The Good Friend’s Guide to Helping a Friend during Divorce
So many members of the Hello Divorce community say they joined because they know someone going through a divorce. They want to find a way to be supportive, and they find that our tip sheets, resources, and videos put them in a positive position to help their loved ones. They want to be helpful during this difficult process.
Maybe you are one of these lovely people. While you'll find resources on every aspect of divorce, from our pre-leaving checklist to how to prepare for a meeting with your lawyer or legal coach to our divorce process flowchart to what to wear to court (and so much more), we wanted to take things a step further. So, we reached out to our network to find people who have gone through a divorce who could share stories of thoughtful ways they were supported. Lots of insights and ideas below are worth borrowing!
Rehash the "good old days"
"Going through a divorce can be rough, challenging, and lonely all in one. My friends actually were a huge part of my healing, from staying on the phone late nights with me until I fell asleep to picking me up or calling me to remind me to meet them at the gym. They also were great listeners. Without jumping to attempt to solve anything, they listened and listened. Having a safe space where I could go to talk without being judged was ah-mazing. The most important thing they did was remain positive by talking about the "good ole days," like back when we were in high school. We laughed together. Very hard laughs, until it hurt your stomach laughs. Those were the most therapeutic." – Dr. Alisha Griffith, Au.D., CCC-SLP
Show up, in person
"I had a male friend who was going through a terrible divorce. He was at the end of his medical training and finally excited to be able to spend more time at home. But he found out shortly thereafter that his wife had been cheating on him. He was devastated. For me, I found that the best thing to do was to give him the opportunity, space, and permission to just talk. I'm not sure how often guys get that after a loss. I asked him if he would join me at a coffee shop where we could have a fairly private table, and I just simply asked how he was doing and how he was feeling ... and listened. I was supportive, but just let him say and share what he needed to.
"It doesn't sound like much, and he isn't a guy who is big on emotions, but I think having someone who cared enough to ask and sit with him was really important. Not texting, but in person. He later told me I was the only person who reached out in a meaningful way. I think men's emotions are often overlooked, or we kind of brush them off. Lke we are "strong enough" to not need a friend. But those old stereotypes do no one any good, especially the person struggling." – Dr. Julie Gurner (Dr. Gurner is a thought leader in personal development and company culture and has a vast background in psychology.)
Don't stoke the fire
"While it's important to be there and listen, you want to make sure you don't stoke the fire. By giving too much emotional support about the horrible situation/spouse/etc., a friend may inadvertently drive the person going through divorce to send more heated communications than necessary or to make decisions in anger and high emotion as opposed to calm and logic," advises Arielle Band, founder and chief navigator of Colibri Life.
Arielle also offers other tips:
- Help with their kids. Little things like packing lunch for the separated/divorced person's children one day a week or offering to pick the kids up from school can help take something off their plate.
- Keep them social. Make sure your friend gets out and stays social‚ even when they may not want to. This is important to keep them from only living in their own head.
- Offer a release. I often do walk-and-talks with friends going through a divorce. We go out for a walk, and they get to talk (or not) about whatever is on their mind. It's a great way to help change their mood with the activity and air while also giving an opportunity for release.
Send an unexpected surprise
Sometimes, it's the smallest, most unexpected gestures that mean the most.
"One friend who I met at camp when I was in 9th grade – and have seen less than 10 times since because we live in different parts of the country – sent me the most wonderful care package. It arrived on a day when I really, really, really needed a pick-me-up. This care package had a variety of items inside, each with a note about why it was in the box: a tube of hand lotion because I would hold your hand and tell you everything is going to be all right; a package of tissues because I would help to wipe the tears away when you are sad; a bottle of flashy bright red nail polish because even in our saddest and darkest moments, there is nothing like some bright red toenails to brighten our spirits; and a coffee cup because I would love to sit and talk with you over a nice cup of coffee . Ten years later, the coffee cup she sent is still my go-to and the one from which I drank my coffee this morning!" - Monique Honaman (author of The High Road Has Less Traffic and the newly released Bonus Dad! Bonus Mom!)
Stay close, but don't press
Ask yourself, "How do I show up for someone after a death, a bad diagnosis, or bad news in general?"
Answer: Stay close, but don't press.
"Don't avoid talking to your friend, and don't avoid the topic of divorce. Let them know you know what's going on, that you love them and are there for them. But don't pressure them into self-care, to talk, or to do anything else. Just be available. Ask them to dinner. If they don't want to go, that's okay. Or when the time feels right, you could help them write their dating profile. Stay close without pressing. Don't avoid them. But also don't assume the person going through divorce is going to want to take you up on every offer of help." - Annie Wright, LMFT (a licensed psychotherapist and social justice advocate who maintains a thriving psychotherapy private practice in Berkeley, California. Learn more at www.anniewrightpsychotherapy.com.)
Other tips for helping a friend going through divorce
We get it. You want to help your dear friend, but you're not sure how. The tips mentioned above worked for these people, and maybe they'd work for you, too.
But what else can you do?
Listen without judgment
Your friend might be feeling pretty low right now. Their self-esteem may have taken a hit, or they may feel guilty or ashamed. People in the midst of divorce often lose sight of the fact that they're not alone: the U.S. divorce rate is approaching 50%. Show them they're not alone by listening, empathizing, and withholding judgment.
Show (and tell) your friend that you have faith in their ability to get through this. That you believe they will recover and be happy on the other side of this divorce. Whatever your friend's positive qualities are, remind them of these strengths.
If your natural inclination is to nurture others – through small gifts, food items, warm meals, or something similar – consider offering your friend a token of some kind to remind them you care. It could be something as simple as a card in the mail or something more involved, like a homemade meal or pan of brownies. It'll make both of you feel good.
Make yourself available
Everyone's busy these days. For that reason, your friend might assume you don't have time to chat with them at midnight when they're breaking down ... or Saturday morning when they wake up alone and feel worse than usual. In no uncertain terms, communicate to your friend that you are ready and willing to talk when they need it. If you don't think words are enough, phone them regularly, or set up a weekly walking date. Whatever you think it takes to show them you're available.
As a friend, you may want to swoop in and rescue your pal as they go through this tumultuous time. While you can't completely save them from the stress they're feeling, you can help them feel less alone ... and as we've seen here, it's often the little things that mean the most.