It’s awkward. All you did was ask your friend what was up. The last thing you expected to hear was, “I’m getting a divorce.” Now what are you supposed to do?! You want to be supportive, but you also don’t want to intrude. You're scared about saying the wrong thing, but you’re not sure what the right thing is. You don’t want to seem judgmental, but screaming “Woo hoo!” and doing the happy dance doesn’t seem appropriate either. Just how are you supposed to support a friend going through a divorce?
Even though divorce doesn’t carry the same social stigma that it did decades ago, it’s still a really rough subject … and it’s complicated!
You don’t know whether you’re supposed to be happy that your friend finally got rid of the idiot s/he married, or whether you’re supposed to be upset that his/her life will be a living hell for the next few months (or years). You don’t know whether you should be angry, sad, sympathetic, or supportive.
Plus, not only are you not sure what you should be feeling for your friend, you may not be sure what you are feeling yourself! If you were friends with both your friend and his/her soon-to-be-ex, you may feel caught in the middle. Or, if you thought your friend was super happily married, you might be as much in shock to find out about the divorce as your friend (or his/her spouse) was!
What’s even worse is that, if you’re not so sure that your own marriage is on solid ground, your friend’s divorce might make you feel really, really uncomfortable.
Regardless of what you’re feeling, though, you still want to support your friend.
Which brings up the question of: what exactly are you supposed to do to support a friend going through a divorce?
Emily Post Never Dealt with Divorce
There is no handbook for what you should, or shouldn’t do, to support someone who is going through a divorce. What will be helpful for one person, might be a disaster for another. So the first “rule” you need to remember is: there are no rules.
Use your emotional intelligence, be empathetic, and do your best to tune in to what your friend wants and needs.
That having been said, there are some things that you can do to show your support, and some things you probably want to avoid. Here are:
21 Ways to Support a Friend Going Through a Divorce
- Ask Your Friend What You Can Do. We all think we know what our friends want. But, sometimes we really don’t. Your friend may need you to do something you never dreamed of. That’s why asking your friend what s/he wants and needs is so important.
- Think Before You Talk. Now is NOT the time to say “I told you so!” Even if you saw this divorce coming a mile away, driving that point home to your friend, when she’s already down and out, is cruel.
- Be a friend. Let your friend vent and listen to her story, even when s/he tells it to you for the five thousandth time. Just listen. That may not seem like a lot. But, it’s everything.
- Don’t Butt in Where You Don’t Belong. Everyone loves knowing all the dirty details of what happened when a marriage falls apart. Don’t go there! If your friend wants to share what happened, s/he will. If not, it’s none of your business!
- Zip it! You may think you know exactly what your friend should do because you (or someone you know) has gone through a divorce. It's tempting to want to share your sage advice. You probably have the best intentions. You may even have the best advice! Unless your friend asks, keep your opinion to yourself
- Be Honest. If you’re worried about your friend, say something. If you think your friend could use a little therapy, say something. And, for heaven’s sake, if you’re still in contact with your friend’s ex, make sure your friend knows. Otherwise, your friend is likely to feel like you betrayed him/her, too.
- Ditch the Judgment. Now is not the time to get all “holier than thou” with your friend. Even if you don’t agree with your friend’s divorce, or your friend’s behavior, dumping more guilt on your friend right now will not be helpful. If you want to be a friend, then love your friend unconditionally. That is what your friend needs most.
- Invite Your Friend Out. When you’re going through a divorce, it’s easy to feel like you just contracted the plague and no one around you wants to get infected. Don’t let your friend spend long evenings alone, wallowing in sorrow and misery. Invite your friend out for a drink, or coffee, or a movie. Be with your friend. That’s what friends do.
- Keep Inviting Your Friend Out. Everyone heals from divorce at their own pace. Your friend might not feel like going out today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month. But, at some point, s/he will be ready. Sadly, by the time that happens most “friends” have given up. Don’t give up.
- Don’t Push. Providing social opportunities is not the same as demanding that your friend use those opportunities. (Or making your friend feel guilty for NOT using them!) If your friend isn’t up to going out, respect your friend’s space. Especially when the divorce is still fresh and new, your friend has to grieve.
- Ok, Sometimes You’ve Got to Push. While you don’t want to push your newly divorcing friend to socialize before s/he’s ready, if his/her divorce was over 5 years ago and your friend still doesn’t want to face the world, there’s a problem. Sometimes friends have to help each other break through the barriers and do the thing they are afraid of – like go out to lunch or grab a drink together.
- Don’t Be a Gossip. It is not your job to report to the world on your friend’s divorce. If there is someone who you think should know, or needs to know, about your friend’s divorce, ask your friend whether it’s okay to share the news with that person. Ask what details you can share, and what your friend would prefer to keep private. Then respect your friend’s wishes and don’t overshare!
- Babysit. Getting divorced is like having a second full time job. It’s exhausting! Since few people have an abundance of extra cash on hand to pay babysitters while they’re getting a divorce, watching your friend’s kids so s/he can go grocery shopping, or work out, or just have a little alone time can be a Godsend.
- Help Around the House. In every divorce, someone has to pack and move. Yet, moving out of the home you thought you would spend your life in can be devastating. Help your friend pack boxes. Help your friend move. If it’s your friend’s spouse who is moving out, stop by your friends’ house once s/he’s alone and offer to help rearrange the furniture or shop for replacements for the household items that are now gone.
- Accept the Mood Swings. Divorcing people have never been known for their emotional stability. One day your friend might be hopping mad. The next day s/he might be so depressed she can’t get out of bed. Then the next day s/he may be fine. The following day s/he may want to take his/her ex back. The day after that s/he may have a total panic attack. It all goes with the territory. Let your friend express whatever emotions s/he has, and just go with the flow.
- Be a Court Buddy. Going to divorce court can be terrifying. Even if your friend’s lawyer says that nothing big will happen in court that day, your friend is going to be nervous. Just going to court with your friend and sitting quietly on the bench next to him/her can help calm your friend down.
- Don’t Support Unhealthy Behavior. Taking your friend out for a drink once in a while is awesome. But, if your friend is getting trashed every night, then going drinking with him/her is no longer supportive. It is destructive. If you see your friend doing stupid things, or hurting themselves, do your best to gently try to steer them in a better direction.
- Resist the Temptation to Tear Down Their Ex. If your friend wants to spend endless hours ragging about how horrible his/her ex is, you can listen. But, avoid jumping on the ex-bashing bandwagon. Not only does it needlessly add fuel to your friend’s anger, but, if your friend and his/her spouse get back together (which happens more often than you might think!) you’re going to be the ex-friend.
- Get Physical. It’s so obvious that you might not think about it. But, divorcing spouses don’t normally touch each other anymore. Yet, when you’re going through emotional devastation, you need physical contact more than ever. If you want to be a friend, give your divorcing pal a hug! (If you’re a guy, and hugging your friend seems too weird, have your kids do it. Or your mom. Somebody.)
- Bring Food. A divorcing friend once told me that the difference between divorce and the death of a spouse is that when you get divorced, no one brings you casseroles. Your divorcing friend needs to eat. S/he may not feel like cooking for one person. Stop by every now and then at dinner time, and bring food. It's that simple.
- Don’t Try to Rush Your Friend into Dating Again. Some people think that the best way to get over a heartbreak is to jump right into another relationship to push out the pain. Whether you feel that way or not, remember: this is your friend’s life! Unless your friend asks, don’t try to set them up on blind dates, tell them about singles events, or sign them up for Match.com without their permission. Your friend will date when your friend is ready. Don’t meddle in their love life. Really. Don’t be that guy!
Just Be a Friend
Divorce is never easy. Being a friend to someone going through a divorce is also not easy.
The biggest key to helping your friend, or any loved one, through a difficult divorce is to just be there for your friend, and focus on your friend. Do your best to put your own emotions and your own judgments aside and just be a friend.
In the end, that’s the best thing you can do.
BONUS TIPS FOR PARENTS
Supporting a friend going through a divorce is one thing. But, when it’s your child who’s getting a divorce, “support” takes on a whole new meaning.
While parents would do well to follow all of the advice listed above, they are also much more likely to want to “help” their kids in ways that might not end up being quite so helpful.
If you are a parent of a child going through a divorce, remember these things:
- It’s Not Your Call. As much as you may want to save your child from unnecessary pain, you have no right to dictate what your child does, or how s/he should handle the divorce. Give advice when you are asked. Make gentle suggestions even when you are not asked. But, when your kid tells you to butt out, do it!
- Stay Close to the Grand Kids. Your kids aren’t the only ones who will be affected by the divorce. Your grand kids will, too. Spend time with your grandkids. Take them places that their parents may not be able to afford right now. Do whatever you can to normalize their life during this tumultuous time. Not only will that bring you closer to your grand kids, but it will really help your kid as well.
- Monetary Support May Not be the Answer. Your child might need financial help getting through the divorce and getting back on his/her feet afterwards. If you are in a position to provide that help, and you choose to do so, great. But, sometimes, giving your child money can complicate the divorce in ways you might not expect. Before you start doling out cash, make sure you talk to your child, and your child’s lawyer, about whether your financial support will help or hurt your child right now.
Another way you can support someone going through a divorce is to help them get the knowledge they need to do it right. Grab a FREE DIVORCE CHECKLIST for them. Just CLICK THE BUTTON!