Are you in the middle of helping a friend through divorce? Or you might see a friend’s marriage is crumbling and you know that soon, you’ll be asked for support. How do you best help a friend going through divorce?
Helping a Friend Through Divorce: What Not To Say
Don’t badmouth their spouse. It’s tempting, for sure. And they’re probably angry, venting their emotions, and you want to help. But even when someone divorces over infidelity or abuse, they may still hold positive feelings for their partner. Often, an ex-spouse is still a co-parent, which means they have to work out a way to manage this successfully. It’s not helpful for you to make snide remarks in the background – this may damage any prospect of a working co-parenting relationship. Instead, focus on your friend.
Don’t offer uneducated advice. Unless you’ve been through it, you probably don’t know what your state’s divorce laws are or what a fair settlement would be. You are probably tempted to problem-solve, but it might make things worse. And it’s not your problem to solve. Better to listen to your friend and if there are areas where you might be able to help — such as a job search or finding an lawyer — ask if your friend would like help before diving in.
Don’t insist that your friend must feel a certain way. You might be thrilled that your friend is finally divorcing their spouse, but chances are, helping your friend through divorce means being sensitive to his/her emotions. Your friend might gravitate between hope, fury, sadness, insecurity and relief. Remember: This is his/her experience, not yours.
Don’t make vague offers of help. When your friend is deep in chaos, it’s not helpful to say, “If you need anything, I’m here.” Instead offer concrete assistance. You could offer to babysit the kids on Saturday to give him/her a break, or ask what day of the week would be good to drop by with dinner for the family.
Don’t tell them about someone else you know going through divorce. It may seem helpful to make your friend not feel like they’re alone. But they are. Their situation is unique to them, and they don’t necessarily want to hear about someone else’s problems.
Don’t lump them in with the 50% of people who get divorced. Even though divorce is incredibly common, it still feels like a traumatic event if you’re the one going through it.
Don’t be jealous of their new ‘freedom’. Jealousy is seriously misplaced in this situation. But to your friend, navigating life alone, juggling bills, and managing co-parenting doesn’t feel like freedom. Divorce isn’t easy, even if it’s amicable, saying you’re jealous of their freedom is a reminder that you’re still married—which is not what he/she needs right now.
Things You Can Do To Help a Friend Through Divorce
Invite him/her to have coffee or a beer or go for a walk or a jog. Newly separated people may be feeling lonely. Your friend may be confused, lost, and upset. They need interaction with friends. Even a half hour a day is helpful.
Do not exclude him/her from couple’s nights. True friends still invite you out on couple’s nights. If you’re worried that your friend will feel awkward or embarrassed, ask him/her how they’d feel about coming along, and make it their choice.
Offer to babysit his/her kids if they need “me” time. That is a huge gift to a newly separated person, who might just want to sit in a room and watch Masterchef, or sleep or go for a jog. Keep offering and tell them not to feel guilty for one second for leaving their kids for an hour!
Make sure they know you aren’t judging them. Crying is perfectly acceptable, as is sobbing, howling and yelling. Divorce is hard. And even if you have them, keep your ‘I told you so’ opinions to yourself. It’s not helpful at this point. At first, it might be hard for a newly separated person to ask for help, or even to acknowledge that they need help. Commenting loudly on the state of the kitchen or the tidiness of the laundry is not going to help.
Know that they might not be interested in dating for a while. In fact, jumping straight into dating might be the worst thing that they can do. For one thing, everyone moves at their own pace, and some people take longer than others to move on after separation and divorce. For another thing, the person probably has some healing to do which is only beneficial for their future relationships. Everyone has different ways of dealing with a divorce, and helping a friend through divorce means respecting how they choose to deal with it.
Don’t talk about them behind their back. Especially when that nosy friend says, ‘What’s going on with ____ and ____?’. Having rumours spread about the divorce is damaging, and nobody knows the real story anyway. Let your friend you’re helping through divorce know that what he/she tells you is safe.
It’s difficult to watch a friend or loved one suffer. If you need expert, caring advice from a family lawyer, contact us today. We work with all parties to make sure issues are resolved as quickly and painlessly as possible. Call us for your free, 10-minute phone consultation.