One of the greatest resources that newly-divorced women can marshal is their social networks.
Building a Support Team
Divorce Support: During the Transition, Develop Group of Friends, Family to Help
By MICHELE KIMBALL
Kim Shakeri of California feels helpless. A close friend is mired in divorce proceedings thousands of miles away in a foreign country, alone. “I’m sorry she’s going through this. And I’m mostly sorry that she is there and I am here,” Shakeri said. “It’s a little bit scary, and we worry about her a lot.” Shakeri is part of the emotional support team tending to her friend, who is in England with no family and no close friends.
Knowing that she is alone and without local support is what makes Shakeri feel so powerless. Shakeri said her friend is trying to find her way through a divorce after her husband cheated on her. She has three children, and she is looking forward to coming home to the United States. Waiting for her here are family members who are finding a home for her and looking for schools for her children.
Her friends, like Shakeri, call regularly to shore her up until she can return. A support team like this one can be one of the most important aspects of coping with the changes in life divorce brings, said Jeanne Hurlbert, a professor of sociology at Louisiana State University. Hurlbert has spent more than 20 years studying how personal networks affect such things as social support, health, recovery from disasters, and job satisfaction. “One of the greatest resources that newly-divorced women can marshal is their social networks,” Hurlbert said. “Although their networks undoubtedly change after a divorce, their core of close friends, family, and associates can provide invaluable assistance.”
A SOCIAL SUPPORT TEAM
Developing and maintaining a team of people to help one get through life’s challenges helps alleviate the stress associated with life’s crises, Hurlbert said. People who have strong social supports tend to live healthier, less stressful lives, she said. Finding the right people for the job is the key. Hurlbert divides those in social support networks into two groups: strong ties, which are close friends and family, and weaker ties, which are acquaintances or business associates.
The stronger ties are vital in providing the core needs for one in crisis. These are the people who will be the most active and supportive, she said. “That support will help them cope with stress, deal with the devastating loss, and juggle work and family responsibilities, if they’re caring for children,” Hurlbert said. The weaker ties are beneficial for helping smooth the way through transitions in their careers, she said. Often, Hurlbert said, these ties are of assistance because these people have had similar experiences, and they are able to clear the path to healing.
The best people to choose to lean on in a social support team are often those who have proven themselves in the past, Hurlbert said. “Who comes to mind immediately are people who have supported you at other times in your life,” she said.
If that group doesn’t provide adequate support, consider the kind of people who might fit the definition of a weaker tie, she said. “If you don’t have enough people, think about who might be able to help you. Are there some other relationships you might be able to draw on?” Hurlbert said, such as people from church, a support group, or acquaintances who have been divorced. While providing a shoulder to cry on is critical to helping someone through divorce, Hurlbert said, the support team can also offer other kinds of help. “The emotional is a big piece,” Hurlbert said. “But another big piece is helping each other, a tangible form of support.” That tangible support comes in the form of things like babysitting, doing yard work, helping with groceries.That kind of support is a great stress-reducer for someone going through divorce, Hurlbert said.