Watching a good friend go through a divorce can be difficult, and it is natural to want to help them. If you wish to support a friend through a divorce, your desire is admirable. It’s important that you offer support that is helpful and not harmful, though.
While every divorce is different and the support that people need may vary, there are some general things that can be helpful to provide—as well as some things that should be avoided.
Tips for Those Who Wish to Support a Friend Through Divorce:
If there is one tip to take away from this article, this is it. When a friend is going through a divorce, the last thing they need to hear are things like: “I told you not to marry him” or “Why didn’t you go to couples’ therapy?” Most people are already beating themselves up during this time and don’t need any additional voices to chime in there. Listen to your friend’s feelings and respond with empathy by trying to understand their experience. Don’t make assumptions about how you would feel in that situation or try to “fix” their problem. Too often, we rush to try to fix things for other people, when all they need is have someone listen to them.
Ask your friend what would be helpful and do your best to provide what they need. Some people want a shoulder to cry on. Some people need their kids dropped off at soccer practice. Your friend may need a good laugh to be distracted from everything. His or her needs will likely change regularly, so checking in and being available to offer help is priceless.
Stay away from offering legal advice
Divorce is complicated and laws vary state to state and can change frequently. When you support a freind through divorce don’t tell your friend that their settlement isn’t fair, or that she should “take him to the cleaners”, or that he “doesn’t have to pay that”, etc. What happened in your divorce or your someone else’s divorce may not be relevant to your friend’s situation and might set them up for unrealistic expectations. Let their lawyer or mediator help them with the legal piece and remain an emotional support.
Respect their privacy
Don’t seek out details about the divorce that your friend doesn’t want to share. Divorce is a painful process and most people want to keep the details private—especially when kids are involved. If your friend does share sensitive details, respect that trust and keep it between the two of you.
Be respectful of their ex
You don’t have to stand up for him or her, but try to avoid badmouthing your friend’s ex. They have to go through this process with that person and if there are kids involved, they will continue co-parenting for a lifetime. It doesn’t help to pour fuel on the fire.
Divorces take a long time from the first conversation about separating until the papers are signed. Recognize that even though it might be a year into the process, your friend still needs emotional support. Be patient with their healing process; grief isn’t on a timeline. Unless they are seeking it out, don’t suggest people for them to date so they can “move on.”
Include them socially
Often divorcing/divorced people will comment that they stop getting social invitations as if divorce is contagious. Staying connected to friends can help with stressful times. I always recommend self-care to individuals going through divorce, and that includes physical, emotional, and social self-care. Positive friendships can be a source of strength for divorcing individuals.
There’s no exact recipe for supporting a friend through a divorce. Everyone’s grief and healing process is different, so being aware of what kind of help your friend needs is the key to being supportive.