Are You Leaning On Friends, Family, Church, Professionals?

Carol McCulloch found herself creeping through the snow on a wintery night spying on her friend’s husband as he went to hotels with his mistress, and she was glad to do it.

She was the chief emotional support system to a friend who was preparing to go through a divorce. Her friend, eight months pregnant, turned to McCulloch to not only to observe her husband, but also to talk about the emotional crisis she was experiencing.

“It was practical support and emotional support, both,” McCulloch, a former divorce attorney from Maryland, said.

McCulloch’s friend did not want to lean on her family because they had warned her against marrying him, and she did not want to lean on other friends because they knew her husband.

“She mainly depended on me,” McCulloch said.

McCulloch’s story is familiar to many people going through divorce, according to some poll results from GFK Roper.

Divorced Americans tend to turn to their families and friends, rather than to professionals, when dealing with their divorces, according to the results. The poll showed that overall, men and women both turned to those familiar with them more than 60 percent of the time. Among men, they leaned on family and friends evenly, at 26 percent and 25 percent respectively.But women tended to choose family 45 percent of the time and friends 25 percent of the time.

Poll respondents chose religious or spiritual institutions 7 percent of the time; professional advisers, such as lawyers, accountants or financial planners, 7 percent of the time; therapists 5 percent of the time; and support groups 4 percent of the time. Men were more likely than women to lean on their professional advisors for help.

GFK Roper conducted the poll, commissioned by, in September by telephoning more than 1,500 people. Those who had been divorced responded to questions about with whom they sought help.The margin of error for the study, in its entirety, is plus or minus 2.6 percent.

The results matched McCulloch’s perception of the issue as a former divorce attorney. She said that before she recently stopped practicing law, her clients relied heavily on the emotional support provided by family and friends.

Mainly, she said, many attorneys are not willing to provide more than pure legal advice.

However, she said she listened often to clients as they talked about the personal problems facing them, almost in equal amounts to dispensing legal advice. She said she highly encouraged her clients to seek some kind of therapy to help sort out their emotions. “But it’s hard to pay for therapy,” McCulloch said. “Friends are free.”


These results do not come as a surprise to Marsha Temlock, the author of Your Child’s Divorce: What To Expect, What You Can Do. Temlock has a master’s degree in organizational psychology. Her book discusses how parents can best respond to their children as their children face their own divorces. She said family and friends are the logical places to seek solace when one is in emotional crisis.

“Family and the home are the healing antidotes to pain,” Temlock said.

She said that family members should begin the process of helping a loved one through divorce at the very beginning: when they hear the news. Temlock said they should weigh their reactions to the news carefully, and respond sympathetically and without a burst of emotion.

“That’s hard to do, but you are going to have a knee-jerk reaction if you didn’t know this marriage was in trouble,” Temlock said.

It is especially important that parents maintain a sense of calm at the news of divorce because the whole family will look to them as a guide.

“You are a role-model for the rest of the family,” Temlock says to parents of divorcing children. “If you show your bitterness, chances are you are going to make it much more difficult for the child.”

Other ways to make it easier on a family member going through divorce is to try not to jump to conclusions about why the marriage broke up, Temlock said. She also said that showing a united front would benefit the person going through divorce.

“Talk to [your] child and see how they want you to present the news so you are all on the same page,” Temlock said.


The moment someone announces an impending divorce to the family, that makes it much more real, much more probable, Temlock said. For that reason, couples who are facing a divorce may wait to break the news to their families. They may turn to friends first because with family, there is no going back from the announcement.

“So you see, going public is a very important issue for family members,” Temlock said.

Family members may, at first, feel a sense of denial that a loved one’s marriage is ending. In fact, Temlock has spoken with several families in her work who have pretended that children have never divorced, even years later. But this can delay the healing process. Open, honest conversations — even when it’s painful — are usually best.

The most important emotion to communicate, however, is loyalty. Temlock said that it may be difficult to show support and sympathy in some circumstances, but in the long run, it will ensure a strong future relationship.

“Your child is your child forever,” Temlock said. “The reason people lean on their families and friends during divorce, is because that is where they hope to find comfort and solace in crisis. The job of the family members is to make sure that understanding and compassion is available,” she said.

You just need to be supportive in helping your child through this. “Eventually the dust settles,” Temlock said. “The family is the anchor.”

Michele Kimball, Ph.D., can be reached at