By Jennifer Jackson, JD
Helpful or in the way?
Greek Chorus: a chorus in a classical Greek play typically serving to … comment on the moral issue that is raised by the dramatic action …. (Merriam Webster)
Once you tell your friends and family that you are going through a divorce, Collaborative or not, they will want to step in and give you all sorts of support…ok…and all sorts of advice…not ok….
So, what does this mean? What can they do for you? How can they help? How can you deal with all of the unsolicited free advice? What is the difference between helpful and unproductive?
UNWANTED ADVICE: their intentions may be good, but the impact is not constructive
Example: “I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve moved out. Did you know that Bob is getting a divorce and he got to keep the house?” Unhelpful. Or: “My friend Louise is getting twice as much support as you are. You need to fight for more.” Unhelpful. Every divorce is different, every situation is different, and every divorcing couple is different. You need to focus on what is right for you, your spouse and your children.
Example: “Your kids can’t be forced to see their Dad; when they get to be teenagers they get to choose who they spend time with.” Unhelpful. First, this is not a “legal” rule. The rule is when the child is “of sufficient age and ability to voice an intelligent opinion”, the child is allowed a voice, but not decision-making power. Second, kids want to support their parents and will often tell both parents the same thing: “I want to be with you.” You can’t necessarily take this at face value. Third, successful co-parenting requires both parents to have a good relationship with their children, taking their best interests into account and respecting – but not being held captive by – the children’s wishes.
What to Say
What do you say to your “unhelpful” friends and family? “I know you love me and want to help me; I welcome your support, but every case is different, and I need to listen to the professionals I have retained.”
WANTED SUPPORT: their intentions are good and the support is constructive
Example: “You know you are always welcome to spend time with us and we are here to listen.” Helpful. Moral and emotional support are critical to successfully navigating a divorce.
Example: “Let’s go to the movies/have lunch/go for a walk”. Helpful. Divorce is difficult; you’ll need frequent breaks.
Example: “You’ve told me that you are participating in a Collaborative Divorce. I hear this means you will not be going to court, and I see that you have made good choices for the professionals on your team.” Helpful. Having your friends and family support the process and your professionals, rather than second-guessing and bad-mouthing, strengthens your chances of a positive process and outcome.
What to Say
What do you say to your “supportive” friends and family? “Thank you.”