5 Tips for Supporting a Separated Friend

August 3, 2010

in Best of Naked Girl, Relationships

There’s a plethora of information on the internet about surviving a divorce, but what about advice for individuals supporting their separated friends? For those interested in being supportive, but never experiencing divorce personally, it can be confusing. A reader recently sent me an email asking how she could best support her separated friend. She suggested I write a post in response to her questions, which I agreed was a great idea.

Here are the questions she asked:

What can I do, as a friend, to offer her the best support possible?

1) Learn about the stages of grief. Your friend is on a long, emotionally tumultuous rollercoaster. She will move through the grieving process at her own pace and will definitely return to repeat a stage. Losing a marriage, the restructuring of a family (if children are involved), and the loss of a spouse is in essence a death. Regardless of who initiated the split, there will be a grieving process involved. It is also important to recognize that when least expected, grief will come flooding back. It could be hitting a milestone anniversary, the first time the kids are with the ex for a holiday, the divorce is finalized, or even something as simple as discovering a meaningful memento in the back of a drawer. Just be ready to listen and support her, but understand grieving is a difficult and fairly unpredictable process which can’t be rushed.

2) Patience and good listening skills are essential. “You need to get over him and move on” or “you should be dating by now” should never be advice you give. Refer back to advice #1 about grieving. She needs to move at a pace she feels comfortable, not what others expect of her. The greatest gift you can give her at this time in her life is your ability to just listen and to allow her to move at her own pace.

3) Get her out of the house. She needs a break from her thoughts, worries, and the social isolation of staying home. HOWEVER, the most important part of getting her out, is asking what she would like to do. There will be many situations that will be uncomfortable for your friend. Maybe she will feel comfortable one-on-one with you at the movie theater, but the thought of dinner out with couples is more than she can handle right now.

4) Be positive. Anger and hate are two horrible emotions to carry around. Without letting go of these feelings, your friend will be held back from finding true happiness within and possibly happiness in another relationship. She will likely be angered if you are full of sunshine and happiness each time you visit, but help her keep the perspective. It is appropriate to agree that her ex did something horrible or her ex’s attorney sounds like a jerk, but don’t jump in with man-bashing or negativity. Your friend will never be at peace if she carries anger and hate with her the rest of her life. Don’t add to the negativity; help her get to the other side of those feelings.

5) Rally the troops. Get girlfriends involved in helping. One friend contacted other girlfriends to create a meal and playdate calendar. For the first two months I was separated, I had meals delivered to my house 3 to 4 times a week and my kids regularly had playdates with friends coordinated. This was incredibly helpful for me and kept my kids connected with others at a difficult time. Brainstorm with mutual friends to figure out how, collectively, you all could best provide support.

What is something you wish a friend had done/told you when you were in the separation stage of things?

I knew I was working through a grieving process, but I was caught off guard when I fell into another depression over the divorce. I announced to everyone that I was fine after 13 months of separation and I was feeling great at the time. It only lasted three months though. Once I began a focused effort to finalize the divorce, so many emotions took over. I wish someone had told me to be cautiously optimistic with how I was feeling and that someone was watching for the signs that I was sliding again.

Advice for helping men:

While this post is focused on a female reader wanting to help a female friend, I did not want to leave out men. I am currently supporting 4 friends going through a divorce and 2 are male. One complaint I hear is that women have a tremendous network of support, but the men feel more isolated during this process. The advice I gave is applicable to men. However, there are unique situations to consider.

  • Reach out after a visitation with his kids. He could be struggling emotionally.
  • If your kids are friends, invite him when he has visitation for a playdate/dinner.
  • Cook a meal (maybe for a visitation weekend) to deliver.

You might not feel comfortable doing this directly, but encourage your husband to check in, invite him over, or drop off a meal. For more advice on supporting a male friend, visit Separated Dads.

Finalizing the divorce does not mean the “fun” ends. Your friend now has to settle into being a single mom, dating, how to introduce a new man to children, how to co-parent with the ex and more. To keep the dialog open and continue to be supportive, I suggest you both read Singlemommyhood. NOTE: There is a section for single dads too!

Have you been through a divorce or supported a friend through the process?

If so, please leave a comment below with other ideas. Let’s start a dialog on how best to support our separated friends.


{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

SuzRocks August 3, 2010 at 11:02 am

Do you have any advice for supporting a friend who has NOT separated/divorced her husband but SHOULD because he’s abusive?? I could use that advice.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2010 at 11:26 am

Suz,

You are in a difficult situation because it is a deeply personal decision to leave a marriage. She could separate, be miserable, and blame you. Or she could separate, reconcile, and feel awkward staying in contact with you.

However, you mention her husband is abusive. If she is not safe, then you should do what you can to help her find a way out. Maybe she is scared to leave and doesn’t have the emotional strength to figure out an exit strategy.

My advice: carefully approach the subject with your friend. Spend more time asking probing questions than giving advice. This will help you to understand why she is still in the relationship. From that discussion, it should help you find the best way to support your friend.

Good luck!

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Holly B August 3, 2010 at 11:23 am

When I divorced the starter husband a lot of emotions came to the top. Both of us agreed the marriage had outlasted its usefulness and we both wanted to move on, but moving on means moving through emotions. Its almost a sense of failure. The only thing I found to get me through it was friends and time. Acknowledging the feelings when they came up. You have to work through them and by denying them or suppressing them, you are only making them stronger when they finally do come back…and they do.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2010 at 11:33 am

Excellent advice Holly!

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Lovebabz August 3, 2010 at 11:45 am

You are so on point! We seem to know what to do when someone dies…bake a cake, casserole, prepared meals. That same kind of care and concern is needed in these situations as well. Rally the troops YES! Have them bring meals to keep in the fridge so cooking and eating well don’t fall by the wayside. It’s the little day-to-day things that get lost when you are stressing about what is going to happen now that divorce is your new reality.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Glad you agree Lovebabz. Thanks for stopping by!

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Mindy@SingleMomSays August 3, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Great advice!

All that I would add is this; if you are the friend and haven’t also been through a divorce then try to put her in touch with other women who have (if you know any) because having someone to talk with who “gets it” is golden.

Also, there is a book I read that I would reccommend to everyone going through a divorce but I lent it out and never got it back so am not sure of the title. It’s something like: Everything You Should Know About Divorce that your Lawyer Won’t Tell You.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Great advice Mindy and I completely agree. I also had one friend right by my side the entire time who had also been through the process. All my other friends were incredibly supportive, but this one friend really understood on a different level.

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Single Mom Seeking August 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Yes, this is SUCH a helpful post. Thank you. (And thanks for the linky love!)

Some of the worst things a friend/family member can say to someone who’s grieving is, “You’re better off without him” or, “Just move on!”

This post is really giving permission to a man/woman to grieve. Here’s to that “tribe” of girlfriends!
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Thank you for the kind words! I am glad you think it is helpful advice.

Your site http://www.singlemommyhood.com is a wonderful resource so I was happy to provide the link!

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Lynda August 3, 2010 at 1:10 pm

What an incredibly helpful article! I think these tips are great for almost anyone going grieving. Love the formatting of the article too; makes it very easy to read!
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Thanks Lynda. I hope this post will be helpful to people in this process.

I just saw YOUR latest post title. I will be visiting you because I use WordPress and I am always on a hunt for new Plugins!

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AKeo August 3, 2010 at 1:10 pm

I don’t currently have friends going through this. But I appreciated your post just the same. If I ever need to be that support, I will certainly remember what you’ve said.
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Petula August 3, 2010 at 9:31 pm

When my ex-husband and I separated I was eight months pregnant with my fourth child and the support was very minimal. For a few weeks one or two people would call and check on me, but it wasn’t support. They would just want to know details of what I was going to do or what had happened last. No one took me out to eat or helped with my two middle children who at the time were 2 and 3. My oldest daughter, who was 16 at the time, drove me around after I had the baby, took care of the three younger children and was the only helpful support. It was a very sad emotional and unsure time for me.

Now that the divorce is finalized and I’m on the way to emotional recovery, I think I would know what to do to support someone else. If it’s a woman I would offer to cut her grass, make some meals to freeze, take the kids for the day, take her out for tea or something, or bring some to the house. I would just sit and listen or whatever she needed or wanted. If she says, “I don’t know what I need” then I would make suggestions relative to her life. Being in a situation of divorce or separation isn’t always something that you see coming and I think there may be more grief when you don’t know. At least if you see it coming then the grieving process may have started.

I hope that I can be of help to someone else if I’m ever presented with that situation. This is a great post and something more people should read.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 4, 2010 at 7:36 am

Petula~

Thank you for sharing your experience. I am so sorry you didn’t have more support, but it did give you the opportunity to see what a great job you have done raising and bonding with your oldest daughter. What a special girl!

You will be a terrific friend to anyone suffering as a result of a separation. Great ideas.

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Hockey Is My Life August 4, 2010 at 10:14 am

My closest friend (who has two wonderful boys) is going through a separation and I have found the most essential thing is to just help him keep focus on the big picture: the safety and welfare of the children. Perhaps it’s easier for me to do coming from a family that puts the fun in dysfunction but all things considered the question always has to be: Is this best for the boys in the long run.

One story (from The West Wing) I think summarizes it best:

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.

A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you. Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a friend walks by, “Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”

The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 4, 2010 at 11:09 am

Thank you for your perspective on this important topic. I love the story you shared!

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Grace August 4, 2010 at 10:27 pm

During my divorce, my best friend (who had been through one 5 years earlier) was amazing. She listened, gave advice when I asked, and most importantly was 100 percent on my side.
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Desi baba August 17, 2010 at 12:11 am

Thank for your insightfull post. I’m glad I found your inspired blog that gives me different perspective of lives.
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mommyk8 August 17, 2010 at 7:37 am

Thank you so much for this post. It’s really hard to know what to do in a situation like this. I have a friend going through a divorce and it’s difficult to know the right things to say and do. One thing I’ve found is just going out and having some fun and not talking about it is really relaxing for her. Luckily she has a great support system, and she has the food thing covered because she moved in with her parents (which is it’s own world of fun, but hey what can you do?). Anyhow, the advice is great. Thanks again.

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Naked Girl in a Dress August 18, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Mommyk8~
It sounds like you are giving your friend what she needs at this time. I am sure she appreciates your friendship. The love and support from friends and family is essential for her right now.

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Andie May 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm

The ‘Be Positive’ part is sooo sooo sooo important. It’s one thing to support a friend and throw in the occasional ‘what a jerk!’ when they are complaining about the ex.. but when your friend is ready to forgive, don’t hold their grudges for them. Support their decision to forgive like you supported their anger. There’s not much worse than being made to feel like you are still supposed to be angry when you’re not.
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Naked Girl in a Dress May 12, 2011 at 9:06 am

I agree completely Andie. It is detrimental to your friend’s progress too.

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Kimberly July 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm

When I first separated, my best friend was in the midst of planning her wedding, and I was matron of honor. But she was always very aware that in spite of the joy of her wedding day, I was sad. Just understanding goes a long long way.
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Naked Girl in a Dress July 23, 2012 at 11:25 am

That had to be incredibly difficult, but thankfully your friend was understanding of the challenge you faced.

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Maria July 23, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Thank you your tips are a help…. I have a friend who has been separated for over a year and a half…. I have helped around the house…financially… and have listened over and over…. I have stuck by her side through the entire roller coaster ride of her trying to fix her marriage. Almost 2 years and a cycle of them trying every couple of months and then nothing, can be stressful on the friendship also… Initially I was blamed for the separation by the husband, even though I stopped her from doing it twice prior and asked her to truely reconsider… Listened and asked questions.. never told her to move one… her finding someone better… or desrving better or anything of such.. these were her words… This is her fifth cycle she just entered a couple of days ago with her husband trying to reconcile and I don’t know if I can do this any longer.. I care about her although I am tired.. I am not married and have never been. I have been around separations and divorce through family. I don’t know how much longer this cycle will continue although I did tell her today that she has my support no matter what she decides and that I truely hope that whatever happens, happens for the best for her! For her happiness…. When she does get back into the cycle, she distances herself from me and when it goes sour, I’m there.. Beginning to feel like a fire extinguisher and a void filler… This is unfair to me… Please someone who has been in my shoes… or someone who has had a friend supporting you, can you tell me what I should do next? Any tips? I have other friends but they all live out of state.. I don’t like to talk to other friends about friends situations… I’m soo confused.

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Naked Girl in a Dress July 24, 2012 at 11:28 am

Maria,

Halfway through reading your comment, my thoughts went to you. This is tiring and emotionally draining on you and, frankly, what they are doing–the back and forth constantly–is not typical in separations. You have been a very good friend and continue to do so, but you need boundaries drawn for your own well being.

My advice: tell your friend you will continue to support her, but that you think it is best at this stage for her to seek professional help. Also let her know how this is affecting you and explain you can’t continue because of how you are feeling.

Backing out of the situation is the right thing for you and it’s time to put yourself first. If she doesn’t understand then she isn’t a friend and has been using you. If she feels bad and simply appreciates what you have done so far, then you know the friendship is solid.

Be careful of users who will suck the life out of you if allowed to do so. Draw the line in the sand and request she respect that boundary. Self-care is very important and it’s time you start tending to your needs.

Best of luck!

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Grace January 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

My sister’s divorce was final last week, and even though it sounds like I’m patting myself on the back, I’m proud of the way I helped her through it. One thing I’ve found to be true in helping 2-3 people since my divorce is that their stuff seems to always bring up the places in me that haven’t completely healed. So it dredges up painful spots, and if we’re wise, we see it and then clear those places. In that way, it’s healing for me to help others through the darkness.
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Naked Girl in a Dress January 29, 2013 at 11:29 am

I was just speaking with a friend about this, Grace. Experiencing the divorce with another as a support person can lead to old wounds being reopened.

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Treasure July 16, 2013 at 2:57 am

Good advice but the dating and introducing a new man to the kids has got to go out the window. Priorities should be with the kids not focusing on yourself finding a new mate. That’s the worst thing you could do. You tried and it didn’t work. You want to screw things up even worse cause you cant handle being a single parent? I’ve been through it with my parents and I’m a teacher now and I see so many messed up kids and messed up blended families. RARELY do they work. The kids pay the price for your dating schemes. Just give up the dating for a LONG while, focus on KIDS first. They are grieving. They are the ones going from house to house and then dealing with step parents and siblings on top of it. Add guilt trips to that too. I’ll say it AGAIN focus on your kids’ needs first and get over HAVING to be with some one.

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Naked Girl in a Dress July 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I am sorry your experience as a child has scarred you to the point of being this jaded about remarriage being successful. My children aren’t actually grieving, but thriving. They have two loving parents who want the best for them and who co-parent successfully–even if they couldn’t be married to each other. Now my children have a wonderful man whom they both love added to their lives with new siblings. Our kids all beg for more time together, and are happy, well-adjusted children.

I know other successful blended families. What it takes is for the divorced parents to put the children first in the divorce process and to be amicable. It doesn’t sound like that was your experience growing up, and I am very sorry for you. Hopefully you can move past it one day to be in a better place.

Best of luck.

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