Sunday, February 10, 2013

How to find a support group?

At a recent committee meeting with my professional organization one of my fellow volunteers announced she is quitting our group. I was anticipating the usual complaints, “I am too busy with work” or “I need to spend more time with my kids.”  Instead she informed us, “My marriage is over and I need to focus my time and energy on rebuilding my life.”     
Between discussions of committee business this woman (I will call her Jane) interjected with stories of her marital problems and fears of starting over. She mentioned a couple of times she didn’t have any friends.  She closed the meeting with, “What should I do next?” 

Our group responded with silence.

Jane then said, “I received the name of a lawyer from a counselor I’ve been visiting with my kids. I guess I could give this lawyer a call.”
No longer able to stand the silence, I decided Jane needed to hear my story.  I had been in a long-term unhealthy relationship through most of my twenties.  A couple of months before I was to be married this relationship took a turn for the worst and we began attending couples counseling.  My ex-fiancé failed to show up for one of our sessions and the counselor used this as an opportunity to give me some eye-opening advice.  He didn’t understand why I wanted to stay in this relationship.  The way he saw it my ex was using one hand to praise me by patting me on the back and the other to slap my across my face. He foresaw me being nine months pregnant and my fiancé abandoning me.  He told me of another counselor who facilitated a support group for women.  He was going to call this counselor and recommend I join her group.

I joined the support group. My fiancé and I broke up and I went on to create a new life for myself.  Jane listened intently as I told her how this period in my life was scary, but also full of new possibilities and experiences.  There were tears, but also moments of joy.
In addition to the structured support group I attended each week, I also created an informal support group on my own. A former college roommate had moved back to my area and had befriended a neighbor who was separated from her husband. The three of us began attending a weekly happy-hour.  The neighbor invited a co-worker to join us and the four of us became friends.   In addition to happy hours, we attended classes on self-esteem, took cooking classes, visited the Chicago Art Museum, saw a play and went to movies.  We also took biking trips and I learned to cross-country ski.  We were all the same age and towards the end of our 30th year we traveled to California to visit our friend (the neighbor) who had moved there to reconcile with her husband. 

How did these support groups help me transition to the uncoupled life?
The first structured support group gave me the strength to end my relationship and begin the process of building a new life.  I was assigned weekly tasks such as asking my ex to return my apartment key and finding a new roommate.  I had to report back the results of my assignments the following week.

In Becky Aikman’s book Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives she writes:
What truly helps those who have been uncoupled: friendship, fun, humor the flexibility to strike out anew.
My second informal support group provided just that. So what should Jane do?
Near the end of Saturday Night Widows Becky Aikman tells her support group: 
“I think when anybody is reinventing herself, she’s got a choice.  She can stay detached and look inside herself for answers.  We’ve all heard that advice - finding yourself.”  I shook my head and threw them a dubious look.  “Knowing you has shown me that, at least for me, finding myself wasn’t a solitary task.  The way for me to move forward was to get out there on Saturday night, to engage with other people, to engage with the world, to engage with you.  Funny as it may sound, I’ve found myself by going outside myself.  I’ve found myself through action, though action with you.” (Pg. 329)
I wasn’t going to tell Jane she should call the lawyer. I didn’t feel it was my place to recommend she leave her husband, but I was going to help her find a support group.  A few weeks ago, in the comments on Miss Robin’s post What are my options when my husband is mean? I read about a support group for those who are dealing with, or think they may be dealing with, verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual or financial abuse called Our Place found at I gave this information to Jane. 
One of our other members recommended Jane not quit our organization.  I quickly agreed, reminding her several of our organization’s members were single.  Many of them would welcome Jane as a friend.  I also told her of the occasional get-together I have with one of our other members and her divorced co-worker.  I plan on inviting Jane to our next outing and foresee the beginnings of an informal support group in Jane’s future.
Do you have any advice for Jane?   

This post was inspired by the book Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman. After being kicked out of her widow support group for being too young, Becky creates her own support group with an unusual twist. Join From Left to Write on February 14 as we discuss Saturday Night Widows. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
Taking personal responsibility for your life
Love for Grown-Ups
How to Avoid Being Conned on a Dating Site
Happens Every Day: An All-Too -True Story


  1. Finding the right kind of support, whether a group, a book, or a special friend, can make such a huge difference. Good for you for finding what you needed to get through that hard spot!

  2. Support groups are hard to find! I am trying to lose weight but I absolutely can't do it by myself. On-line programs aren't personal enough. Programs like Weight Watchers are too expensive and time consuming (they closed all the centers very close to me) and I don't like the program. I started a weight loss support group at my church a couple of years ago but found that I couldn't get people to commit. Every week I had a different group so it wasn't really very supportive. I ended the group but was really sad because it was helping me (but frustrating me, too). Now I'm trying to figure out where to find a support group. I've thought about starting another blog that would have a learning post on Monday, a compilation of great articles on the web on Wednesday and a check-in day on Friday. I really think it would help me but I'm afraid no one would participate. And it would mean a lot of work since it would be a second blog. But I don't seem to be able to find the support I need so creating it seems my only option. I think.

  3. Oh, and I think your advice was great.

  4. Support is so important during hard times. It sounds like Jane was reaching out and you extended your hand to help. I'm sure she appreciates knowing she's not alone.

  5. Anonymous4:39 AM

    How wonderful that she has your support! It is often hard to reach out and ask for help. I find myself in that boat much of the time. I'm going back to my gym tonight so I can start being around other people again. It's a start.

    I have no advice beyond what you've given. Divorce is a hard decision and only the people involved can decide what's best for them.

  6. I think support groups are fabulous but i also think Jane could find a good counselor and accomplish the same thing. She has options! And choices! And a new life ahead of her!

  7. Jane is so lucky to have you! When you're left floundering the shock of the end of a marriage, every bit of help is a precious jewel in a treasure unexpected. Finding the right group of people for what she needs in support will be key next. Best wishes to her!

  8. You are such a wonderful person and friend for sharing your story with others - you have no idea how many people it will help! Thank you also for stopping by my blog via the sharefest!

  9. Jane is lucky to have you as a friend. So many people would hear her story and not step up to help. I don't have any advice to add, but I think your advice on "how to find a support group" will be helpful to many! Oh and welcome to the group :)

  10. I'm glad that you share your experiences with Jane. She is lucky to have a friend like you to help her find a support group. -Thien-Kim of

  11. Thanks for writing this post. I've had the worst time finding friends/a support group since I've returned from the Emirates. Maybe I smell funny, but it's lonely. However, it's nice (but small consolation) knowing I'm not the only one. I'm also going to take a look at the book you mentioned in the post in hope that it will give me some tips. I realise I could go see a counselor, but in my opinion there's things friends offer that a psychologist cannot.

    I hope Jane recovers from the end of her marriage and goes on to build a happier life.

    Finally, to homemakersdaily: give the blog a shot. If it's truly heartfelt, people will come visit. I started my blog four months ago and now have seven followers along with 50+ likes all from rambling about having to rebuild my life.

  12. Jennifer,
    When I think back on that time I was really reaching out to others to help me find my way and was fortunate to have found such a great group of friends. Others were very helpful too though. I think there are many people out there who have kind hearts and are willing to help out someone reaching out for support.

  13. Great post, and I agree. There can be power and strength found in coming together with people who are facing the same challenges as you. It is reassurance that you are not alone, that you can stay strong, and that those people around you will help support you through their understanding.

    I recently heard a Grand Rounds session at the hospital I work at which spoke about group therapy for people with suicidal ideation. It's never been done before, given so many people are ashamed to say they have these thoughts and feelings. But it's been remarkably effective in helping these people lift from their trough of unhealthy thoughts.
    So glad you were about to find this group and dodge what would have been a very unhealthy relationship. Great post!

  14. Homemakers Daily,
    I like the idea of a weight-loss blog, but agree two blogs would be a lot of work. You could sneak a post or two into your current blog and see how it goes. Or perhaps Wednesday could be "Weight loss Wednesdays" once you have a following then start another blog. I've also seen others tweet their fitness/weight-loss progress on twitter, but have also read people find those tweets annoying. How disappointing your support group at church didn't take off. With my professional organization we've found if we charge a nominal fee - say $5 for an event people are more likely to commit and attend.

  15. What an awesome post. I've been struggling since my mum passed away and since I moved abroad. I'd love a social support group because I feel really isolated and don't have many friends here, really. I will have to take a leap and see what is out there.

    Thank you for sharing this. :)

  16. Carli Alice,
    So true. That is why I didn't want to tell Jane what to do. This has to be her decision.

    The gym is one of my major social outlets. It is a good way to work off frustrations of the day and talking to my gym mates takes the focus of the day off of myself.

  17. Bren,
    The reason I was placed in a support group rather than with a therapist was because they could bill my insurance company for more sessions thay way. I did have a few individual sessions with the therapist and I remember telling her I felt some of the support group sessions were a waste of my time. We would each get ten minutes to speak and I sometimes felt some of us could use more than that. We left work early and drove there for ten minutes. She wasn't pleased with me.

    Yes I do think Jane could benefit from an individual therapist. Maybe she shouldn't have stopped going when her kids didn't want to anymore.

  18. Another Jennifer,
    I sure hope you are right.