In divorce, family and friends can give wonderful support… except when they don’t!

When your relationship or marriage ends, there are so many feelings swirling around inside. The partnership you’d thought would last a lifetime has come unraveled. You have so many emotions – hurt, fear, frustration, anger, sadness, liberation, and more – all welling up inside. You need someone to listen, help you navigate your way through them, and offer loving support.

Family members and close friends often can be enormously helpful during times of difficult transitions. If you benefit from your times with them, don’t be shy about seeking out those whose company and insights you find helpful and reassuring.

Sometimes, however, even with the best of intentions, the people we love actually add to our distress. If that’s the case, then either give them direction about what you need or don’t need, or find other resources that can genuinely help you.

For instance, sometimes people who love you believe they are showing their support when they criticize your ex. Despite the pain that he/she may have caused, criticism about that person also implies criticism of a major life decision you made to marry him/her. Even worse, if this criticism is aired around your children, it can be very damaging. Children understand that they are part of both their parents, so hearing one disparaged makes them feel demeaned, too, as well as creating loyalty conflicts for them.

If your “supporter” is going down this path, you may be able to manage the situation. You could tell them that much as you appreciate their love and support, it is not helpful to you to hear about your former partner’s faults, and then tell them what would be helpful to you. “I appreciate that you care about me, but it actually makes me feel worse when you say negative things about my ex.  What would really help me is for you to tell me honestly some of the things about me that you value; at this point, I doubt myself, and you could help me regain some confidence.”

There are many other ways that family and friends may – unintentionally or even intentionally – erode your emotional well-being. They may, for instance, give you advice you’re not ready to hear. (“You just need to get out there and start dating.”) Or they may dwell on all the difficult emotions, to the extent that you are dragged still further down. (“I can imagine how much you’re hurting. You must feel just awful all the time.”)  Or they may tell you about someone else they know whose children slid off the rails after their divorce. (“I’ll tell you, after the divorce, those kids went from being straight A students to doing drugs.”)

In such situations, you will feel better if you take charge and either redirect the conversations or simply refuse to talk with those individuals about your feelings. In cases where family or friends cling to their harmful ways, you may need to distance yourself from them, at least for awhile.

Fortunately, there are many other resources that can help you navigate your difficult emotions. You may find support, perspective, and encouragement through a support group or a qualified mental health professional. I hope you will actively seek whatever help you need. That alone is a sign of strength and can lead to healing.