I sometimes hear from people who are getting some hurtful feedback from those who are supposed to be “supporting” them during their marital separation. Sometimes, this so-called support comes from friends or family members. It can even come from the “support group” that you specifically joined in order to feel lifted up during your separation, which can be incredibly disappointing. Someone might say, “I did not really want to burden my family, friends, or coworkers with details about my separation. They know that I am separated, but I just don’t want to hear people’s personal opinions about my husband or my marriage. I am hoping to reconcile and so I don’t want to influence their opinions about my husband or about our relationship. However, I wanted a place to talk things through and to feel supported so I joined a support group for people going through a separation / divorce. The first week felt pretty good, but maybe that is because everyone was on their best behavior. I have to admit that the last few weeks, it really hasn’t gone well. I want to reconcile with my husband. I was looking for people who could identify with what I was going through to keep my spirits up while I was waiting to see what happened with my marriage. However, many of these people are getting ready to divorce and are quite bitter and angry. If I try to relay good news that happened between my husband and myself during the week, I sometimes get sarcastic comments. Someone might say ‘well, just wait. He’s just trying to be nice to you so that you’ll accept the divorce later.’ These type of comments are obviously not what I want to hear. I don’t mind expressing my fears, but I want people to try to talk me down or to help me look on the bright side. I don’t want people to tell me that the worst case scenario is going to happen or that all separations end in divorce. This is why I didn’t tell some friends and family, but now I am getting this with the support group. And yet, I know that I need support, so I am not sure what to do.”
I can really identify with what you are saying. I told some people about my own separation and I really came to regret it. Some of my friends became really angry with my husband and never really got over it – even after we reconciled. By then, I’d long forgiven my husband, and I just wanted to move on. But some people wouldn’t let it go. The thing is, with some people, if you tell them your most personal issues, then you’d better be ready to talk about those same issues every single time that you talk with them because they want to keep bringing it up and picking the scab. That is why you have to be really careful about who you confide in. Some people will project their own experiences and fears onto your experience and obviously, this doesn’t help you. Just because there are people in the support group who may be headed for divorce, this does not mean that you will be. At some point, I just had to tell people who weren’t supportive that I valued their friendship, but that I needed to talk about something else. Then I sought support elsewhere.
If you have not tried counseling, that is probably the very best option for support. They are trained professionals whose only job is to help you. They don’t know you outside of this and therefore are not going to let other things bleed into the reason for your being there. That is really the ideal scenario, but if you are resistant to counseling, then you have to pick your “trusted support person” carefully. If you truly feel that the support group isn’t going to improve, then you want to make sure that if you decide to end this support system, then you have already replaced it with a new and better one. Honestly, my ideal support person was not who I thought that it would be. It was someone from work who I did not know very well and perhaps that helped. She didn’t have all of the history with me that some of my other friends did. And she had separated and reconciled previously so she understood my thought process. Our interactions always left me feeling better, and not worse.
I often journaled my feelings on weekends because I knew that I needed to get them out and didn’t have access to my best support person. I came to decide that I’d rather journal to release my feelings than to have unsupportive people make me feel worse.
It’s important to remember that you can control who you allow to influence you. It’s possible to politely retreat when people aren’t understanding or supportive. It can be really important to surround yourself with positivity because it’s easy to get discouraged. And it’s very important to remember that people’s unsupportive reactions usually have more to do with their situation than with yours. They are projecting their own life and their own problems onto you, which just isn’t fair. If the support group isn’t providing the support that you need and is just making you feel worse, there’s nothing wrong with politely seeking support elsewhere. Because support is very important, but it can be tricky and difficult to find the right, objective person or group of people. At the same time, you don’t want to alienate family and friends, which is why it’s fine to just change the subject and ask to discuss something else.