What is the etiquette of divorce?Joanna Craig
It seems to me that there should be a guide on how to behave during a divorce, whether you are the couples themselves or their friends and families. Everyone knows people who are separating or going through a divorce and it is usually a painful process for all concerned. Although it is a common occurrence it is perhaps not talked about enough – it is almost a taboo subject along with death; we recognise its inevitability but do not talk about it as openly and freely as perhaps we should.
Perhaps we do not know how to or what to say or how to behave. Friends of couples who are separating often worry about what to say and how to behave towards each party. If they have been a long standing friend with say the husband, can they stay friends with the wife or does this seem in some way disloyal to the husband and vice versa of course? Does divorce automatically mean divorce for friends too? Remaining friends with both parties should not imply taking sides in any sense. Surely we should be able to maintain these relationships without having to take a view one way or the other on the separation. It is difficult but not impossible particularly, if we all begin to have these conversations.
Much more importantly of course is how those separating couples behave to each other. If they can maintain a relationship then so can everyone else. We need to accept that feelings are running high, people can be angry, bitter, confused, hurt and a combination of all of those; but it might help the separating couples stay civilised if their friends don’t take sides but try to maintain relationships.
The most important people in any separation are the children. They have to cope with a whole series of new relationships thrust upon them by adults who are often caught up in their own emotional issues. I think children need a lot more help than they are given in dealing with these new relationships. How do you relate to a new mum or dad, what do you call them? What about new siblings, do you have to treat those the same as your biological siblings? Children are often expected just to absorb these new situations as after all “children are so adaptable aren’t they”. What I think we need to allow for is the fact that children have, and have a right to have, strong emotions, prejudices, likes and dislikes, as do adults. They are not necessarily going to take kindly to a new partner for their mum or dad, or new siblings – they are bound to feel jealous and confused. Change should be introduced gradually and with a great deal of understanding and open discussion.
We do seem to expect a lot of our children having to cope with these changing family situations as well as all the other emotional issues that may be going on in their own lives with their own relationships – with friends and at school or work.
I think we as a society should be a lot more open about discussing the issues surrounding divorce and separation. It is a common occurrence but just because it happens a lot does not mean that it is not painful and difficult for all those experiencing it. But if we had more open conversations about how to deal with these difficult situations, it might in some small way help.
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