Friends and family during divorce can be a godsend. Perhaps you’re even thinking about that right now? A lot of my clients put their divorce to one side during the summer holidays. If you have children at home you don’t have the headspace, and if you don’t it’s still a good time to go a little slower and have fun – especially as your solicitor may well be on holiday anyway. So as we get towards September, lots of women are thinking about the divorce paperwork again.
The decisions, the forms, the wrangling. It’s stressful, there’s no getting away from it. And loved ones can be a huge support. But, beware, they can also provide a lot of extra complications and drama. So here are five dos and don’ts to keep it helpful and not stressful when family and friends get involved.
Do: set boundaries
This first one’s a biggie. Of course, your friends and family care about you and want the best for you. But does that mean they are always best placed to help you? Or that they don’t have their own agenda? No.
The good thing is, you know your loved ones: their quirks and flaws included. If you know that Auntie May loves drama don’t feed the gossip machine! If she’s on the phone wanting to know how you are, take a moment before giving all the juicy details.
And if your best friend went through divorce five years ago and has appointed herself your mentor, beware! She may be kind and wise. She may love you. But her divorce is not your divorce. It’s not her place to be a self-appointed expert and chances are she’s processing her own emotions through your divorce.
So what can you do instead? Let them know you’re thankful for their kindness and concern, but that you have a plan in place. You’re doing your research and you’ll make the decisions that are right for you, in your own time.
Do: ask for the help you need
So many of us feel like we have to just get on with it, whatever life throws at us. It’s so ingrained in us that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Believe me when I say the opposite is true. Asking for help is a sign of strength. It shows:
- You are self aware
- You recognise where things could be better
- You know you can’t do it all – which no-one ever can.
But what if you’re completely overwhelmed and don’t know what help you need? My advice is to start with the basics. Not every friend or family member can be the non-judgemental listening ear you need. But probably most of them can do a food shop for you. Or bring round a lasagne for you to reheat. Or take the children to Saturday gymnastics so you get a bit of headspace.
Look after your sleep, food and shelter first. Sleep deprivation and malnutrition are forms of torture. Let your friends ease your practical burdens. This will have a huge knock-on effect for your ability to cope with (and be the boss of!) your divorce.
Believe me, people like to help. They like to feel needed. But they don’t always know where to start. So if you get people asking, ‘Let me know if there’s anything you need’, take them at their word.
Do: let yourself switch off
I know divorce is front and centre on your mind. But, after years of coaching women through divorce, I also know you need to treat it as a marathon, not a sprint. And that means pacing yourself. You can’t let your divorce rule every waking moment.
How do you switch off when you’re anxious and divorce keeps demanding your attention? This is where friends and family really come into their own. You might not want their opinions on how to negotiate with your soon-to-be-ex. But you know they’re guaranteed to make you laugh at the pub quiz. Or will sit with you through the weepie rom-com for some cathartic tears.
So book in some time for yourself. Ask friends and family to look after the children, and ask them to look after you. Remember your boundaries: it’s absolutely fine to let them know that divorce talk is off the table for the evening.
Now let’s take a look at the don’ts!
Don’t: go it alone
The eagle eyed among you may have spotted that I’m going to make the same point again! Do ask for help/don’t go it alone! But it bears repeating because it’s that important.
Humans are wired for social contact: apparently recent studies have concluded that loneliness is as bad for our health as a 15 a day smoking habit! And it’s all too easy to feel lonely when you’re in the midst of divorce. Even if you have friends and family around you. Either people are coupled up, or happily in their single life. No-one really gets it, even if they’ve been divorced before.
Don’t withdraw from your loved ones just because they don’t fully understand what you’re going through. Let them support you however they can. Accept that they care for you and want to help. Let yourself be talked into that night out, even though you just want to watch reruns of The Gilmore Girls on the sofa (you can always come home early if it’s that bad).
Don’t: rely on loved ones when you really need an expert
We’ve already looked at how loved ones can bring their own ‘stuff’ when they are supporting you during divorce.
Whether it’s an insatiable desire for gossip, a desire to help that feels invasive or hang-ups from their own divorce experiences, friends and family will always have an agenda. Often without even realising it.
If you have a good friend who’s got a fabulous listening ear – wonderful. Talk things through with them. But if you’re having difficulty processing what happened, or how it’s affected your sense of self worth, a therapist can really help you turn things around.
Similarly, you might want to bounce around financial options with a few trusted family members. But, if there’s a lot at stake, go to the professionals. Seek out the support of a financial advisor or solicitor. They will be far better acquainted with divorce, and the bigger picture you need to consider. It’s not true that all solicitors are in it to make as much money out of your trauma as possible: Resolution has a database of professionals committed to constructive resolution of divorce and other family disputes.
And if you want someone who knows divorce inside out, who has the coaching skills to help you really understand yourself, and who just wants what’s right for you on your terms – well, that’s me! I offer a number of one-to-one services to get to the heart of your divorce. And you are always welcome to join The Absolute Academy, where you’ll receive not just my support, but that one a fabulously empowered group of divorcing women too.
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