I was speaking with someone today who was sharing the feeling of being scared while talking about separating from her husband. She did have trepidation about separation and divorce but what really frightened her was the response she was getting from the people around her to the potential dissolution of marriage. The responses were so strongly negative and unsupportive, that she thought that they must be afraid of something.
She was excited that I had started a private Facebook group to discuss a new way to deal with divorce because she said that people forget about “that part.” When I asked what she meant, she said that people forget about the part leading up to separation or divorce; that people forget that the individuals involved need support. The story she was telling me highlighted that bystanders will often express their own opinions instead of listening.
It’s sad that when someone is looking for support in the fragile moments of making the huge decision to explore the dissolution of a marriage that what shows up is fear or judgment by others.
The world of divorce is often fraught with so much negativity one can’t see the forest for the trees. The potential outcome is often the focus so people forget how important all the steps in the process are. If friends and family are only focused on the outcome, the couple may feel like they are floundering in a sink or swim effort during the early stages of decision-making.
It’s easy to forget how shocking it can be when someone says something out of the blue that’s a real zinger and knocks you off balance. Listening to her was an important reminder that a good support system is critical.
Much of my work is with people who are in the process of making the decision to separate or divorce or those who have already made the decision and my job is guiding them through more positive ways to approach their situation. Part of this involves talking about the people in their lives who have a lot to say about the dissolution of marriage – whether it’s sharing war stories or giving advice or offering words of approval or disapproval. Since they are not part of the couple, their situation may not apply.
I am so involved in the arena of giving those divorcing the support they need that I can forget how many people don’t reach out for professional support, or how many people go ahead with this very difficult life change without the support of their family or friends, simply because of how their family and friends may feel about divorce in general.
I don’t think anyone goes down the road of divorce lightly. If someone has gotten to the point of deciding to leave a relationship for a period time or has made the decision alone or with their spouse to end the union, they are jumping into the unknown. To take that leap there is, most often, a very good reason. How great it would be if co-workers, friends and family members could remain neutral or supportive.
Often people who are making a major life decision do find that it is a bit frightening to those around them. In the case of divorce, the observer may be afraid they will have to take sides or be involved in the “fight” in some way. They may be afraid for the person or the couple’s children because so many divorces are antagonistic. They may remember their own break ups or their parent’s break ups. They find themselves looking at their own relationships and sometimes they become afraid for themselves.
Dissolution of marriage is a tricky process. It shakes the foundations of many belief systems.
But maybe it is more important to recognize that all people deserve to be in relationships that are healthy for them and sometimes it just isn’t so.
My heart went out to the person who felt she had to do this on her own. It was clear she had good reason to make this difficult decision. I hope that those around her help strengthen her resolve or simply stand by her side without judgment.