Diana Westrick, Legal Assistant, Woodruff Family Law Group
*This blog has practical wisdom and is not intended as legal advice.
We have all been there: something upsetting, traumatizing, and devastating occurs, and we look to those around us for comfort and support. You know, someone who is willing to nod silently while we vent. Now, be honest, how often does that actually happen? The art of “listening” seems foreign to most people, despite their best intentions. Instead, you get advice.
Don’t get me wrong; sometimes you actively seek input from other people, specifically those closest to you and your particular situation. Yet, most often, the advice seems to come in unsolicited form and only seems to add to the stress of the situation. As a prime example, here is my advice to you that you should accept and apply whole-heartedly: Don’t take advice.
After a separation, divorce, custody battle, or even an impending marriage, people will try to tell you what you should do. Continue reading for some of the most common post-breakup “wisdom” people like to dish out and how to respond without kicking them in the shins (while it is always an option, and may be satisfying, it is not recommended).
Scenario #1 – They didn’t really love you anyway; I saw this coming.
Oh, really? You knew my 10-year marriage was doomed for failure while you helped yourself to the open bar at our wedding? I’m glad you kept that to yourself!
Hindsight is always 20/20, except when it is not. Some people gain satisfaction thinking that they can predict the future. The gloating, itself, apparently is not enough; they need to share it with everyone. Hence, bad advice. No one knows your relationships like you do, and despite looking from the outside in, others can only speculate to the truth of your experiences. So how do you react to these know-it-alls? Stand your ground and assertively let them know their words are not tolerated.
I find it upsetting when others speak of my marriage in such a manner. I would appreciate it if you would please not offer your opinions and versions of what happens in my relationships, both past and current.
Scenario #2 – It has been [insert amount of time]! It’s time for you to stop sulking and move on.
Okay! Let me switch off my grieving into the happy mode, make a dating profile, and pretend like my family life wasn’t completely turned upside down! Thank you for reminding me I hit that deadline; I would love to know how to access this secret calendar that breaks down the amount of time your emotions are socially acceptable!
This line of advice can be tricky: the person may indeed mean well and are concerned for your well-being. That does not give permission for them to dictate your life post-breakup. Both love and loss are real emotions that cannot be “controlled.” Telling someone they have to stop feeling upset about a separation after, say, six months, is like telling someone they have to fall in love with their new partner by date number 6. It is silly, and people don’t work that way. How do you handle this type of advice? Acknowledge their input, correct it, and then redirect to a new topic.
I can see that you are concerned. However, I will handle my breakup in my way on my own time. Now, tell me about that concert you went to the other day.
Scenario #3 – You need to [forgive, date again, go to counseling, get involved with religion, etc.] and realize how much better off you are without them.
I’m so glad that you know what I need! I wish I could be as in-tune with myself as you seem to be. And you are so right; learning to live off half of my previous household income while acting as a single parent to my children is so much better than before. I must need you too!
The above scenario signifies one of my biggest pet peeves: being told what you need in order to reach some societal standard. Don’t get me wrong; [solicited] input based on experience can be acceptable. For example, if the above person stated “When I went through my divorce, I found that [blank] really helped me,” then they are acknowledging that your situation is uniquely yours. No one knows what you are experiencing except for you. As to the statement that you are better off, that may or may not be so; even if you are jumping for joy after breaking from your spouse, there are still going to be changes, some negative or less than ideal. In similar fashion to Scenario #2, often the individuals telling you what you need are doing so out of a well-intended place. So, in response, establish your individuality by shutting the door to advice, but leaving open a window.
I am not looking for input on my life right now; I know best what I need. However, if in the future I am considering other options, I will keep yours in mind.
While you will not be able to avoid all of the not-so-wise words people are more than willing to give, remember that you are the one in control of your life and your truth is all that matters; how you react to others is in your own hands. Sometimes, simply smiling, pivoting, and walking away is the only way to prevent going off on the umpteenth person who tells you how to deal with your family trauma. Hang in there, and take my advice.