Every relationship has issues. Divorce brings its own special set of circumstances, and they don't circle solely around you, your STBX, NEXT, and your kids — and that's why you need to know about Controlled Public Relations.
Controlled Public Relations, or Divorce CPR, is important not just for discussing your initial change in circumstances but your ongoing story as things develop. Your mindset needs to rotate around the fact that how you handle the start is how you will go on.
For Example, if you dish all the dirty details now to everyone you know you can expect that same circle of people to want the same level of detail going on. If however, you choose a very small group to know the intimate workings of your divorce, you can then keep a much simpler version of your divorce for all those you'd rather not continually deal with.
So here are some basic things you can expect from extended family and acquaintances:
- There will be those who assume this was your fault. Your initial announcement needs to be substance only. Example: "Bob and I are getting divorced."
- Limit your audience participation by laying out what they can do upon receipt of this news. Keep it open but brief so that you give no offense. Example: "I would appreciate emails with advice but do have legal council." This allows you to skim emails and archive the ones full of bloviating meanderings. It also gives you an out on the phone so that you can say, "I'm asking everyone to put it in writing by email so I can re-read it at my leisure."
- Assume everyone is going to come back at you with their story of their daughter's friend who had a neighbor who knew a guy who went through a horrible divorce. It's human nature. Accept this and then form a plan to cut such stories short. Example: "I'm sorry to hear that. In my own case... [insert your script for getting them back onto your case here]."
- Practice your scripts. Look at yourself in a mirror and work on your facial expressions. You are going for calm and neutral. Don't go off on them out of anger or even hurt. If they step into a situation where you have a script, stick to the script. It's there to make your life easier, so use it.
- If the person you are speaking to has very strong religious beliefs [parents, pastor, etc.] you may face resistance. You can expect this more so if you are agnostic or atheist. During this hard time in your life, you need to limit your areas of conflict. Practice your scripts for redirecting the conversation, however you need to be prepared to lay down the law. Example: "I appreciate your beliefs and that these guide your personal choices. However, this is a matter that I have already discussed with trusted councilors and my attorney. If you would prefer, I will leave you out of this matter. I hate to cause you undue distress by the conflict of your beliefs and my life choices." NOTE: In handling the situation in this fashion you have made it clear you have a separate circle that you are already choosing as your main form of support. This forces the subject to choose if they wish to continue in your confidence. However, by using the last sentence in the Example you are also accepting that they are disparaging of you. This avoids the conflict and at the same time makes them very aware that you aren't going to continue to put yourself in the path of their vitriol.
- You may have to tell your boss and co-workers. Continue to limit your flow of information to basics only. Do make sure your boss knows about court dates and hearings in a timely fashion. Most bosses will be willing to work with you if you are willing to put in overtime or switch hours to makeup for time lost.
- You will need to talk to your child's school. Meet with the primary teacher, school councilor, and principal. Keep your discussions oriented on any court ordered settings that may force your child to leave school for a period of time. Make sure they know if the divorce is peaceful or acrimonious. This can and usually does affect your child's behavior and grades. So this CPR is vital to helping your child's transition. Do not be embarrassed to discuss facts. If your STBX is out of control, you need to tell the teacher that the child may make bizarre statements in class ["Daddy gets drunk/does drugs/hits mommy"].
- Be confident. A practiced speech comes across as honest and well thought out. Talking on the fly can leave you with a foot in your mouth or regret for telling the wrong person too much [i.e. telling details of your legal plans to someone who you later find out is a witness for your STBX].
- If someone does move into a higher level in your circle of trust, be willing to open up and share more intimate details. However, do not be willing to do this too quickly. It is easy to be fooled by someone who seems to care. So go with your gut instinct as your other emotional reactions are going to be out of balance due to the stress. Example: If someone has been very rude about the situation but then suddenly becomes very conciliatory, you may feel unreasonable and start veering off your practiced script. This can leave you vulnerable to vacillating emotions. Stick to your primary feeling that they aren't in your circle of trust. It is safer and you can revisit this further down the line when they have a new pattern of behavior.
- Remember that you are in control of your message. You are not required to share more information than you want to. If someone begins asking or pressuring you for your plans, goals, feelings or more details than you are comfortable sharing...shut them down. Do not be afraid. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed. You are not rude for doing it. If they cross your comfort zone boundary after you've followed your script, use a crazy excuse and leave. End of discussion. Example: "As I said, I'm asking for advisory emails. I'm not prepared to discuss this further with you. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go help find my son's golden idol." NOTE: There is never a 'good' or 'perfect' way to handle someone who is rude. Control your actions and realize you cannot control theirs. You lose nothing by protecting yourself and gain everything by acting with confidence.
These basics should help you start your message with your relations. Remember, you are in charge of the message. Their reaction is out of your control. If push comes to shove, you may find yourself in the unenviable position of cutting relationships out.
I've had to do this with my own parents. I received emails telling me that I had screwed up my life to get something out of them. For months I felt guilt, anger, and pain. But the truth is that they chose their view. It did not make it accurate and it did not make it valid. It was what it was. I have seen them at get togethers and have seen them try to dish to my new partner about all the things they think are horrible and awful about me. None of these reactions qualify them or their opinion for further reflection on my part. I know the snake and so I can operate around it.
You will find similar people in your life, and you may have to make a call. I did, and I have found a certain strength and peace through it all. It's now year three in my divorce and year three in a cold relationship with my parents. I did not force them to stop talking. I simply refused to rise to their taunts and venomous messages.
Because they have no willingness to be rational or attempt civil discourse, discourse has ceased. I let them send cards to my child. I read them of course before my child does. But I protect myself by following the script. If they choose to change and respect my choices, then we can get back on script and speak again.
Do not be afraid to make the decisions that are right for you. After all, divorce is nothing but decisions.
Keep your chin up, you've got this.