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How to tell friends and family about your divorce

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How to tell friends and family about your divorce

“Prepare for how others will react and remember to put yourself first” says Dr Isabelle Hung.

Breaking the news you’re divorcing or separating is a stressful task.  It is natural to worry or make assumptions about the reactions of those you tell.  Moreover, there are often so many people to break the news to that it can feel overwhelming.

Preparation should help you to take control so that you can get the support you need. Don’t underestimate the amount of support you’ll need to help you through this difficult time and ease your loneliness.  (How children of all ages will react will be dealt with separately as it’s such an important part of the breakup.)

You can’t control how people will respond. Reactions vary according to age, beliefs, culture and personal experiences of relationships and break-ups.  They also vary depending on the relationship the person you’re telling has with you and/or your partner. Some families cope better according to how well they can tolerate change and how well they communicate.

You can, however, control how you broach the subject – and this will affect reactions to you and the separation.

Two things to remember when you’re worried about sharing news of your separation

1.  The majority of people will be sympathetic!

The good news is that, most people are sympathetic.  Some research shows that sympathy tends to run out after three months – even though you will probably need support for a longer period.  Those who have been through a divorce themselves tend to be more understanding for longer.

Therefore, establish who the best people to talk to are and remember also to talk about other things outside your divorce. This will also help take your mind off things. It is important, when you can, to remember everyone has their challenges, and friends may need your support too – perhaps for different issues or even for exciting things they are experiencing.

2.  You’ll lose some friendships and strengthen others.

Some people may cut ties with you and this can be very painful.  It is natural though and another of the losses that come with divorce.  In time you may be able to look back and see that as that door closed, another one opened.

You may even choose to leave some people behind. This might be because they take sides, or, for others, you might represent a frightening reminder that their marriage might fail. Some couples might view you as a threat if you are single and so your relationship changes.

Some people will really touch you with their kindness and caring, and you will realise the true strength of those relationships.

Perhaps as a result of this many people feel their friendships are far stronger and deeper after a divorce.

Four top tips for telling people about your break-up

1.  Make a list of the potential support networks you have.  

Think about who you know and how each person might be able to support you.  For example, some people might be very good at emotional advice, some people are good with money, and some will be good to go out with and have fun.

Include people you have not seen for years but used to be close to.  You may be surprised how quickly you can pick up where you left off with old friends.

Contact your support network, tell them what has happened and ask for their help, advice or simply their company.

2.  Prepare and maybe even practise a brief explanation.  

Think about what you will say and to whom.

Some people will need to know you are breaking up but you won’t want to share too much e.g.  colleagues or even certain friends or family members. In this case, keep it brief and vague, saying something such as, “‘We have decided to divorce – unfortunately we are too different and it won’t work”’. The more understanding and helpful people are, the more detail you might choose to give.

Be mindful of who you are talking to and the context.  For example, if you need to criticise your ex, make sure your children are not in earshot, or consider whether you will make the other person feel uncomfortable (if they’re also friends with your ex, for example).

3.  Spend more time with people who make you feel better and less with people who make you feel worse.

Limit time with people who are a negative drain on your energy.  You do not have the resources to spend on them right now.  In time, you may choose to reconnect with them although you might want to think about whether they really are good friends for you full stop.

4.  Get professional help.

Finally, if you find that support tails off before you feel ready, there is no shame in getting professional help. It is common to get therapy to help you come to terms with your loss, tackle any concerns, and learn how to build healthy future relationships.

This period can be a real opportunity to develop the relationships you have and strengthen ties with friends and family.

How did the people around you react? How did you tell people about your separation? Please share any tips and advice on this forum.


For more divorce advice go here.

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