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.