"Get a lawyer. Get one now. Get your credit cards frozen. Kick him out. Change the locks. Don't let him see the kids. Trust no one."
This was the advice a client of mine (we'll call her Mary) received from one of her closest friends when she shared the news of her impending divorce. Mary and her husband were sad and hurting. They were scared about what the future would hold and they were determined to do their best to keep their divorce and relationship as amicable as possible. Their single biggest focus was the well-being of their kids. Can you imagine what would have happened if Mary had followed her friend's advice?
Or what about this one: "What? No, you can't leave him, you made a commitment, you need to try harder." (Thanks a bunch, Mom). Or the ever popular: "You know you're entitled to alimony right? You should be getting at least $4,000 a month. Don't let him get away with anything less. And the house too — he cheated, so you get the house." (Is that really the way it works)? What about: "Thank goodness you finally dumped the jerk. I never liked him. He's rude and inconsiderate and a terrible parent. You will be so much better off without him." (Well, maybe, but I did marry him and he is my child's parent…)
These are not uncommon things to hear from your family and friends when going through a divorce: destructive, insensitive, invalid, hurtful advice. And all offered up in the name of support and with the belief that they have your best interests at heart!
A breakup or divorce creates ripples that don't stop at the doors to your house. Your family and friends have a tendency to offer advice based on their own stories, beliefs and attitudes toward divorce and your ex-partner. Maybe they love you so much and don't want to see you hurt, but have a narrow view on how to achieve that. Maybe they know somebody that went through an ugly, contentious divorce (maybe that somebody was them!). Maybe their own relationship is not in great shape, and your decision puts them into their own panic zone. Maybe they know the details of what someone else "got" from a divorce. Maybe they and your partner just never hit it off.
Friends and family can be a huge, supportive cushion that you can sink into and depend on. But listen to their divorce advice with cautious ears! Do not depend on them as your main source of information and education at this time of your life. Always seek direction from objective professionals. Start with general information to get yourself oriented. In our Divorce Advice Experts Series 24 experts talk about how to do what's best for your kids, how to approach your finances, how to deal with the overwhelming emotional impact and how to thrive after (and as a result of!) your divorce.
Eventually you will need a team of professionals that will guide you very specifically through this process, but start by getting educated. This is particularly important if you are the one who was blindsided by your partner's decision to ask for a divorce; this is a subject matter you likely haven't spent time researching for fun.
But meanwhile, what do you do when confronted with all this friends-and-family input? Try these tips:
- Smile and say thank you. Then check anything that caught your attention with an objective mind, and ignore everything else. Is it true, for example, that if your partner cheats, you get the house? If that's your situation and you don't know the law in your jurisdiction, you should check this out — before you throw this onto the table with you ex as if it's a done deal. Clients often come to my mediation table with beliefs about the law and their own entitlement which are flat-out wrong! Not only do I need to re-educate them, but now they also have to deal with the embarrassment of backing down in front of their partner.
- Acknowledge what they're offering and share your own beliefs and intentions. Going back to the divorce advice Mary received, a response such as "I hear that you're concerned for me and I appreciate that. We've talked this over endlessly and we're both determined to do this in a civilized and respectful manner. I believe that what you are suggesting might inflame our situation, so for now I intend to keep talking and working with him in good faith."
- Ask them to stop, and tell them what you do want. If people are offering you "support" in a way that is not actually supportive to you, request what you would like from them. A response to the "Thank goodness you dumped the jerk" sentiment might sound like "You know, I did marry this man and I'm trying to keep my divorce as amicable as possible. What I really would like from you is your company and your sense of humor — that would really support me right now." If they can't give you what you're requesting or continue to bad-mouth or push their own agenda, consider distancing yourself from them during this time.
Family and friends love you and (generally) want what's best for you. But they are not divorce experts, and their incomplete or biased divorce advice can hijack your process, taking you down paths you never meant to go. Seek out and request their love, presence, attention and practical support. Leave the strategy, education, entitlement and process support to the professionals.
If you're confused, unsure and unclear about how to proceed, where to get answers, how the whole divorce process works, we've got 24 divorce experts offering no-cost help and support to get your started. Tea and sympathy from friends and family, facts and advice from the professionals!
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