“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”– Walter Winchell
Divorce is never easy. Even if your friends recognize that, they may not understand the extent of your challenges or empathize with your experience. During and after your divorce, you will probably receive a variety of responses from your friends. Some may be judgmental and impatient, pushing you to move on and “get over it” or accusing you of not doing enough to work on healing. Others might be concerned about the social stigma, badmouth your ex in unhelpful ways, or shut you down when you try to express emotions that make them uncomfortable. Worst of all, a few friends might cut you out and just stop contacting you.
They may think that the sooner you begin to act normal and are social and appear happy, the better you’re healing. How do you tell them that they’re wrong? How do you get them to understand and gain the support that you need?
I was surprised and hurt when one of my closest friends distanced herself from me during my divorce. She was so slow to respond to my texts and calls that finally I just stopped trying. It wasn’t until a couple years after my divorce that I heard from her again–when she was contemplating her own divorce! Turned out what I had been going through hit her so close to home that she was overwhelmed whenever she and I talked. She apologized for not supporting me when I need it, and over time we became friends again… once we were both single! [Luella]
When your friends don’t understand, be frank with them about it. You don’t have to pour your heart out and share all the dark details of your divorce, but be willing to address the subject to the degree you feel comfortable. Prepare some responses for when your friends say unhelpful or even hurtful things to you about your divorce, such as:
“I just need you to listen”
“I don’t feel the same way as you.”
“I know you have good intentions, but this is not helpful because . . .”
“What you said makes me feel . . .”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Please don’t make assumptions; you don’t have all the facts.”
“I’m not looking for advice; I just need to be heard / to be comforted / _________.”
“I feel judged right now.”
Telling your friends how their comments or actions affect you helps you from becoming bitter toward them and helps them to better understand how you feel. Their response will tell you a lot about the friendship. Do they respond well, listening and apologizing and changing their approach to be more sensitive to your situation? Or do they get defensive and ramp up their negative responses?
It’s difficult for friends who haven’t gone through a divorce to understand what you’re going through. Even friends who have gone through it have had a different experience from yours. Everyone’s healing journey is different, and some people do not realize that. Pain is subjective; it is relative to the person feeling it. How we relate to each other’s emotions and experiences is limited by the lens of our own memories and perspective. Your friends might have a difficult time coming to the realization that what they felt in the same or similar situation that you’re in is not what you feel. This way of projecting disregards individuality, invalidates our emotions, and bunches everyone’s unique perspectives, lifestyles, upbringing, and experiences into one—which makes no sense whatsoever.
However, we have all judged someone at some point without understanding their life path. We have all misunderstood someone. We have all hurt people—even if it was completely unintentional. Acknowledging your own mistakes can help you to show grace to your friends.
For now, give them the benefit of the doubt. Divorce affects everyone—including your friends—in different ways. If your friends don’t understand you, don’t think they don’t care about you or let it get you down. Allow them time to learn to be more empathic. In the meantime, find support elsewhere if it doesn’t seem to be available in the place you expected to find it—amongst those closest to you. Find a counselor specifically trained in divorce therapy or look into local support groups that you can attend.
You may need to weed out the friends who are genuinely selfish. If, after giving them some time and telling them how they affect you, the relationship doesn’t improve, you may need to let go of the negative friendship. Then go make a new one!
Choose to show grace for your friends the next time they don’t understand, but also seek to communicate how their words and actions affect you.