Divorce Support Groups and Coping with Divorce
- What is a divorce support group?
- What happens at a divorce support group meeting?
- How to find a divorce support group?
- Benefits and limitations of divorce support groups
- Other types of support
- What are the best divorce support groups?
Divorce is a difficult time that churns up all sorts of emotions and issues. There's the stress and grief that stem from the death of a relationship and the break of an important contract. You might also face legal concerns, money matters, parenting issues, and housing dilemmas.
Maybe you've heard that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce – but that doesn't make you feel any less alone. And self-care might not be enough, and your trusted friends may not “get it.” And all the legal advice in the world can’t help much with the emotional aspects of divorce.
But there's good news. When it all feels like too much, a divorce support group can help you take care of yourself. In this divorce article, we explore everything you need to know about divorce support groups: what they are, how they work, how to find one, and the pros and cons of joining one. We touch on specific websites you can visit to find support as well as other types of supportive measures you can take.
What is a divorce support group?
A divorce support group is a group of people who meet in person or online to share their divorce-related experiences, process negative emotions and give and receive support.
Some divorce support groups are guided by a specific topic or theme. For example, you can find support groups for newly divorced people, groups that focus on co-parenting, and divorce recovery groups like DivorceCare that focus on your new life and dating after divorce. These are just a few examples. Divorce support groups may also be geared toward specific groups of people based on age, gender, religion, or ethnicity.
What happens at a divorce support group meeting?
Meetings vary in structure, but generally speaking, the group is led by a host, therapist, coach, or peer who guides group discussion about a pertinent topic or topics. The number of people in attendance could be as low as three or as high as 50 (or more).
Confidentiality is a top concern in divorce support groups. After all, you won't feel free to share your story (and neither will the other participants) if it feels unsafe to do so. If you're considering joining a divorce support group, whether online or in person, we advise you to learn all you can about the group's confidentiality policy first (such as if you need to provide your real name).
Online divorce support groups
As the name suggests, you can attend an online divorce support meeting from the comfort of your home. These meetings are often led by a divorce coach or therapist, but other facilitators may also be involved. The leader's job is to encourage structured conversation and promote fair give-and-take between participants. The goal is for each member to leave the meeting feeling validated and satisfied and to have a safe space to talk about their breakups.
In-person divorce support groups
In-person divorce support group meetings share a similar goal to online groups: thoughtful group discussion and support. These meetings occur in person rather than behind the veil of cyberspace. That said, you should not feel obligated to participate in a support group. You may decide to observe the group interaction silently – at least until you decide you feel comfortable with it. Support groups like these often take place in local buildings: church basements, public libraries, community centers, and medical buildings.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean anyone can just show up. Some support group meetings are "closed" meetings, which means you must be a member (or have a serious interest in becoming a member) to attend. Other support groups have open meetings that anyone can attend.
How do you find a divorce support group?
Finding a local support group may be easier than it sounds. Here are several ways to springboard your search:
- Contact your local church to inquire about area divorce groups.
- Ask the lawyer or attorney handling your case to direct you to a support group.
- Speak with your physician or therapist for tips on finding the right group for you.
- Visit the Psychology Today website for support group listings.
- Place a 2-1-1 phone call to learn about resources in your community.
Benefits and limitations of divorce support groups
If you're interested in joining a support group, you should clearly understand the benefits and limitations before starting group therapy.
Benefits of divorce support groups:
- Allow you to talk through your healing process in a group setting.
- Share your story and let go of negative emotions instead of holding them in.
- You can protect your privacy by only offering your first name (and can even make one up).
- Hear the stories of other group members.
- Nurture your well-being beyond self-care.
- You may make new friends who are also going through the grieving process.
- It's fairly easy to find one that fits your schedule.
Limitations of divorce support groups:
- You will not receive individualized advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you’re experiencing extremely painful feelings, you may need additional help.
- You have no control over other attendees. As such, you may not get along with everyone, and you might find some people unpleasant.
- The credentials and expertise of the moderator or host can vary. Groups are sometimes run by peers without expertise.
- You cannot receive legal advice or advice on serious issues like child support, custody, domestic abuse or severe mental health issues.
Other types of support
The support group environment resonates with some people, but it's not right for everyone. Sometimes, another option is a better fit. Let's take a brief look at what you might get from divorce counseling or therapy.
Divorce counseling usually takes place between a couple and a therapist, counselor, or coach. You and your spouse sit down with the therapist and try to work through issues so you can reach a goal. Many couples seek divorce counseling to determine if the marriage can be saved. Couples who are unable to resolve or at least improve their marital issues may opt to file for divorce.
Whereas divorce counseling is for couples, therapy provides individualized help. You can seek therapy at any point in your journey – pre-divorce, during divorce, or post-divorce. The word "therapy" entails service from a broad range of mental health professionals, including psychologists, licensed therapists or counselors, and psychiatrists. Therapy can be especially helpful if your marital issues are impacting your physical or emotional health.
Examples of problems you might be having include sleep disturbance, social anxiety, and a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. A therapist can help you move through the natural stages of grief that accompany divorce. They can provide you with coping tools to help you through your toughest times and navigate new relationships. Unlike a support group, private therapy allows you to work through your issues in a self-focused manner.
And, if your therapist believes it would be helpful, they may be able to prescribe medication to help with symptoms like anxiety. Or, they may lead you to a physician who has the power to do so.
Family therapy is another therapeutic option. Each family member is given space to share their feelings and ask questions, either in a group setting or one-on-one with a therapist. The primary goals of family therapy may be to improve communication, cultivate a healthier family dynamic, or address specific concerns, such as conflicting parenting styles or how to help a child struggling with divorce.
Family therapy can also help resolve issues with your ex-spouse and find ways to thrive as single parents. A divorce mediator can also serve as an impartial go-between if you and your ex-spouse have significant, ongoing conflicts – especially if they are legal in nature. If, for example, your ex is a narcissist, you may need ongoing support.
What are the best divorce support groups?
If you've read this far and you think a divorce support group sounds like the right fit, check out these recommendations for various nationwide and local groups that offer in-person or online support groups, often on Zoom with video optional.
You should also check with your healthcare provider to see if it offers free or discounted divorce support services. If you want a more informal setting, Meetup groups may exist in your area that are specifically for divorced people and want to socialize.
Mental Health America: This organization is dedicated to providing a safe space to discuss various topics, including divorce. Joining their discussion board can serve as a bridge to finding the right support group in your area.
Circles: Affordable and accessible, Circles is one of the best online divorce support groups. It offers a wide variety of support groups so you can find one that addresses your specific issues. Some of their divorce-related groups zero in on grief, parenting challenges, anxiety, self-esteem, and how to cope with a newly single identity. New members receive their first month free.
Mensgroup is similar to Circles, but it is solely for men seeking emotional support. It also offers virtual chat groups for members so positive conversations can be fostered about men’s divorce experiences.
DivorceCare is a national divorce recovery network that offers in-person and online support groups. The main focus is on healing during and after divorce and providing a safe place for those experiencing grief and pain after the loss of their marriage.
WomansDivorce: This group is a hub for resources women may need during the divorce process. The platform includes a directory to help you find groups in your area. It's okay to feel fragile and scared during a divorce. In fact, it's okay to feel however you feel during a divorce.
The most important takeaway here is that you don't have to do this alone. The end of a marriage is a huge loss, even in the worst relationship. There’s no rush – healing and moving past hurt feelings takes time. Plenty of support exists for people coping with separation and divorce who want to share their experiences, learn new perspectives, and give and receive compassion. There is no shame in getting outside help. You’ve got this.