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Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist: My Family Wants Me to Take Sides in a Divorce

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Q:  Someone I love is going through a separation and most likely a divorce. These situations are always more complicated than they appear on the surface. I want to be loyal to all of my family, not pick sides. Yet I feel I am often placed in positions where I am asked to condone or condemn someone's behavior, in effect taking sides. How would you handle these situations if you wanted to maintain relationships with everyone involved?

A: Thank you so much for reaching out to me. Being put in the middle of a separation or divorce would be hard on anyone. The pointing fingers, the family-wide division that comes when members side with one person over the other, and the sheer hurt of it all can be overwhelming.

This isn’t like a divorce or separation where your loyalties are clearly with one person over the other. That’s easy. You can commiserate with them, refute the behavior of their ex, and support them in their decisions. No such luck in this case. Your options are limited. But that’s not a bad thing. You’ve got a clear path.

If I were in your shoes I would straight-up tell my family members that I have no intention of taking sides, that I love all of them and want to continue having relationships with them even if they don’t desire to have them with each other. I’d ask them to respect that. Odds are you’ve probably done this. So what now?

Now you follow through. Tell your family members that, because of your commitment, you have to draw firm boundaries. You’re willing to cry with them. You’re willing to let them vent to you and express understanding and compassion for their emotions. What you’re not willing to do is agree with them when doing so would imply you’re taking a side. They may need a therapist or a friend to fill that role.

Here’s the hard part. Hopefully, each party is mature enough to respect that. Sadly, it is possible that one or both of them may demand that you pick a side and believe that if you won’t side with them, you’re siding with the other person. The fact is, you can’t control whether or not you have relationships with everyone because the other people also get to choose.

But you can model healthy relationship skills. You can model Christlike love. You can draw clear boundaries. You can exemplify the type of forgiveness, kindness, and unity that builds Zion. Even if your loved ones are no longer united in marriage, you can play a role in them choosing to be united in Christ.

I hope this helped. God bless you.

Lead image from Getty Images
Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily Gospel-based relationship tips. 

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