How to tune out all the “friendly advice” and tune in to what’s right for you
Whenever two people get divorced, there arises around each of them a group I like to call “The Greek Chorus.” This is the group of friends, family acquaintances, clergymen, accountants, etc., who try to give you advice, information and support from the sidelines. They mean well. But to mean well and to do well is not the same thing. In fact, if there is ever a time when well-meaning people will do more harm than good, it is now. More often, they serve to underscore your worst fears and undermine your confidence. A perfect example of this is a couple I worked with a few years ago:
The husband was a self-employed carpenter. His wife had worked before their marriage, but now stayed home taking care of their 6-year-old daughter.
Since he did not work for a corporate employer, the carpenter was not going to come away with any retirement benefits at the end of the day. Nevertheless, being very industrious, he had a game plan. He and his wife owned their home. Through hard work, he had saved enough money to make a down payment on a second home which he rented out. His plan was to retire when both mortgages had been paid off, and use the rent as his “pension.”
While we never discussed this, I got the sense that because he worked as hard as he did, he was not at home as much as his wife (and perhaps he) would have liked. As a result, he didn’t take sufficient notice of what was going on along the way. What was going on was that his wife had become emotionally involved with his best friend, who was probably at their home more than her husband was.
It was a tragedy on all counts. The two of them were very decent, hardworking people. Never once did either of them cast aspersions on the other.
The tragedy, from his standpoint, was that with one swift blow, he had lost everything he had worked for. He had lost his wife; he would no longer be living with his daughter; and because he and his wife would be splitting everything they had–she retained their main home and he retained the second home–he had lost his game plan as well.
One of the things that so impressed me about him was how hard he tried to make as much sense as he could out of something that didn’t make any sense at all. His wife was a very nice person, and he knew that. He certainly did not understand why or how she and his best friend had formed a relationship, but he was smart enough and balanced enough to know that one didn’t cancel out the other. Never once did I hear a word of recrimination from him.
His problem, however, was his “Greek chorus”–in his case, his father–who was obviously very angry at his son’s wife for what she had done. The message that he repeatedly heard from his father was one that every person in his position hears: “After what she did to you, you would be willing to do that? Then you must be a fool.”
He struggled with this for some time and it was a constant sore point for him. One day he finally found a way to solve his problem. He said something to me during a mediation session that I will never forget: “You know, the only people who have a right to express an opinion about what is going on this room are the people sitting in this room.”
Ironically, most divorcing husbands and wives know that their personal Greek Chorus is, at best, a mixed blessing. It can be a source of misinformation, but it is also where they get support–and sometimes some valid information. That is why they are afraid to stop listening. My suggestion is this: If you want to get information and help that will benefit everyone, then you will have to seek it out together, from the same sources.
Lenard Marlow, JD, is a founding partner of Divorce Mediation Professionals, one of the oldest and largest divorce mediation facilities in the United States. A past president of the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation, he has authored six books on the subject of divorce medation, including The Handbook of Divorce Mediation and The Two Roads to Divorce.