When I confided in one of my closest friends about my looming separation, her advice was both shocking and dishearteningly honest. After hosting a huge pity-party in honor of my guilt, she warned me that guilt wouldn’t be my worst enemy.
It would be the judgment.
Judgment? I couldn’t understand why people would judge me for making such a personal decision. Then again, what did I know? I was as green to divorce as a novice swimmer naively planning on swimming the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. (In hindsight, I would have much preferred that.)
After seven years of marriage, I made the heart-wrenching decision to separate from my husband. I faced an ugly mountain of remorse for leaving a decent man, and for thrusting my two young daughters into an uprooting custody schedule. I hated myself for making that decision.
But I hated being in a loveless marriage even more.
Before the ink was dry on our separation papers, my parents and siblings became very involved in our separation. Why? Because they wanted to help, of course. But their over-involvement led to a tailspin in the support that I needed from them. I soon realized that it’s nearly impossible for loved ones to remain impartial vis-a-vis divorce. This is as futile as expecting a teacher to overlook glaring spelling mistakes in a mid-term essay.
I learned the hard way that my loved ones judged my decision to divorce because they also grieved the end of my marriage. My choice meant that they also had to split from their valued son-in-law and brother-in-law.
Why our family grieves when we divorce:
1. They hate seeing us suffer.
Our loved ones often take on the role of mighty protectors and mentors. When we hurt, they hurt. It’s that simple. Although they want to swoop in and rescue us from divorce doom, it’s imperative that they don’t try to solve our problems. Why not? Their ideal solution may not be ours. Thank them for their support, and don’t be afraid to tell them exactly what you need from them. Even if it’s a little privacy.
2. They fear for our future as much as we do.
Uncertainty scares most people. And divorce is the perfect precursor to an unpredictable future (at least for the short-term). When it comes to divorce, some folks assume the worst. It’s the cup-is-half-empty-and-always-will-be syndrome. But I’ve learned that a little bit of fear can motivate us to take positive action. I was more than happy to prove to the world that I wouldn’t be broke and single for the rest of my life. In fact, I eventually prospered and found love again. More importantly, my daughters are happy and well-adjusted.
3. That darn social stigma.
As my trusted therapist bluntly put it, my parents came from “a different generation” which explained their negative perception of divorce. And the thought of announcing a dreaded divorce to their friends and extended family (especially my aging grandmother) was a grim one. Remember, divorce is not a failure. It’s a major change. And there’s always a reason for it—no matter who deems it to be worthy or not. Do yourself a favor and hold on to your reasons. If you’re at peace with your decision, everyone else will learn to be as well.
4. No more Sunday dinners.
My parents and siblings loved me and my husband. Our divorce signaled the end to some deep-rooted family traditions that everyone looked forward to such as Sunday dinners and cottage weekends. Our split signaled a temporary upheaval in our family dynamic—one that not everyone was ready or willing to accept at first. But not all is lost! Change presents an opportunity to redefine when, how, and where you spend time with your family as you ride the wave of ambiguity. New family traditions and gatherings will simply take on a new life over time.
Take heart, your family will overcome their grief in time. And so will you.