This article was originally written with the intent of helping those of us encountering family and friends around the holidays whose discomfort with conversing about our divorce or separation was painful to be around. However, after re-reading it, I believe what I have written here can be applied to any conversation we have with our community of family and friends throughout the year. May you find it helpful!
Here it is….
Ah, the awkward moment when you’re around family and friends over the holidays, and they all know you’re going through a separation, divorce or other intense break up. They want to ask you how you are, but don’t exactly know what to say. They feel awkward, you feel awkward. Ugh. It could be a recipe for disaster, but here are a few things to keep in mind, and 3 tips to navigate that tricky conversation with empowered grace.
The first thing to remember is that these people who ask you how you’re doing are most likely either worried about you because they’re worried about you, or they’re worried and concerned for you because of your children. Or further still, they’re worried about you because of the burden you’re placing, or have placed on their direct relation to your family. For example, people who were asking how I was wanted to know out of concern. Concern for my kids, for my parents who were helping me out logistically (a place to stay) and financially, and they wanted to be sure that I was okay.
That being said, the most important thing for them to feel is that you are okay. They want to know that you’re in touch enough with yourself that you’re able to navigate these tricky waters ahead.
You’re under no obligation to assuage their feelings about how you’re doing. You’re not required to anchor the boat for anyone; however, if you can and if you do, you may have a support structure on which to rebuild your broken ship. If you don’t anchor, you have to build while everything is tossing around at sea, and that is a super challenge.
Here are my tips to create a sense of them feeling that you are okay.
1. Honesty. The more genuine, authentic, and plain old honest you can be about the challenge, the more easily they will connect with the inner grounded you. This doesn’t mean that they want to hear all of the nasty things your soon-to-be ex or ex has been doing lately. It means that you express yourself truthfully.
“Thank you for asking. Honestly, this has been a very challenging time (incidentally, I like the word challenging instead of hard. Hard breeds hard, challenging is an obstacle to overcome). I am so grateful to be with all of you for (fill in the blank holiday). It means a lot to me to be surrounded by family and friends/community right now. The divorce/separation can be quite isolating.”
Alternatively, there is the fluffy response of, “I’m doing great! I’m dating this new guy/gal and I just saw the latest IMAX film. I just bought the kids a new kitten.” When people hear the fluffy response, they just want to get out of the conversation. They can feel that you aren’t being real with yourself. They want to feel the honest connection.
When you can respond with deep honesty, you will gain a supportive infrastructure that either supports you directly, or supports another part of your family or community that in turn supports you.
2. Inspiration/Hope. People want to root for the underdog, especially as Americans. We always want the underdog to win. We want to see the one who experienced adversity be the winner. These tips build on each other, so employ honesty in how you approach the infusion of inspiration/hope.
“You know, I have to say, this journey of divorce/separation isn’t for the faint of heart, but you know, I’ve really grown and learned so much about myself in the process. I can see that I’m a stronger person, and I’m going to really be able to build a new and wonderful life for myself, and for my children.”
You can even give them some of the tangible things transpiring in your life even if they are small. “It’s given me a chance to be closer with Billy. We read every night together.” Or “It’s really helped me to take time for myself in a way that makes me a better person in my community and at work.” Or “It’s really helped me be closer to my friends and family.”
Take time before you get into the holiday social setting to collect your thoughts and think about how you have empowered yourself. “You know, I didn’t even do the grocery shopping before, and now I do all of the shopping and budgeting, and you know what? I really like the friendly conversation with the checkers.” These stories not only infuse hope for them toward you, but they also inspire them to start to try new things and make some changes in their own life. They won’t forget what you said when you present yourself with heartfelt, honest stories of how you’re changing.
3. Connect with Compassion. After saying all of the above, people are truly mostly concerned with themselves. This is not a good or a bad thing. It’s simply the reality of the situation. They care about you, but they really have a life and concerns of their own. Find out about them. Breathe deeply and ask them about their life.
Shallow questions of “How are you? How’s it going? What’s new?” can be frustrating for some people. You might get far more interesting responses with an unusual question. We all want to feel good, right? Our brain actually doesn’t differentiate current time from past. When we recall a great moment from the past, we feel it in our body as if it is in the present. So to get people feeling good and connect with them, change the conversation back to them, “Hey, let’s not talk about this anymore. How about you tell me one great thing that happened for you in this last week that put a smile on your face or made you laugh?”
When they think back they’ll remember something even if it is a small thing. They’ll be happy inside themselves as they share it. You’ll feel happy as well. Your mirror neurons will fire off a similar happy response, and you’ll most likely be able to share a happy moment as well.
So before you set yourself out into the great blue or snowy or rainy or simply glorious yonder during the holidays, either think, journal, or write about who you may encounter, and about how you will drive the conversation using the tips in this article. Or even sign up for a session HERE. When you can come from a place of grounded honesty, inspiration, and connected compassion, you can’t help but harness the power of celebration instilled in the holiday season, no matter what stage of your divorce or separation. A reprieve from your circumstances, and a truer sense of connection, even with strangers, will allow you to experience the incredible feeling of empowered grace.
Margaret, Yin-care®’s Mother Rising