30th Jun 2014

5 reasons not to take divorce advice from your friends

– and the problems it can cause

When we face difficulties then our friends will be willing to help where they can.

They will naturally be concerned for us and want to see us on the road to recovery as soon as possible.  They naturally hate to see us struggling and in pain or other emotional discomfort.  They can be a very loyal and valuable source of support but we need to be careful about placing them into the role of adviser.  Here are five reasons why;

1.     Friend fatigue

2.     The boxing coach

3.     Divorce by proxy

4.     The unwise counsel

5.     The non-expert

Friend Fatigue

We have heard many clients complain that friends who start out being highly supportive seem to drop away as the divorce progresses.

Our friends will often make themselves available at any time of day and night, inviting you to call them “Whenever” you feel the need to do so.  This is always a sincere sentiment and well-intended but it has its limits.

As the weeks pass by you are likely to find that you are still coming to terms with the end of your relationship.  You turn over the events of the past six months or so in your mind time and time again and, quite naturally, need to talk about it and ask questions.

This can become a problem for our friends.

Our 2am phone calls are understood and even welcomed in the very early stages but can become less welcome very quickly as the weeks pass by.  They have their own lives and demands to keep running, the need to get up and get to work in the morning or be around at the weekends.  Friend fatigue sets in.

This is seen in the friend who once could not do enough to help you becoming increasingly distant and hard to get hold of.  They become reluctant to take your call, to come round for a drink and a chat again or, seemingly, even to listen;

“Oh, John, you’re not going on about that again are you?  Didn’t we talk about that last week?”

Friends’ support is an incredibly valuable resource to have.  Be sure that you respect it and use it in the spirit it is intended and not as an alternative for professional help.  Lawyers, coaches, therapists and counsellors will all be far better placed to help you explore options, what has happened and what you can do in the future. Using these professionals will help avoid burning out your friends with Friend Fatigue.

The Boxing Coach

“Take ’em in the fifth, champ!”

Sometimes our friends want to see us develop resilience and to “Be strong.”  This can result in the Boxing Coach friend, giving you the most strident advice on strategies and execution from your own corner.

The advice is often to come out fighting, go in hard and get what you need.

The strategies they promote are soaked in fighting language, setting up your separation as a battle in which it is inevitable that both of you are going to get hurt.

This advice is not given maliciously but, again, from the very best intentions.  It assumes that attack is the best form of defence and it ignores the wide range of less confrontational, and less damaging, methods for resolving divorce and separation disputes such as mediation or collaborative practice.

The result of the Boxing Coach friend can be a heightened sense of entitlement and a misplaced certainty that the fighting strategy is the best one.  If the fighting strategy is met with a similar approach from your partner then the whole process can be very drawn out and the cost, counted in terms of emotional and financial aspects, can be much worse.

What is more, when it comes to divorce and separation, there is very rarely a quick win or a decisive knock-out blow.  When this strategy is adopted it will either go down to a judge’s decision after an expensive final hearing (and up to 18 months to get there) or it ends with one party or the other throwing in the towel.

There are usually better and quicker ways to resolve your divorce, ways that are not couched in terms of winners and losers, point scoring or fighting.

Your lawyer will be able to tell you and help you to choose a different strategy.

Divorce by Proxy

It can be hard for us to separate somebody else’s experiences from our own, particularly where those experiences have been traumatic.

Imagine the friend who has recently gone through his or her own bitter divorce.  Perhaps in their eyes and words they have “Lost the children, lost the house, everything.”

There is a real risk that in turning to this experienced friend at the time of your own divorce that your separation becomes influenced by the experiences of this friend.

The friend’s own emotions are triggered by seeing you go through what they went through.  As a result, their responses to you might be more about what happened to them and not purely in response to what is happening for you.

At the extreme, imagine somebody whose view of the opposite sex, as a result of their own divorce experience, is that they are all now worthless, dishonest cheats – to put it politely!  You can imagine the kind of advice that they would be giving you and the kind of strategies that they would recommend.

Is it wholly unfeasible that somebody who is feeling incredibly hurt and bruised from their own divorce might not take some comfort from helping their friend overcome what they see as a shared enemy – namely the opposite sex, partners in general or the legal system?  In this case, the advice you are receiving can be more about them and their ongoing need to be proven right than it is about you.

The Unwise Counsel

Cybil Fawlty in the famous BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers used to be shown speaking to friends on the phone. All that the viewer would see and hear is her side of the conversation, repeatedly saying “Oooooooh, I know.” much to her husband, Basil Fawlty’s increasing irritation.

This is how we envisage the friend as unwise counsel.

Again, as ever, the intentions are sound.

The thinking is that if we voice our agreement with our friend in distress then we are helping them.  We are reassuring them that we are listening and we are agreeing with them.  We are telling them that what they are saying is reasonable.  We hope that we are making things alright for them.

Unfortunately what happens is that we can reaffirm and strengthen our friend’s comments and thoughts whether they are helpful or correct or not.  As a result the sense of being right, justified and inflexibility can be greatly increased – after all, if everyone I speak to agrees with me and what I say I want, why should I negotiate or reach an agreement unless they give me everything that I am asking for?

When this happens then an early resolution of issues can become less likely as we become more strident, more convinced and more unrealistic in our demands and expectations.

The Non-Expert

In all of these positions we need to recognise that our friends are not experts in law and process.  Even where they have gone through a divorce and separation of their own then they are only experts in what happened in that situation.  Every divorce, every separation is different and deserves expert help.

At Family Law in Partnership, divorce lawyers in London, we have expert solicitors, counsellors and mediators with many years’ experience who are able to help you to move through your divorce and separation as quickly, cost-effectively and amicably as possible.  Because we work together with our own in-house family counsellors we are able to access the full range of knowledge and experience that your case requires.

For that reason, you can keep your friends as friends, instead of placing them in the difficult position of having to advise.

Let us help you

If you are going through divorce or separation, or know somebody who is, and have any questions then give us a call on 020 7420 5000 or email us, confidentially, on hello@flip.co.uk