Who to Talk to – and Who Not to Talk to – About a Potential Divorce

Have you and/or your partner been going through a tough time? We all need support from friends and family during stressful times, so it’s natural to want to confide in your nearest and dearest about something as life-changing as a potential divorce. But in this situation, all friends are not created equal. As a longtime couples therapist, I’ve seen people in your shoes make a lot of mistakes when it comes to talking with others about their marital issues.

One mistake is to not tell anyone, often out of shame or to avoid recognizing the threat to your marriage is real. This can result in isolation and stewing in negativity and pain.

A second common mistake is to tell the whole world. You’ve probably seen it yourself: one spouse tells everyone at work, church, and the book club about their relationship problems. The other spouse is furious for being made out to be the “bad guy” in the marriage crisis. People start taking sides, and any hope that might have remained for the marriage begins to fade, quickly.

A third mistake is talking to the wrong people. At the top of this list is your children – whether they’re young or out of the house. It’s not appropriate for a parent to lean on their children – regardless of their ages – for emotional support, especially regarding relationship issues with the other parent. This unfairly puts kids in the middle, making them feel as though they have to choose sides, and leaves little room for supporting their own feelings about their parents’ marriage troubles.

Before talking with your children, work to stabilize your own emotions first and ensure that the decision to divorce is truly final before broaching that topic. Make a plan with your spouse for how, when, and where you will share the news with your children (a family therapist can help). I promise your kids will thank you later.

And whatever you do, do not talk to your spouse’s relatives and friends — that will feel like back-stabbing and inevitably lead to more drama for everyone involved. You can’t guarantee they won’t tell your spouse what you shared – or anyone else in the family, for that matter! 

So who should you talk to?

It’s tempting, especially when you’re angry, to call up that friend who’s never liked your spouse for a cathartic spouse-bashing session. Try to resist the urge. 

Ideally, you should confide in just one or two trusted friends or family members about your marital struggles. But how do you know who to trust?

Here’s why that question can be surprisingly hard to answer. When you’re considering ending a relationship that you once truly believed would be a lifetime commitment, it isn’t  just that you no longer trust your spouse. It isn’t just that you aren’t sure which friends or family members to confide in.

Often, the real issue is that, with everything in your life turning upside down, you no longer trust yourself

If you believe that you were so wrong in your choice of spouse, it can be hard to trust your instincts and decision-making skills about… well, basically everything else! 

That’s why we often turn to other people when we’re going through situations like this: we feel as though we’ve lost our internal compass, and that can be scary and disorienting.  It’s tempting to ask others to point us in the right direction.

But while we all need to vent to other people about our problems from time to time, relying on your friends or family to help you make a decision as life-changing as whether or not to end your marriage is not venting. It’s surrendering to the fear and discomfort that comes from losing our way. 

So, before you decide who to talk to about your marriage issues, think about this:

Are you simply looking for emotional support, or – if you sit with your feelings and think about it – are you really looking for direction?

If it’s the latter, before you call your BFF, I encourage you to reach out to an individual therapist, whose job is to provide neutral, objective support, and who is skilled at helping people learn to trust themselves again so they can make decisions with confidence. You can find therapists in your area on Psychology Today, by searching on your insurance company’s website, or by asking a trusted friend for recommendations. If you and your spouse have seen a marriage counselor, you can also ask that person for a referral to a therapist.

If you still feel you need to talk with a friend or family member to get support during this difficult time, that’s completely natural. Just be careful in who you choose. Ideally, you’ll be able to confide in someone who can listen and empathize without taking a side against (or bad-mouthing) your spouse. Someone who tends to be positive about marriage in general and is able to hold out hope for your marriage. Someone who has demonstrated compassion for both you and your spouse. Maybe even someone who has shown in the past that they’re not afraid to challenge or disagree with you. And of course, you’ll want to talk to someone who has a track record of keeping things private, not someone known for being a gossip.

If you don’t have anyone in your life who fits these criteria, that’s another sign that you might want to reach out to an individual therapist for support. 

Final Thoughts

You don’t have go through this crisis alone, but choose your confidants wisely. And before you do, be honest with yourself about whether you’re really looking for support – or looking for someone to tell you what to do.


CATEGORIES


RELATED POSTS

Ready to Get Started on the Road to a Better Relationship?

A licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience, I’ve helped hundreds of couples and families navigate life's bumps and find the way forward.