What to do When Your Friends are Getting a Divorce (Part 2)

May 10, 2010

In Part 1, we noted some of the feelings which Ann might experience as she copes with the news that her friends, Mary and Andy are in the process of divorcing. In the second of our three articles, we will look at some of the issues which might come up for Ann as she experiences this crisis of her friends. Ann’s distress is understandable and the goal would be for Ann to understand it fully so she can respond in the best way possible and learn what lessons it can provide.

  • BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF First and foremost, acknowledge the emotional, physical and intellectual impact of this event.
  • IDENTIFY YOUR OWN FEELINGS Know that they will shift and change, especially during the initial period, and let yourself be with each of them. Anger may shift to fear, then to sadness and disappointment, sadness to loneliness and back to anger again.
  • NORMALIZE THE LOSS Normalize that this is a loss of what was known, of being able to depend on ‘the way things are and should be’, of the stability of your world structure.
  • UNDERSTAND YOUR OWN HISTORY Understand that the way you deal with this event is impacted by the losses you have experienced in your own life. For instance, if Ann’s parents had divorced when she was a child and had been unavailable to help her, she might have needed, then, to minimize her feelings so they didn’t hurt so much. If that had been the case, then she is likely to minimize her feelings in the present.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE THE LOSS We think it is important to realize that this is a loss, a very significant loss, and losses need to be understood, felt, and grieved.
  • STAY NON-JUDGMENTAL A great danger is to allow negative judgments to take over one’s thinking. It would be all too easy to think, “I’d never let that happen in my marriage.” Understand that it is human to feel judgmental when bad things happen, and, in an effort to make ourselves feel better, to look for a reason for the bad thing, hoping to prevent it from happening to us; it makes us feel safer. It actually makes us less safe because it narrows our view of what might be important to explore and cuts us off from our compassion for others. Also, when we go to that judgmental, one-up position by thinking ourselves to be better than others, we lose the opportunity to feel the underlying emotions: sadness, fear, loneliness, shame and the opportunity to learn from them.
  • TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF Ann needs to take time to “be still”, to rest, to eat nourishing food, and do those things which help her to feel calm and centered. Feeling these strong emotions takes a toll, so it’s important that she remembers good self-care. Also, if she can soothe her own reactive feelings, she will help herself to think clearly and cope efficiently and effectively.
  • RESIST TRYING TO FIND A ‘BAD GUY’ If Ann can calm her fears, she doesn’t have to get judgmental and can stay compassionate. Even if you need to align yourself with one of the spouses, try hard not to see a “good” or “bad” person in this. It is important for Ann to find compassion for each of them even though she might not understand the underlying causes of their distress.

Peggy Roth, MS Ed, LMFT is a Senior Staff Therapist at Council for Relationships’ University City and Paoli Offices. Request an appointment today.