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 didn’t know what to say to me and I often didn’t feel better around them.
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.
Whenever I hung out my friends they would try to distract me from the pain I was feeling or unknowingly invalidate my emotions and my right to feel lousy. I’d leave feeling superficially better but also feeling as if I’d moved two steps backwards. I soon realised that I’d have to get divorce support elsewhere. Bear these in mind about some of your friends and family (you’ll probably recognise some of the points below.)
They may say weird or inappropriate things
We’ve all been there; the awkward moment where you say something you wish you didn’t say. Family and friends often succumb to some old clichés in their struggle to try and make things better. They are all attempts to move you out of your emotional state but these statements are often damaging to your overall healing.
Common phrases my clients have heard 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 to have loved at all.”
• “Be grateful you were once married and knew love.”
• “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!
You cannot fix matters of the heart with intellectualisations of the mind. These statements do not encourage your healing.
They have no idea what to say, so sometimes they say the strangest things.
Even though I was the one who opted to leave my husband, whom I’d been in relationship with for 18 years, one day, I was feeling distraught at the emotion of it all but instead of doing what I normally do, which is be strong and deal with it alone, I reached out and called a girlfriend who’d known me since university. I was sobbing and sobbing. And her response “Do you think you are doing the right thing, shouldn’t you try and work it out?” I don’t think I’ve ever felt so misunderstood – Why can’t I choose a new life and find it hard to unravel almost 2 decades with a man I’ve loved?”
You’ve probably experienced this with one or two of your friends. When you talk about your divorce, they change the subject, pretend not to hear you, or crack a joke or say the seemingly craziest things. 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.
Some want to revel in the drama
Some family and friends love the drama of your situation. They will ask to know everything about it so that they can revel in the excitement and intrigue of your divorce as a distraction from their own lives. Be wary of these people because getting into the drama of your divorce will not help you.
They don’t want to talk about divorce
After a while you’ll realise 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 factthat you are emotional or struggling.
They are afraid of catching this disease called divorce
One day I was talking to my friend who’d been my bridesmaid at my wedding, my ex and I are godparents to her twins and I mentioned how I’d heard that often divorced or single people are shunned from social activities that involve couples because they are persona-non-grata. “Rubbish!” she said, “good friends won’t do that.” Funny though that there’s been no contact for over a year, and definitely no invites – somehow being divorced doesn’t match that ‘perfect families’ picture, so best keep it away, in case it’s catchy.
So here are some of the ‘conversations’ that have gone on in my head:
- “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).”
- “Choosing to leave my marriage at the same time as setting up my business and financially vulnerable takes courage – downgrading from the ‘comfort zone’ just brings up too much stuff for other people”
- “But while falling apart I can’t seem too happy either. That would brand me as inappropriate”
I realised that I was alone in my divorce. I had caught the disease called divorce and this made me socially unacceptable. When I shared my challenges adapting to life on my own, I knew she was wondering about whether or not she would do what I had done. I could see that all she wanted to do was return to the ‘comfort zone’ and be ‘grateful for the apparent utopia’. I can understand that, it had taken me a lot to get to the point of being ready to leave – 7.5 years earlier when we were previously separated, I’d not had the courage to stay apart, the stigma of divorce was too much. The crazy thing was then I had the corporate job and the money to have made it easier, but I just wasn’t ready.
Give your family and friends a Weirdness Pass
Give the people in your life a Weirdness Pass which is a ticket allowing your loved ones to say weird or inappropriate things while you’re dealing with your divorce. They don’t know any better and no one trained them on how to deal with the situation. Remember not to take on board anything that they say. Remain aware of what they are saying, and of the myths and possible generalisations in their comments, to guard against becoming embroiled in their intellectualisations.
Till next time, when we will find out what your divorce healing cycle might look like!
Sending you a big hug!
Mandy Russell – Small business Performance Coach and South Africa’s Divorce Angel – has over a decade’s experience in the personal transformation arena leading seminars to thousands of people. Having been through her own divorce, and realizing how much she underestimated the trauma; Mandy is making this extraordinary programme available to women in Africa with it’s high divorce rates and huge demands on women to be breadwinners and head up single parent households. For more see www.nakeddivorce.com
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