You’re right not to let him spend time with the kids. He didn’t take care of you; he didn’t take care of them. You don’t owe him anything. The kids are better off without him.”
Statements like this one — supportive of one spouse or partner and very antagonistic toward the other — are common when a relationship ends. Friends and relatives are there for us, taking our side no matter what, against a partner who has hurt or betrayed us. They help us keep going when we are exhausted and feeling hopeless. Where would we be without them?
Probably better off, if bashing our partners is all they do.
Yes, most friends and relatives are well-intentioned. But listening to them badmouth the other person can worsen problems rather than solve them.
What’s the problem with a friend standing by me?
There are many ways for people to be supportive. They can listen when we are angry or afraid. Take us out when we are lonely. Pick up groceries. Have our kids over for a play date so that we have more time to handle what we need to.
These actions and countless others are constructive and lessen our burdens. But relentless criticism of the significant other is something else altogether.
Why? To be blunt, many of those close to us don’t know what they’re talking about or have a skewed view of the partner. That’s because most of us — even when a relationship is good — tell others many more negative things regarding our partners than positive ones. Over time, supporters may become hostile to the partner. When the split occurs, they understandably blame the partner and don’t have anything good to say. Often, this is to our detriment.
What’s wrong with hearing what we already believe?
Consider a president and his or her cabinet. The cabinet members, in speaking to him, only say what they know he believes. This president won’t learn anything from them, and may come to believe that his view is the only valid one. That there are no alternatives.
Now imagine the president surrounded by cabinet members who share various ideas, and discuss the merits and disadvantages of numerous and perhaps opposing courses to follow. This president would hear about different options and their consequences.
Now consider yourself the president. Which advisors would you want on your team? The ones who tell you only what you want to hear — or the ones who help you clearly see the situation so that you can make the best decisions possible?
During my own divorce, Steve, a close friend from out of state, never had anything bad to say about my wife. He didn’t tell me what I was entitled to or to fight for it. He did, though, ask me these questions:
“How’s your daughter doing?” “Are you taking good care of her?”
That second question made me angry.
True, I was broken up. My work for a publishing company suffered. I was terribly sad.
But when it came to caring for my child, I didn’t miss a beat; a source of pride even now, many years later.
I wondered how could my friend ask me that question?
After a moment, it hit me that Steve was an even better friend than I had realized. Steve cared about me, and my daughter as well. Living elsewhere, he couldn’t know if I was doing a good job as a father at that difficult time. So he asked me a hard question.
Thankfully, I was holding it together as a parent. But what if I wasn’t? Fortunately, I had a friend who was ready to help me face that problem and deal with it. For me, that was tremendous, and infinitely more supportive than if he had said nasty things about my spouse.
New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, (718) 229–6149, or go to lc-mediate.com/. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lchabin.
Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.