My divorce is dragging on and all the stress and sadness is piling up. I have an amazing group of friends who have been there for me and I’m so so grateful. The longer this goes on though, the more I feel like my friends are bored and resentful that my feelings take up so much space. They have been so supportive, but I find I get frustrated when they can’t be there for me as much as I need them to be. How can I be authentic in my friendships without feeling like a burden or resenting my friends for not being everything I need?
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Oh I’ve been there, Cecily. And “there” is a very lonely place to be. It’s hard, when you’re going through a divorce and every cell of your body is in a version of shock/panic/survival mode, to see that the rest of the world is going on quite as normal. I’ve written about divorce survival, but let’s talk specifically about friendships.
I was also fortunate enough to have lots of friends and family to offer support, but, like you, even I got resentful when I was having a particularly bad day and it felt like I was being drawn and quartered in the public square while my friends went on with their lives. Couldn’t they see I was screaming for help? Couldn’t they see I was having a Bad Time?
Here’s what I discovered that helped me and my friendships: You can’t expect all your friends to be everything for you. Even so, they want to help and you’ll need their help. So here’s what you do: Divide and conquer. Instead of asking so much of my friends, I learned what each did best for me. Stephanie was never one to text right back with appropriate rage. That’s just not who she is. But she did write beautiful and carefully considered emails to me weekly. She gathered up all my anger and fear, dusted them off, put them in beautiful boxes with tissue paper, and sent them back to me in these emails. She gave her thoughts, advice, and love back to me. Those emails were a balm for my brokenness.
That said, I would have not made it through (I probably would have been jailed or destroyed a lot of property if not myself) if it weren’t for my other friend, Karissa. Karissa is quick and sharp and brave. I’d text a lament and she’d come right back with an audacious revenge plot that we’d never do, of course, but which felt so good to read. Sometimes all you need is for someone to offer acts of violence, knowing full well that it will never come to pass. Someone who meets your pain with equal emotion is essential to get through this journey.
Then there were the soothsayers and the senders. Stella sent the most thoughtful care package from Ireland (the inspiration for our Better Off Boxes!). Kelly was “me from the future” who showed me what it looks like to come out on the other side of this. Holly was always up for an emergency meeting at the bar for cheese sticks and wine.
All your friends love you, Cecily. Allow them to show their support in the way they do it best. Let them be here for you in the ways they can, and soon you’ll feel only gratitude and no resentment.
Let me tell you, I am the friend people come to in a crisis. You’d think I run a hotline for people with toxic parents and bad boyfriends. I like to think people come to me for my compassion and my honesty but honestly I think I just give good hugs. Does it get a bit much sometimes? Yes. Is that no one’s problem but my own? Yes.
See, it’s up to me to set boundaries and tell people when I’m tapped out. I’m a grownup and so are my friends. It can be hard to sensitively tell friends you don’t have space for them, particularly when they’re hurting. But, as my therapist repeatedly tells me, it’s essential because helping other people to avoid dealing with your own shit is somewhat unsustainable.
So Cecily love, all this to say, it’s on your friends to push back on you. They might need a little training. Maybe start with “I know you’ve had a long day, do you have space for me to talk about my court date?” That does two things: tells them that it’s okay to say no; and checks that box for you so you can proceed being present in the conversation without being anxious.
The reality is, all relationships are voluntary and your friends are there for you because they actually really do literally love you. Promise.
Disclaimer: Divorcist staff are not licensed therapists and this column does not take the place of talking to a trained professional.
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