Divorce is so commonplace that many of us will know someone who's been divorced, maybe more than once! And yet, when it happens to us it's devastating. Our plans, dreams and normal routine are smashed to smithereens, the rug's literally pulled from under our feet.
Breakups are usually a time of mixed emotions. There may be relief at the ending of a fraught and emotionally draining relationship, worries about an uncertain future, feelings of failure and the myriad of emotions that come with loss and grief. It's usual to experience a combination of those feelings, sometimes as a roller-coaster ride!
Being required to make life-impacting decisions at such a vulnerable, apprehensive time can mean that many of us turn to our friends for comfort and support. We come to rely more heavily on our inner core, trusting them to assist in the decision-making process. And some friends will be more than happy to step up, convinced that they know what our next step should be. They've been through it themselves or feel they know us sufficiently well to coach us through this time.
Our confidence and self-esteem will often have been significantly shaken during the run up to our divorce. We may doubt our ability to make good decisions or be too numb to actually know what we want. This may be the cue for a tidal wave of 'you should/must/ought, why don't you' from friends, which can cause much stress and result in us becoming fraught, overwhelmed and even resentful towards them, no matter how supportive and well-intentioned they try to be.
It's good to pause and ask if our friends know what's best for us, if what we're receiving is a welcome intervention or might there be other factors in play that influence the advice they're giving us?
The impact of us divorcing is likely to have consequences in all areas of our lives, ultimately changing the status quo in several unanticipated ways. A newly single person will have different priorities, often having an altered perspective on money, work, friends, family responsibilities and even themselves.
If our friends react badly to our divorce we have to remember that most of their information came originally from us. We're the ones who've topped up their negative views, who've given our side of the story, wanted them to know what's been happening, often after an angry or distressing partner exchange. It may have become a habit for us to gossip and share horror stories about our respective partners' failings.
When crunch time comes and we decide to walk away from our marriage it may be a shock and disconcerting to friends and family, who may well prefer for things to stay the same. A close friend's divorce may put their own relationship under the spotlight, flagging up that it needs some attention. This may result in them doing all they can to halt the potential upheaval of our divorce, encourage us to try harder, stay put, give it another go or reflect on where we may otherwise end up. All alternative ways of saying, 'I'm tolerating a not so good relationship, why can't you?'
Let your friends help by asking for what you need. Do you need practical help, a place to stay, childcare, a regular phone call? Communicate if you'd prefer someone to listen rather than give advice, or if you're in need of a sounding-board and are keen to discuss options. Give them clues as to how they can help.
Maybe agree to put a stop to gossip for a time. There could well be future occasions when you and your ex will need to meet so focus on changing your mindset from hostile to amicable or at least remaining courteous and polite.
Even a true friend can't fully know what it's like to be in our shoes and so the most supportive option is for them to stand by our side and give us the space to discover what our best next step is going to be. Even if it sometimes goes awry!
Tips for maintaining good friendships during your divorce:
- Learn to not rely too heavily on one relationship for all your emotional and companionship needs. Having a small circle of best friends is all well and good, but be wise to your own counsel. Expecting one person to be everything to you is too much responsibility both for you and them. Accept that as you move into this new phase of life you need to find your identity and be receptive to other friendships, hobbies and interests.
- Appreciate that some friends have their limitations. Some may be fair-weather friends, only able to cope with fun, laughter and good times. Others may be foul-weather friends, happy to listen, give advice and support you, but disinterested in partying and frolics. Both have their part to play.
- Notice how much of yourself you 'give away' in your relationships. What do you offer, what do you get in return? Do you have boundaries where you say 'enough!' about sharing time, money, personal secrets and information. Extraordinary circumstances may mean one person does more taking and the other more giving, but set limits so the traffic's not permanently one-way.
- Accept that situations change. Even as you're getting divorced a new partner may appear, a job or business opportunity may arise that distracts your friends, maybe requiring more dedicated time, effort or indeed the chance to work away. Accommodate their changes and be generous in celebrating their successes.
Be firm and keep intuitively in touch with what's right for you. Friends may have a different perspective or even an ulterior motive about what you 'should' do. Yes, friendships require compromise and co-operation, but refrain from sacrificing your happiness to constantly accommodate others. Flexibility is fine and should allow you to do what you need to do, especially at this time.