I pride myself on being an open book. I’ve written about sensitive topics like a partner suddenly dying, a miscarriage, and living in a commune. But there are other subjects to which I only make vague references or give only the information necessary to get the point across.
Some people find relief pouring out their souls on their personal blog or Facebook. In a crisis, vulnerably sharing your pain to ask for prayers, support, or financial help can be an opportunity for real healing and growth. Everyone wants a community to stand with them in their toughest times.
But when the crisis is a divorce, a custody battle, or an issue between two parties that involves children, the words you choose to share publicly can make matters worse.
The Problem of Social Media
Social media is still a relatively new thing, so we haven’t yet developed agreed-upon social rules for what is okay and not okay to share on personal platforms. Some people have an honesty-is-the-best-policy presentation. They put themselves out there even when intensely angry or desperately grieving.
I’ve typed up many emotional posts or blogs about my divorce in total earnest. After all, I don’t want to be another human putting out a perfectly curated image of myself, spurning the envy of others who assume I’ve got everything together. But eventually, I look over what I’ve written and choose not to publish. It isn’t enough for me to be able to say the thing I want to say in the heat of the moment, and delete it later if I realize I overstepped a boundary or used poor judgment. I have to consider the reality that anything I write can be screenshotted and used against my court.
The legal repercussions are important, but there’s something I’m even more concerned about. The way I speak publicly about my children’s other parent may eventually get back to my children.
This is why I have a no-divorce-talk policy on my social media, even though neither of my kids have Facebook accounts. I don’t want my kids to run into something I’ll have to apologize to them about later.
For essays, blogs, and other publications — in which I can explain more in-depth, and for which the purpose is often to educate/inform others and express myself — my golden rule is to not write about anything my ex-partner hasn’t himself shared publicly. But even on this point, I am careful and considerate. Some things that have been shared publicly, involving court decisions and settlement agreements, are not something my kids are privy to. I don’t want my kids to learn these things from me, not in this way.
Some settlement agreements specifically prohibit the discussion of court decisions with/around the children. Mine does. Upholding the law is important to me on this point because the reason for it is sound and sensible. Knowing the nitty-gritty details of their parents’ divorce isn’t appropriate or helpful for young children. Even as they grow older, it requires great discretion to choose what to share and hold close to. I believe the child’s curiosity should lead the way, not the parents’ wishes to explain themselves.
Children believe on an unconscious level that they are half of each of their parents. That means blame and criticism of one parent feel like blame and criticism of them. Even if a parent is very unhealthy or has caused great harm, children may still love and strongly identify with them. Exposing the other parents’ misdeeds in a lengthy Facebook diatribe may provide temporary relief, but a child might interpret that post as their own personal shame being exposed.
Protecting Personal Boundaries
Apart from protecting my children, I choose not to use social media for venting about relational problems as a practice in healthy boundaries. Even though it’s tempting to share details about how I’ve been hurt, the plan can backfire. I may gain some supporters and even out some dents in my reputation. But in the process, I might also be raising red flags. Some may perceive me as vindictive or bitter, unwilling to move on and forgive. After all, in a patriarchal society, it is all too easy to assume the worst of the female in the equation.
It’s tempting to share your side of the story, especially if unfair accusations are being leveled against you or your former partner has control of the public narrative. But some people will see your counterpoints as evidence that there are/were problems on both sides. After all, the saying goes, “it takes two to tango” — a point that is glaringly obvious when two people are using social media to bash each other.
As a counselor for survivors of domestic violence, I’ve seen personally how the “both sides” argument in a divorce can be re-traumatizing. My clients badly want someone to believe them; sometimes, being believed is a matter of life and death. When well-meaning people throw out the “both sides” argument, or when mutual friends claim they want to stay neutral, it feels like blame to survivors. It asks them to take responsibility for a problem that doesn’t belong to them.
The truth is, every one of my clients worked crazy hard to uphold their relationship commitments despite the abuse they endured. Post-divorce, they have enough on their plates: shame for not getting out sooner or distress from the toll an abusive partnership took on their nervous system. If they share children with the person who abused them, they are most likely required by the court to contact them directly. Verbal abuse can and often does continue.
Survivors of abuse don’t need “neutral” friends — they need committed supporters. People who believe them and go to bat for them don’t require them to be the “perfect victim” to receive support.
The truth is if you are being attacked publicly, defending yourself may only put a larger target on your back. In the end, some people won’t believe you — even if you provide sufficient evidence to the contrary. This may be due to patriarchal beliefs about marriage, or it might be a complicated projection of their own traumatic experiences with divorce onto your situation. Or maybe, quite simply, people don’t want to feel like their emotions are being manipulated — after all, social media is an easy way to manipulate people on a mass level.
Bottom line: trying to convince people of your truth through social media isn’t worth your time and will only add to your pain.
How to Process Your Pain in a Healthy Way
Venting is an acceptable practice and can be helpful in the right context. Here are some ways to do it in high-conflict situations without hurting yourself or your kids.
- Find or create a support group of other divorced parents. Many of these already exist on social media platforms, or for something more local, check with your children’s school social worker, the public library, our faith community.
- Be creative with social media. I formed a secret (not public) Facebook group made up of a few friends who help me process my most problematic situations. This is where I can safely express hurt and anger because these people know my story and have been on my divorce journey since the beginning.
- Seek healing in the presence of a warm, experienced therapist. Find a therapist who focuses on your personal strengths; ask them for advice on healthy ways to express your anger, pain, and grief. Share honestly. A good therapist will help you explore connections between recent traumas and earlier ones, create healthy boundaries, and make relationship choices that are loving and fulfilling, redeeming the broken relationships of the past.
Write from Your Scars
A friend gave me these words when I struggled with how and when to share about my divorce: “write from your scars, not your wounds.” This is writing advice, but it’s pretty solid life advice too.
It’s normal and okay to have a range of emotions related to something traumatic like divorce. It takes a lot of courage and discipline, but allowing time to heal before sharing private details in a public way will pay off in the end. You’ll have your dignity and the respect of your children on your side.