Breaking the “D” News to Friends and Family: Helping Them Help You, Hello Divorce

Breaking the “D” News to Friends and Family: Helping Them Help You

Your divorce may very well be one of the most difficult emotional journeys of your life. And while you know you’ll come out just fine on the other side, getting to that finish line can take a toll. Remember: You don’t have to do this alone. You are surrounded by people in your life who care and want to be there for you.

As you share your news with those closest to you, you’re likely going to hear the words, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

That statement isn’t a cop-out. (Although it would probably feel better if they just understood what you need without you having to speak up.) We like to think of those words as a request in disguise that basically says, “I need you to tell me what I can do to help because I’m not sure what you need, and I don’t want to overstep my boundaries.”

Sometimes, the hardest part is letting people in your life know how to help.

The best way you can help them help you is to think in advance about what you need. Then, communicate your needs upfront. (Yes, you can ask for support! After all, you’ve probably been there for your loved ones a thousand times over.)

We have a few ideas about how to kickstart that conversation.

Decide what kind of support you want.

Everyone is different. You might wear your heart on your sleeve, or you might prefer to keep your emotions to yourself. Knowing how much you want to share—and what kind of help you need or are willing to accept—is the first step to getting the support you want.

Think about the following areas:

  • At the end of a long day, how would you be happiest to hear from someone? An email? A tag in a social media post? A surprise phone call? An old-fashioned letter?
  • How often do you enjoy hearing from people? Weekly? Once a month? How much is too much?
  • Identify at least three things that you’d be comfortable with a nearby friend or family member taking off your plate. Picking up the kids from soccer practice? An hour of babysitting? Dropping off dinner? A discount coupon to their favorite meal prep service? A surprise visit with a bottle of wine and a box of tissues? With three concrete actions in mind, you’ll be ready to suggest at least one of them when your loved one asks how they can help.
  • Can your loved ones help you share the news so you don’t have to have the same conversation again and again? This is a great way to have family and friends help. Just be sure you let them know what you’d like them to say and how they should respond if extended loved ones want to reach out or help.
  • Think about the boundaries you want to set. If you know a friend or family member who might go overboard with helpfulness, it may be better to set boundaries the moment you share the news. Setting boundaries now is easier than having a difficult conversation down the road in an already-difficult time.
  • Think about how often you plan to communicate about your divorce. Let people know you’ll keep them updated as events progress—or let them know you’ll be in touch to let them know when the divorce is final. Your language signals how often they should expect an update from you.

Decide who needs to know your news and when.

You don’t have to tell everyone at once. Think about the groups of people in your life.

Deciding who needs to know—and when they need to know—helps you control the message when you’re ready to communicate your news.

The groups of people in your life may include the following:

  • Your children: They will be impacted most, and they have a right to hear about your divorce directly from you. Keeping them informed helps assure them that everything will be okay in the end. It can also help you stay in control of your message. While it’s usually best to plan and time what you tell the kids with your spouse, that’s not always possible (say your spouse is being uncooperative). Remember, you can’t control everything your spouse does or says, but you can be mindful of what you tell your kids.

Be loving and consistent. Remind the kids that you are OK and that they will be, too. They will absolutely get the message.

  • Your parents and grandparents: If you’re close with parents and grandparents, telling them sooner rather than later is a given. If you’re not close, think about how you’d feel if they heard the news from someone else—because as word gets out, this will likely happen.
  • Extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins): Will you see members of this audience at upcoming holidays or birthdays? They’ll definitely notice if your spouse is not in the room.
  • Your close friends: This might be the group you tell before anyone else. Make sure they know how much or how little they should share in case they are approached by someone else in your circle.
  • Mutual friends with whom you’d like to remain friends: Divorce will change the way you interact with mutual friends, but it doesn’t have to end it. Let your mutual friends know you want to stay in their lives—and that you expect them to remain friendly with your ex as well. If you need to take a “break” from some of them, that’s okay, too.
  • Parents of your children’s friends: Depending on your relationship with your soon-to-be ex, you might need to let parents of your children’s friends know about your situation. This could help avoid awkwardness or miscommunication about playdates or shared rides.
  • Your boss or direct reports: If you will need to be out of the office frequently for mediation or court proceedings, it might be better to come clean at the outset rather than risk becoming the focus of office gossip.

Develop a plan to share your news.

You’ve already thought about what you need in terms of support and who needs to know your news when. Now it’s time to think about how you will tell close friends and family.

Some people in your life are appropriate to email. Others require a phone call. Still others might appreciate a handwritten letter.

We offer the following tips for communicating the news:
Communication MethodBest for:
Face to FaceThose who will be the most impacted emotionally, or the most directly impacted on a day-to-day basis by your divorce or divorce proceedings. Your children, possibly your parents and possibly your boss/team at work.
Phone CallThose whom you can’t sit down with due to distance. Those who will have several questions - they’ll be easier to answer at once rather than back and forth over email.
Handwritten LetterIf you know the news will be hard for the person to take and you want to make sure they truly take time to digest what you have to say and process it, a handwritten letter can help.
EmailThose who need to know the news but whom you do not want to engage with in extended dialogue. An e-mail lets you 1) tell your news, 2) set boundaries up front, 3) let people know you are open to help (if you are), and 4) set expectations about when you will share an update about the status of your divorce.
Social MediaIf you want to tell everyone in your world, at once. Use caution with this method: if possible, consider blocking comments on your post so you aren’t prompted to answer questions you’re not ready to answer in a large forum.
  1. Tell people you’re open to help during this time (if you are). This opens the door for friends and family to offer help — and that’s when you break out your handy list of three or more ideas.
  2. Tell people how you plan to communicate with them or how they should communicate with you. For example: “I’d love to hear from you, but I know you’ll understand if I prefer not to talk about this difficult process on a regular basis. I’ll definitely let you know if I need a shoulder to cry on! Otherwise, let’s catch up about happier topics. Hearing from you every few weeks will give me a much-needed break from this process.”
  3. Let them know what they should or should not say to others about your news. For example: “This news is really hard for me to share, so I would actually appreciate your help spreading the word. That will save me the pain of having to tell the story again and again.” Or, “This news is hard to share, so I appreciate your confidence. I’d like to be the one to break the news to X, Y, and Z so they hear it from me first.”

You got this. Just remember: It’s your divorce and your news to share … on your terms.

But if you give your friends and family a little insight into your wishes, you’ll make it easier for them to help you the way you want to be helped.


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