about the future and may blame themselves for your marriage ending. You can read more about how to support their stress here.. 

But it’s not ok for adults to make your feel bad about your own divorce. Of course, they will have their own sadness and their own feelings about it. They might be terribly worried about you. But they need to show that as support, rather than as anxiety. They need to turn to others for their own support needs. You do not need another care-taking role right now. 

We can never control what other people do, only our own responses. So how can you handle it if your family members or friends make your divorce about them?

Distance. You need to put some distance between you and them. At least for now. It may be that you reduce contact for a while. Or it may be that you can rely on them for certain things – childcare, for example – but keep conversations brief and off-topic. However you handle it, know that you are not being selfish in taking on other people’s worries at the moment. You have nothing to feel bad about. 

Turn to the people who can support you wholeheartedly, for who you are. 

4. They cause trouble with your soon-to-be-ex

Maybe you’ve got family and friends who back you to the hilt. They’re with you all the way. No sneaky putdowns. No ‘woe is me’. Great, right? Well, hopefully. But you may find their outrage at your ex spills over. 

The best-case scenario for any divorce is that it’s amicable. Low conflict. No power plays, just a mutual agreement that the marriage has reached the end of its life and it’s best for all concerned if you move on. This sort of divorce requires open, honest communication, it requires cool civility.

What it does not need is your well-meaning family and friends sending nasty texts. Or bawling your soon-to-be-ex out in the supermarket. Or spreading rumours about their behaviour. 

If any sign of this happens, tackle it as soon as possible. Tell your family and friends that while you appreciate their support you do not need this sort of help. In fact, it’s counterproductive. Let them know that if they can’t be civil around your soon-to-be-ex they need to back off. You are the CEO of your own divorce and you need to set the tone with this. It’s absolutely fine to rant and vent in private. But in public, and in all divorce matters, you want to be as cool as a cucumber. 

5. They abandon you

Finally, let’s explore what happens when your friends disappear once you announce your divorce. Sometimes it can be for the straightforward reason that they’ve picked a side. And it’s not you. This isn’t nice to hear, but at least you know where you stand. You know who you’ve got on your team.

Quite often, though, instead of this “I’m with them, not you”, women lose friends more subtly. They simply drop away. Invitations dry up. They don’t reply to messages or answer their phone. They talk to someone else at the school gates. This can happen slowly, but suddenly realise you’ve not spoken in months.

Why does this happen? There are usually a few unconscious psychological processes going on. For some, it might be that they can’t handle the reality of your divorce. It’s a difficult thing, they don’t like difficult things, so they cut you out. It’s not really about you, it’s about them avoiding a part of life they don’t like. 

For others, it might be that you’re now seen as a threat. Either that they’re worried you’re out to get their own husband/wife, or that somehow your divorce is contagious. And by being around you they might catch it. Often, the people who behave like this have insecurities about their own marriage. Otherwise, why feel threatened?

Or it might be that you simply no longer fit neatly into the social roles you played before. Perhaps, for example, you went out to dinner with two other couples. And now you’ve separated the dynamic is awkward and the invitations stop. 

Whatever it is, know that your elf worth does not depend on them. The great thing about difficult life situations, however painful, is they show people’s true colours. They show you who your friends really are. And those people are like gold dust. Cherish them.

A confidential, impartial ear

Do you want to avoid all these stresses in your divorce? Do you wish you could have someone to discuss things with, minus the drama? Someone who knows divorce inside out, and who has the coaching experience to help you on your own journey? I can be that person for you. 

I offer 1-1 support on either an ad hoc or regular basis. Helping my clients see the woods for the trees so they can decide their next steps. I call them out when they’re holding themselves back. I tell them the truth. And I offer the legal insight that saves both emotional stress and hefty solicitor’s fees. 

I can do that for you too. If you’re curious about how I can help, book in a free 30-minute consultation today. 

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of  The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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