Divorce is kind of like pregnancy–everyone feels entitled to give you their opinion.
Never will you find people more willing to dish out advice than when they know that your marriage has fallen apart at the seams.
They will tell you how to feel, when to feel it, and how long to feel it for.
Everyone has an opinion on how you should grieve, how long you should grieve, and how long you should wait before you should get back in that saddle.
And the thing is, everybody has a different opinion, and not a one of them knows what your particular story is or what mine is either.
They have not walked a day in the life of you or of me. They don’t understand the years of grief leading up to the final acceptance that this broken thing can’t be saved. They don’t understand that the marriage has been dead for a long time. Or that the divorce was completely out of the blue and you were still head over heels for your spouse when he/she left you for another woman or man or just because.
For some, divorce comes as a surprise, for others, like me, it’s the gradual admittance of what you’ve known for a long time–no amount of resuscitation can bring back to life something that is thoroughly dead. Flat lined. DOD. Over.
I’m a counselor and a Psych professor. I talk to the grieving and the hurting all the time. And there’s one thing I have learned along the way: grief is a personal and individual process. We can try to put labels and timelines on it, but the reality is, the process is going to be as unique as we are as human beings.
It’s time that we stepped back and stop dishing out advice and instead started listening.
But, that causes a problem. We’re not very good at listening. We’re into quick fixes. We like short and sweet platitudes that soothe our conscience and make us feel like we’re helping, when in reality, we’re handing somebody a band-aid and telling them to get over it.
Not in so many words, of course, because that would be rude. But we might as well just say it, because that’s what we mean. We want to pat them on the head, say that we care, but then get back to the business of living our own lives.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Psychologists everywhere are starting to wave their hands to get our attention about this very issue. Our social media driven society is causing us to look for instant gratification and short fixes in the place of true and authentic relationships. We are replacing intimacy with connection, and the result is a society that is sinking into loneliness and low level depression (more on this in an up and coming blog).
And no where does it show more than in our relationships. Writing in the Atlantic, Stephen Marche reports: While loneliness has been increasing there has been an explosion in the number of psychologists, social workers, life coaches, and other “psychic servants”…We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.
As a counselor, I read that and cringe. Yep. That’s it entirely.
We leave the listening to the therapists, and we, the friends, hand out the band-aids.
My ex insisted that I see a counselor, even though I didn’t feel like I needed to see one. In an effort to get this whole thing over with, I went to one anyway. The therapist looked me in the eye at the end of my first session and told me that I didn’t need her, that I clearly was well adjusted and dealing with things well.
When I told my ex that, he didn’t much like what my therapist had to say. I shrugged and told him, “I have friends. When you have good friends, you don’t need a therapist to help you get through the normal stuff like this.” And, as a therapist, I believe that’s the truth.
There are issues that are too big for friends to deal with, but grief and loss, a failed marriage, when one is dealing with them in the “normal” way? Good friends are all you need.
A friend who listens and doesn’t just send the occasional text or Facebook platitude. A friend who can look you in the eye and have the courage to say, “I think you’re wrong, but I love you anyway…”
Are you that kind of friend? You should be. If you’re not, then I would question your level of commitment to your friendships.
What kind of friends do you have? If you have the good ones, the ones who really listen, not just the band-aid pushers, make sure you give them their due. They’re rare and should be highly prized.
Let’s stop with the advice and the judgement. Let’s stop outsourcing the practice of everyday caring. And let’s start listening.