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Letting Your Family and Friends Know How They Can Support

We share with people who have earned the right to hear our story.

 (Brené Brown)

A personal crisis, such as  a divorce, provokes anxiety in most of us. And both oversharing or undersharing are actually two common ways many people manage anxiety. Undersharing can translate as denial or avoiding your feelings. It’s also a form of protecting yourself from vulnerability or feeling judged. But, many people don’t realize that oversharing can also be a method of managing your anxiety in uncomfortable social situations – or can even be used as a means to push people away, by not honoring their boundaries. 

The key to success in your personal relationships is authenticity. Sharing personal information with a friend or family member just to get pity or to simply unload violent and raw emotions on someone who isn’t prepared to handle them is not authenticity – nor is telling everyone that you’re fine, when you’re not. 

To be authentic, you need to understand your needs and communicate them clearly to people in your life that you can trust. Most of them will want to support you but don’t always know how. Since every divorce is different and personal, it’s hard for well-intentioned people to know what to say or how to say it. Sharing your needs without over- or under-communicating will allow you get the help you’re looking for. 

That doesn’t mean every friend or family member is deserving of trust. Use your gut instinct and pay attention to people’s behavior towards you to decide who can help you and when. 

JON’S STORY

When my wife and I decided to get divorced, I immediately thought of my grandparents and how upset they would be. My parents have always supported me unconditionally, but my maternal grandparents are very traditional and have a reputation in the family for being judgmental. When I broke the news to my mom, she immediately suggested that she be the one to break the news to them. I was so appreciative. They were disappointed by the news but not as judgmental as I’d expected. I waited for them to contact me once they felt comfortable, and it all went a lot more smoothly than I’d expected. [Jon]

GETTING PRACTICAL

Chances are you have several important people in your life, whether family members or friends, and each of those important people plays a different type of supporting role in your life. Your grandmother might be good for a hot, home-cooked meal, while your mom might be helpful with financial advice. Your brother might be better for an outing to a local sporting event, while your dad might be able to help you find a new apartment. One friend might be a good listener who supplies you with caring emotional support, while another friend might make you laugh and help you see the absurdity of the situation. Don’t expect everyone to react the same way when you communicate your needs; recognize that supportive friends and family members will show up in the way that comes most naturally to them. 

It’s also possible that you just can’t get the support you need most from friends and family. In that case, you might consider looking to the larger community for help, through meet-ups, support groups, or a trained counselor. And often during divorce, there’s an opportunity to make new friends. Are there other divorced people in your community whom you could invite over for tea or coffee, or out to catch a movie? Sometimes spending time with someone who has “been there” is the best balm.

BE AWARE

Not every family member or friend will be there for you. Some are better at helping in crisis situations than others, who may be distracted by problems of their own. If you communicate a need, and there is no response from a particular person, don’t force it. Feel free to pull away from that person for a time, so you can focus on you, heal, and move on. Don’t waste your precious emotional energy wondering why a person isn’t doing a better job being supportive; whatever the reason, the issue is theirs, not yours.

Keep in mind that sometimes people pull away because what you are going through touches on their own vulnerability or insecurity. If a close friend is also having marital issues, she may pull away because your divorce hits too close to home. She may not be ready to see how much happier you are moving forward with a divorce, or how hard it is. Sometimes friends who feel a sense of loyalty to your ex don’t know how to be supportive to both of you at the same time. It can be easy to take things like this personally, but helpful to remember that it’s likely not about you.

REMEMBER

Ultimately, you make the call on what to share with whom and when. Whether you’re a person who naturally shares a lot or a little, your communication style may change during a difficult situation like a divorce. Do what feels right. 

TAKE ACTION

Where do you need help right now? Take some time to think about specific ways someone can help you with that need and how to put that need into words. Then, share that specific need with a trusted member of your family or a friend. It might help to look at various facets of your life – family, career, wellness, legal, financial – so you get a clear picture of all the possible ways your loved ones can assist you. 

AVAIL TALKING TIPS

“I don’t have a lot of energy to reach out right now. My divorce is taking a lot out of me. I really appreciate when you text or call and let me know that you’re thinking of me. Sometimes knowing you care is all I need. Thanks for showing up for me in this way.”

“It’s hard for me when you assume I’m sad all the time, or that my divorce must be devastating for my kids. That’s honestly not helpful. It would be awesome if you could just ask how I’m doing and let me respond, because there’s lots of emotions for me and they change all the time.”

“I realize you might be feeling really sad about my divorce, about losing my ex from our family, and I get that you’re worried about our kids. I just want to be honest and say that I can’t take care of your feelings right now. I’m not in a place where I can help you process. It would help me a lot if you could talk to a counselor or a friend about your sadness and worry instead of me. I know you love me, and I love you, too.”

“I’m going through a big transition in my life right now and I can see that you are trying to be supportive but I get it, it’s hard to know the right thing to say. Here’s some things that would help me: Ask me how I’m doing. Ask me how I’m feeling and what I need from you right now. Send me a quick note or text and let me know you’re thinking of me and love me. Send me something funny because OMG divorce can be so absurd! We have to laugh sometimes!”

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