A big part of friendship is being there for each other’s milestones: weddings, births, job promotions, graduations, and anniversaries. These are occasions we anticipate and look forward to in life. Yet, true friends are there for the unanticipated moments and the hardships, like divorce. Both men and women need support in trying times, even in an amicable divorce. Here are some tips to remind you how you can offer support to a divorcing friend.
Listen More and Talk Less
The most important thing you can do as a friend is to just – listen. The breakdown of a relationship and dismantling of a family unit will inevitably have emotional repercussions and even spark a grief-like response. There will be late-night telephone “post-mortems” of what went wrong and why this is happening to them. There will be anger. A lot of anger. There will be a need for “pros and cons” dialogue on bargaining techniques or possible reconciliation. There will be finger-pointing, sadness, and overwhelm. Your friend is juggling a lot of changes and confronting many big life issues, both legally and psychologically. He or she will need someone to talk to and therapy is expensive! Listen with an openness and open-endedness. Try not to bash their ex, play the blame game, or pass judgment. Allow your friend to talk through all the thoughts and all the raw pain.
Lend a Hand
As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Offer to fill in for your friend’s ex-spouse when possible or appropriate. Your friend may have been accustomed to having their partner pick up the kids from school or do most of the cooking. People going through a divorce are functioning at reduced capacity for everyday “functioning”. Help your friend succeed and feel supported in his new life by lending a helping hand during this crucial transition time. Offer to give the kids a ride to practice, or deliver a meal or groceries. Even something mundane and simple like picking up dry cleaning or walking the dog will be a huge help!
Be a Source of Information
Going through a divorce is like having a part-time job that nobody wants. If your friend feels overwhelmed, help out by looking up local resources and get referrals for a good family law attorney. Compile a list of divorce support groups, workshops or legal services that may be helpful. Send your friend a list of helpful divorce apps to make it easier to manage the paperwork and other documents needed. A tremendous amount of “divorce homework” will be assigned to your friend. Offering to be of assistance to bring clarity or organization to a project could be a tremendous benefit in a time of certain “brain fog.” Help find answers to questions they have, like how support works or how to divide property, so that they have one less thing to research.
Upheaval of one’s life plan breeds depression and depression breeds isolation. Your friend might say she wants to be alone or stay home — but continue to extend social invitations. She will eventually say “yes” when ready. Do not assume that your newly single friend will not want to spend time with other couples or other families, as well as with you, one-on-one. Questions of self-identity may arise as a divorcing person morphs from a couple to a solo guest. Being excluded from family or couple outings because they no longer “fit the part” can have jarring effects and lingering consequences. Continue to include them in birthday parties and other celebrations, just as you did prior to the divorce.
The most important thing to remember is to be present and available for your friend. The challenging time they are facing and the accompanying need for your attention will not last forever. Refrain from giving life advice, listen instead, and help when your friend asks for it. You cannot take away the pain, but you can help ease the burden. Show up and keep showing up. This will make a huge difference in both of your lives. And it will strengthen the bonds of your friendship.