Chapter Two:

Telling Your Family and Friends

Once you’ve decided to get a divorce, a series of important conversations await. Many people are afraid of telling their parents, siblings, children and friends about their divorce because they have to admit failure. It’s common to want to retreat from that feeling—or even to hide it—but remember that loved ones are typically supportive.

On top of everything else in this trying time, you have to admit you made a mistake. You chose the wrong partner. Or you didn’t conduct yourself responsibly. Or you simply grew apart. Once, you and your partner had a plan for your family, and you were sure you had a bright future together. Now, that plan is finished.

Just admitting that you’ve made a mistake is hard for a lot of people, but, you quickly realize how supportive your friends and family can be. Most of them step up, listen attentively, and support you in your decisions. Some, you will find, are not as supportive. That’s okay too. If nothing else, you’ve just taken a huge step in figuring who you will choose to spend your time with down the road.

Once you’ve shared the news with your loved ones, you learn that your fear around the moment is often misplaced or irrational. Anxiety is all about having irrational, counterfactual fear, however, most of the things we are scared about exist only in our heads. Once you make the choice to move ahead, the fear and anxiety fall away (and it’s incredibly satisfying to get rid of all that stuff).


When the time comes to tell people about your divorce, it can be helpful to do some planning. It’s time to make a list. Write down the top people in your life, the people closest to you, the people you confide in.

Most of us can think of four or five people we are wholly comfortable with, whether they’re siblings, parents, cousins, or close friends. These are the people most likely to be positive about your new reality, and that’s exactly what you need in the early stages of the divorce transition. We all need someone in our lives who will say, “I’m sorry your marriage didn’t work out, but I know you’ll land on your feet. I’m here for you anytime you want to talk about it. If you want to cry or scream or whatever, I’m here for you.” Your job with the list I mentioned is to identify those people with whom you are comfortable and who you can trust.

Next, you’ll want to reach out to them. The sooner, the better. Most likely, your divorce cost you your best confidant—your spouse. This was likely the person you went to with all your issues. Now, that person’s gone. But remember, no one stands alone. Everyone has to talk to somebody. If you’re having trouble making a list of candidates or aren’t ready to open up to your loved ones, then share with your therapist. Bottling the complicated emotions that rise up from divorce isn’t good for anybody.

It’s important to find someone you can share with, especially people who can help you get some perspective. These are the folks who will say, “Why are you even worried about that? That’s not a big deal. I know it feels like crap right now, and it will for a while, but I promise you it will get better. You’ll look back on this time and be so glad you’re moving on in your life.”

And they’ll be right.


It’s rare to find just one person with the bandwidth, ability, time, and patience to listen to all of your angst about your divorce. If you can call on more than one person, you can split up the burden so no one gets burned out and starts avoiding your calls. A small, tight-knit circle of people you can lean on works out much better than a single source of support.

By spreading the love, you will also find different people who are good at different things. For instance, some people are compassionate listeners. They will listen to everything you have to say, tell you everything will all be all right, and not try to solve your problems. Others will listen and then offer advice. Sometimes that advice is good, and other times it isn’t, but at least they’re listening up front before putting in their two cents (though some don’t even do that). Whatever the case, if you are able to talk to a variety of supporters, you will have a better chance of keeping a well-rounded and available support group to help you through a time when sound thinking and cognition won’t exactly be your strong suits.


Making a list also helps you eliminate people who won’t be helpful. Not everyone in your circle is going to give you the best advice. Some will want to be helpful, but rather than say anything of value, they default to unhelpful I-told-you-sos, saying things like, “I can’t believe you made it that long,” or “I knew that marriage was a mistake from the beginning.” If you’ve decided to get divorced, you’ve likely already had these thoughts and spent enough time beating yourself up over some of the choices you made. You probably don’t need any outside, uninformed opinions.

Luckily, in the natural progression of things, the people who give you bad advice usually fade from your day-to-day experience. You’ll stop seeking out their advice, and they’ll stop looking for excuses to offer it.

It might sound callous to say, but you have to find people who can give you what you need right now.


Take advantage of technology to start the divorce conversation with family and friends. Draft an email to send out to the members of your top-five list, which might include your parents and a few good friends. Remember, for many of your confidants, this will be their first time being in a supportive role like this. Offering them a road map for how to best support you as an effective friend and confidant will help all of you get through the struggle and learn to move on. Upfront, tell them what you need and what you don’t need.


Timing is a critical and a delicate aspect of sharing divorce details. Early on, don’t tell too many people. Don’t even tell the people close to you until you’re absolutely sure. You don’t want to lay all this on them and have to backpedal if you decide to stay with your spouse. It can create unintended crises in your relationships with others. For instance, if a friend greets the news of your divorce with an enthusiastic “Finally!” and then you and your spouse decide to try and work things out, that friendship is now strained. Wait until you are completely ready before telling anyone. Remember as well that, once news gets out, it travels quickly. Make sure the most important people know first. For instance, you wouldn’t want your children to find out about your divorce from anyone other than you.


Don’t tell your children until you have a plan. It’s as simple as that. If you’re still fumbling about emotionally and trying to get things in some semblance of order, keep to yourself. It’s too scary for children to suddenly hear, “We’re getting a divorce. While we have no idea what this will look like, we’ll tell you as it goes along.” Children need to be reassured of how things will go and changes to come. Even more than adults, children like having a road map of what to expect so they can cross things off lists.

If at all possible, you should tell your children with your soon-to-be ex. It’s much more powerful and less upsetting to children to hear it from both parents at the same time. This is bad news for children to hear, but easier on them if they see both their parents in the same setting and who are on the same page.

Write out your script and study it to be familiar with what you’re going to say. Say something like, “It’s going to be tough for a while, but in the end we’ll all be happier. And we’re going to try to keep things in your life exactly the same as much as possible.” Remind them that they’ll still have the same friends and activities and that their lives won’t turn upside down.

If you plan on having a set schedule with the children—being at mom’s house certain days and at dad’s on other days, explain this to them, be sure they understand how it works, and emphasize the upsides. Whatever your children’s emotional response, you have to be there to tell them everything’s going to be fine.

Remember as well that children don’t need all the information, especially younger children. The younger the children, the simpler the story needs to be. They don’t need to know the exact reasons for your divorce. Explain that it’s adult business, that it’s nothing they can fix, and that it’s not their fault.

In their minds, they’re trying to figure out why their world is changing and what you can do to fix it.

Overall, remember that you will get through your difficult divorce transition, but you do need close confidants to help you with the process.