Ways to Support Your Friend During a Divorce
Chances are good that you know someone who is divorced or is going through a divorce. The older you get, the more friends seem to head down that courtroom aisle. Some people look at the divorce as a new beginning, but the process is traumatic for many others. So how do you interact with a friend once she decides to split from her spouse? A big part of it is feeling out the situation, and following her cues.
Provide Specific Support
Your friend is about to hear, "If you need anything, just call," from everyone she knows. Many well-intentioned people serve up the generic offer of help, and many really do mean it. But your friend likely won't actually ask anyone for help. Why? It's not easy admitting you need help. And some people don't actually follow through even if asked, so sometimes it's easier not to ask at all. Or she may not know what she needs help with right now.
The solution? Think about what she really needs, and tell her how you're going to help. You might tell her you're taking her kids for the evening so she can have some quiet time. Or pick her up after work, and take her out for dinner. Maybe her new schedule makes it impossible for her to get her daughter to soccer practice on time, so you make it your mission to make sure it happens. Whatever the need, let her know you have it covered. Work out the details then and there to make sure it happens.
Withhold Negative Opinions
You always knew he was a cheater. Or maybe you just felt they weren't going to make it. You never liked him anyway. Your friend should feel good hearing you badmouth her soon-to-be ex, right? As much as you feel like you're being supportive, you may actually make her feel worse. She probably still has some affection for him, even if the divorce was her idea. If they have kids, he's still going to be in her life, so bashing him doesn't help her deal with that.
Let her vent if she needs to talk about it, but don't pile on with insults. Tell her you're there for her and that you're sorry she has to deal with those behaviors.
Silence Your Advice
You mean well when suggesting that your friend start dating or offering up the name of a good divorce lawyer, but your friend probably doesn't want to hear it. She's getting advice from lots of people right now, from her curious neighbors to her dear old mom. As a parent, you've probably received your fair share of unsolicited advice, so you know how frustrating it can be.
If you've been through a divorce and your friend asks you for advice, by all means, share your best tips for coming out of the process as unscathed as possible. Just don't force your opinions on her or make her regret inviting you over for drinks. Keep in mind that your experience may be completely different than hers. Suggest she might consider her own circumstances and talk to her divorce attorney, therapist or other professional for specific advice.
Be Her Cheerleader
Okay, you may not want to actually break out the pompoms—but being your friend's biggest supporter in a grown-up you're-going-to-rock-your-new-single-life way can be the boost of confidence she needs. You don't have to paint an unrealistic picture of a perfect life, but you can let her know you believe in her. Acknowledge that it's a difficult decision and a challenging situation. Then reassure her that she's got this.
Admit You Don't Know What to Say
Feeling uncomfortable with the situation? Not sure what to say? Worried you're going to say the wrong thing or make your friend feel worse? Admit it. Saying you're not sure what to say shows your friend that you're trying to be supportive and want to help. It also opens the door for her to tell you what she needs to hear right now. Once you admit your fears, listen to her cues to see where you should go with the conversation.
Talk About Usual Friendship Things
Yes, your friend is going through a divorce. Yes, it's a huge part of her life right now. But she's still your friend, and she's still a person. The thing she might need right now is the normalcy of your friendship. Ask her for advice on what to wear to an upcoming event, or chat about the latest episode of your favorite show. Let her lead the way to determine whether she needs to talk about the divorce or take a break with regular friendship talk.
Talk to the Kids
What do you do if your friend has kids? If you're close to the kids, don't be afraid to talk to them during the divorce. Just how close you are to the child can help you decide what to say. If the child feels comfortable with you, he may open up and talk about his feelings. Encourage that sharing. Experts recommend that kids be allowed to be honest about their feelings. Sometimes kids need a little help putting those feelings into words.
Kids may also just want to talk about their favorite toys or what they did at recess. Be there as a neutral adult who listens to the child no matter what he wants to talk about. If you're not sure what to say, talk to your friend first. Just don't put yourself in the middle of the family drama. Remain neutral without talking badly about either parent.