How to Manage Friends and Family During Divorce


Dr. Neha: I have an amazing guest with us here today. Her name’s Lori. Hi, Lori. Tell me what’s on your mind.

Lori: Recently, my husband and I filed for divorce. It’s been coming for a while. I have found that telling people one-on-one has not been simple. Most of my friends have experienced the sadness. What is difficult is how to set expectations since our normal sense of social behaviors will be changing and it may or may not meet the expectations of our family and friends depending on where they are in processing this change in our relationship.

I have already experienced some disappointment by people that we are very close to. I’m a little bothered by that, but I need to figure out how to communicate effectively where I’m at, what boundaries fit for me and my family, and still maintain relationships and friendships that have been in my life for 25 years.

Dr. Neha: First of all, I’m sorry to hear about your divorce. It sounds like you guys are going through a big life transition. You’ve been together for nearly 20 years. One-on-one, it’s not easy, but you’re able to do it and now it’s more about facing society and your friends and family as a whole that’s starting to worry you. What is it that worries you about telling people? What type of an event or experience would this concern show up at?

Lori: I think other people probably deal with this as well—redefining yourself as a person who is no longer married. That’s a big issue. I can give you a specific experience.

One of my best friends is celebrating her birthday, her 50th birthday, and we were invited as a couple. I called her and said, “Under the circumstances, I am not as comfortable coming as a couple because this is such a new change in our lives. How would you feel about me coming on my own? Since we were friends first, try to be understanding.”

I was surprised at the response—”Really, we’ve been family friends for godparents of each other’s children, so we’re very, very close families. We would hope that we could continue to experience you as a couple, and it would be our wish that the two of you could come and hopefully put that aside so that we can celebrate as families as we always have.” Which was. . .

Dr. Neha: Surprising.

Lori: . . . Surprising!

Dr. Neha: That’s a hard one. You’ve brought up several issues here. The most important thing, Lori, is that something has changed with you and your ex-husband, so you’re different. The world is going to want to put the puzzle pieces back exactly the way they were. It’s more comfortable that way.

As you’re telling me this, where in your body do you feel this? Can you feel anything moving through you?

Lori: Oh, yes, where I always feel my anxiety, in my stomach.

Dr. Neha: In your stomach. What does it feel like?

Lori: Tight.

Dr. Neha: What I heard you say you’re afraid of is the word disappointment. What are we going to do if we disappoint others? The interesting thing is the two of you are going through the greatest change. Out of everybody, the ripple effect that’s going to go to the world, it affects your nuclear family most. Of course, they’re going to hope that they can have both of you and everything would stay the way it was, but it’s not. True?

Lori: True.

Dr. Neha: It’s one thing to have a conversation with people, but the second piece is to figure out what you want. Let’s say this situation was happening to me. Here’s the response I’d give: “I heard what you said and that you’d prefer that we could continue to be a couple. Some day, I hope that that’s possible. Right now, that isn’t going to work for us, or for me.” So you speak for yourself.

Then it’s time to get clear about what will work for you. It might seem selfish sometimes to really put the focus on the three of you, your immediate family, but right now, you need to navigate that and do it clearly with your boundaries—before you’re worrying about what the rest of the world thinks. Everyone else is going to follow your lead. If you’re uncertain and still trying to make sure everybody’s okay, they’re going to tell you what “okay” looks like.

Lori: Yes, and let me tell you this because my daughter is a teenager. Of course, she knows that I’m invited to the party. They are her godparents. She said, “Of course, you should go.” Then she stopped herself and said, “Mommy, you should do whatever is feeling best to you.” The other part of all this is that I worry about the example that I give my daughter.

Dr. Neha: Just take a deep breath in. That’s so important to you. It’s about being real like, “How am I going to answer this in a way that teaches her to be authentic in who she is and shows up in the world saying what it is she really means?”

Lori: Yes.

Dr. Neha: That’s an important one. I can see how important it is to you to be a role model to her. The question you ask is, what would self-trust and courage do now?

Lori: I got divorced, and I think helping her learn how to set boundaries and to know it is important to take care of yourself first, so that you can be healthy for other people.

Dr. Neha: It seems like you’ve grown and you’ve acknowledged that now. This is a big move. I’m so proud of you. Before you worry about other people, just make sure, Lori, that you’ve taken into account what Lori wants. You’ve listened to other people and what they value and how they want things to happen. You hope that it can be that way some day. Right now, do what’s going to work for you, and let them know what this is. Make sense?

Lori: Makes sense.

Dr. Neha: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for bringing your whole heart.

Lori: Yes, thank you for having me.

Dr. Neha: For those of you who are going through a big life transition or have experienced one, you know exactly the courage it took for Lori to express what she just did. This type of question, “Should you show up as who you really are when it might disappoint other people?” is a big one. When you’re going through a tough time or a change, it’s important that you make sure you’ve listened to your own heart first.

The way you get the real answer of what to do next—whether it’s to be a role model for your daughter or how to show up with others—is to ask, “What would self-trust and courage do now?” Get clear first, and I promise you, your loved ones are going to want to support you once they hear where you’re headed.

Your Awareness Prescription for Major Life Transitions

  1. Get clear first on what you need or want.
  2. Ask yourself, “What would courage and self-trust do now?”
  3. Communicate your needs and boundaries to those around you.

Download your Awareness Prescription for Major Life Transitions.

Wishing you peace and a better night’s sleep,

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