How to Handle Family Members Who Stop Supporting Your Struggles

How to Handle Family Members Who Stop Supporting Your Struggles

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What to do when they no longer care

When I first contemplated divorcing my husband, I received the following advice from a friend: “Getting a divorce is hard, but being divorced is even harder.” I understood what she meant, or so I thought. But now that I’m several years postdivorce, I’ve noticed that we Solo Moms face a challenge we never anticipated: our family members and/or close friends no longer provide the same amount of support as they did when we were newly divorced. However, just because the divorce process has ended, our struggles have not. And yet without the support we once had, being divorced can become more difficult than the process itself.

Some women say that their family and friends make it clear they are “sick of hearing them complain” and no longer want to hear about their postdivorce struggles. People suggest it’s time to move on or that it’s exhausting to always hear how hard it is to be a Solo Mom. Others have suggested that perhaps Solo Moms are the difficult ones, and we need to take a hard look at our actions.

But even when you are trying to move forward, dealing with a challenging ex and/or the struggle to balance children and work without a supportive partner can take a toll. If you’re hurt by your family’s/friends’ new position and can no longer go to them for advice, what can you do? Luckily, other Solo Moms have been in our shoes, and they’ve shared their experiences to provide us with several options.

Face reality, then change your tune

It’s important to recognize that some people will be able to tolerate your “drama” for only a limited period of time. Think carefully about the personality of the family member or friend who made the comment. Is it someone who is capable of the type of long-term support you need? Or is it someone who may be able to support you in other ways, such as providing child care or helping you clear your mind by taking you to a movie?

If you determine that this person has reached her limit, then it’s time to find a new topic of conversation if you want to save the relationship.

“In my experience, even your closest family and friends will get tired of listening to the ‘divorce’ saga,” Christy says. “My family and friends were a great support system for about three months, then they slowly stopped reaching out. People just don’t want to hear bad news. Now I only discuss things that happen if it has a humorous spin.”

To redefine your relationship and their opinion of you, let them take the lead. The next time you talk, ask about their lives, hobbies, or interests. Ask follow-up questions, and show a genuine interest in their lives. Chances are, they may feel as though they haven’t had the chance to share their story in a while. If the topic turns to you, share the positives in your life, and simply state that you’re working through issues with your ex.

Find new support

If you’ve evaluated those family members or friends and concluded they aren’t able to support you, that doesn’t mean you should suffer alone. Search for people who will listen to your problems and provide the support you need. Sometimes, this person could be a different family member or friend, but it could also be a therapist or support group.

“I’ve had to learn to seek support from the people who can give it, not the people who I would like to get it from most,” Holly explains.

She’s not alone. Many women search for that sense of connectedness, especially after a divorce, as friendships may change. The desire to be heard and receive empathy can help with healing.

“I used to wonder if there were people in my community like me,” Emily remembers. “Are there other women who could benefit from a new friendship? It can get lonely when your family no longer cares to listen. So I searched for other women who could use the support of a friend with similar experiences. It’s made a big difference.”

If there aren’t other divorced women nearby, or you feel too shy to make the first move, a good therapist or online support group may be just the support you need. Christy sought the help of both when her family could no longer provide the emotional support she needed.

“In my opinion, people who have had a similar experience are the ones who can really lend a sympathetic ear and advice,” Christy explains. “Now that I have a therapist I trust and a good online support group, I’m able to vent about my feelings of frustration, betrayal, and failure. It’s really been a lifeline for me!”

Give it some time

“You’re starting to sound like all of the women I’ve ever known who’ve gotten a divorce . . . you’re becoming a bitter divorcée,” said Stephanie’s mom, two years after her divorce was final. This upset Stephanie so much that she chose to take a break from her mother—a six-month break.

When Stephanie finally spoke to her mother again, she pointed out all the reasons why that statement was so hurtful. She also pointed out that if her mother was tired of hearing it, just imagine how she felt having to live it! Once Stephanie was able to put it in perspective, her mom admitted that she didn’t like to talk about Stephanie’s divorce because there was never a solution.

“I told her that I understand because that’s what frustrates me, too,” Stephanie remembers. “And then I added, ‘But regardless, I still have to live this life, and I’d appreciate you listening.’”

Her mom apologized and now listens to Stephanie’s struggles, doing her best to understand what it’s like to deal with an ex who cannot seem to emotionally divorce. While it’s not easy to take an extended break, it can provide both of you the opportunity to reflect on your words and behaviors. It may be that the other person was dealing with his own struggles or having a bad day, yet still want to provide support. That break can help the other person clarify his role in your relationship.

Let’s make a deal

Sometimes, the solution could be somewhere in the middle. If possible, talk to your family member or friend, and see if there’s a way to negotiate. Although her frustration may have led her to think, Never again, it’s possible that she would like to support you, just in a different way.

“My mom and I talk every morning, but one day, about a year after my divorce began, she said she couldn’t take it anymore,” Melanie recalls. “I cried when she told me that. I didn’t know what I’d do without her support. She understood that I wasn’t calling her to complain, and I wanted her help, but she just couldn’t listen to it every single day. We agreed that we’d talk about my divorce once a week. That was two years ago, and I think it saved our relationship.”

If you don’t talk daily, there are other ways to create a solution that allows you to continue receiving support while not overwhelming your family member or friend. For example, you can agree to spend a specific amount of time on each call dedicated to your struggles. The rest of your call can focus on other, hopefully happier, topics. Or, perhaps you email regarding your divorce, allowing the person to get back to you when he is ready. Then your phone or in-person conversations can focus on things you’d both like to discuss.

Have you experienced this with a friend or family member? How did you handle it?

ESME’s Gia Miller is a Solo Mom to a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. She writes about health and wellness, parenting, divorce, food, and general lifestyle. Her work has been featured in online publications including the Washington Post, Healthline, Paste, Headspace, and more.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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