13 Ways to Help a Friend Going Through a Divorce
Divorce isn't easy for anyone to deal with, but thankfully good friends can lessen the sting and bring a bit of comfort, reassurance, support, and even laughter to a very solemn and serious situation.
Avoid badmouthing their ex
As much as you might want to curse out the person who may have put your friend in this situation, experts agree that it’s best to hold back. And make sure you never say any of these things to someone going through a divorce. Saying negative things about the ex puts your friend in an awkward position, explains Julienne Derichs, a licensed clinical professional counselor based in Chicago: He or she may have to defend their choice in marrying a jerk. Instead, she suggests focusing on the qualities that make your friend the amazing person she or he is and to steer their mind towards the things they should be grateful for in life. “Sympathize with them and acknowledge that any transition is difficult, but that they are not alone,” Derichs adds.
Remind your friend what he or she has control over
Control is a funny thing; we desperately seek it, but often forget to exert control over simple things. For example, how we speak to ourselves—you might want to suggest to your friend nine ways to stop negative self talk, how to improve body language, and the importance of mental and physical fitness. “Divorce can feel like a very chaotic time and, with the addition of the normal anxiety about the future, can lead anyone, especially someone who is divorcing, to feel lost and untethered,” explains Derichs. “Lend a hand to your friend by helping them identify ‘one thing’ they can get done today and offer up any help you can to move them forward in accomplishing the task.” Having someone to guide them through the process, she says, can be a lifesaver.
Be a good listener
Though you might feel tempted to reassure your friend verbally and explain the laundry list of amazing qualities he or she possesses, sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all and just listen. “Sometimes friends just need a good, non-judgmental ear instead of advice,” says Paulette Sherman, PsyD, psychologist and author of The Book of Sacred Baths. “Show you care by just being a constant calm and supportive presence and a witness to this chaotic experience.”
Spend lots of time with them
Even if this is a friend you see often, whether it’s because you work together or live near each other, make an extra effort to see them even more frequently. It’s during the times of the day where people are not typically social, like evenings, when they may be feeling the sting of loneliness the strongest. “If your friend is not openly disclosing when she or he is having the hardest time, simply ask,” suggests Derichs. “Try making plans, or check-in with them during those times.” Here are some warning signs that your friend’s loneliness might be hurting his or her health.
Be more affectionate
If you’re not a hugger or the type to reach out physically when someone is in pain, try to make a concerted effort to do so during this time. Dr. Sherman explains that, after divorce, your friend may be craving more physical affection than usual. “Giving them a hug will help them feel bonded to others like you,” she says. And yes, you’ll benefit too from all those hugs—here’s how.
Don’t judge and don’t gossip
When your friend is pouring out all of the nitty-bitty details involved in her or his very private divorce, you want to be extra sensitive to the fact that he or she is feeling more vulnerable than usual. “Your friend wants to know that what he or she is telling you isn’t going to become fodder for gossip as soon as you leave or hang up with them,” says April Masini, New York-based relationship and etiquette expert. “When you don’t judge your friend for having feelings that are raw and unpleasant, you’re being there for them in the most basic way.” She adds that, more than anything, friends who are going through a divorce need loyalty.
Invite your friend out to social events
According to Masini, it’s quite common for recent divorcees to struggle—make sure they avoid the things you should never do to get over a breakup. They may feel “damaged,” and that they’re not “wanted” by others and become a bit recluse in their home. “You don’t have to fix your friend up with a date, but it would be nice if you invited him or her to go to the movies, join you for coffee, hit the mall together and just get out,” says Masini. “Your friend may feel insecure and not want to venture out alone, so your weekend invites will give him or her something to put on the calendar, and wake up, get showered and out of the house for.”
Emphasize the basics of good self-care
When people experience major life changes, it’s not uncommon for them to neglect to care for themselves, even in the most simplest of ways. It’s your job as their friend to make sure this doesn’t happen. Eating and sleeping are two basic necessities your friend should be keeping up with and exercise is a close third, as activity releases feel-good endorphins that can seriously come in handy during an often depressing time. “If they aren’t eating or sleeping, they are going to have a hard time with this life crisis,” says Kathy McMahon, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and President of Couples Therapy Inc. “If they seem really off, suggest they speak to their primary physician about medication.”
Plan a girls’ night
A night on the town may not be what your recently divorced friend has in mind—or maybe it is!—but, either way, experts agree that this can reboot your friend’s self-confidence and remind him or her what it’s like to have fun and be single. “Most likely, friends who are going through a divorce may not be in a very social mood,” explains Vikki Ziegler, renowned divorce attorney, relationship expert, and author of The PreMarital Planner. “Some may not be dating or even going out other than for work and for business or family happenings, which they have no choice but to attend.” Inviting friends out during this time, she explains, will force them to get out and feel good and take their minds off of the divorce while you are distracting them.”
Offer to babysit
When couples who have children divorce, it not only throws in a ton of added elements to the situation, but it can be immensely more difficult to cope with and heal from. For this reason, experts agree that it can be helpful to offer to watch the kids once in awhile. Remember, this parent is not used to doing everything him or herself—be it picking up the kids from school or not having a few moments to him or herself. Dr. Sherman suggests offering to babysit, even just once a month, so your friend can have a break, a night out, or just some alone time to get away from everything.”
Give them a good laugh
We say laughter is the best medicine, and it may even work, at least temporarily, to heal the sadness brought on by divorce. “The funny story you tell or a random joke will bring feelings of happiness back to them, even if only for a temporary period,” says Dr. McMahon. “Being able to get giddy during such a gloomy time will help break the sad or stressed state they have most likely become accustomed to due to the divorce.”
Offer to be a second set of eyes and ears interviewing attorneys
“For many people, the divorce process is the first time that they’ve ever hired an attorney, and this task can be daunting and mystifying,” says Masini. “It helps to have a friend at these meetings or on these phone calls when figuring out who to hire.” That way, if he or she forgets to ask something or feels emotional during a meeting, you’re there to provide clarity and comfort. Check out these tips on choosing a divorce lawyer.
One of the most difficult parts of divorce is inevitable downsizing. “Most people go from one household to two, which isn’t only expensive, but also emotionally and psychologically difficult,” says Masini. “Try to support your friend who may be feeling shame, anger, and failure at having to downsize and explain that both parties have to throw in when a marriage fails and that dreams of big houses and fancy cars may fade for now, but both parties are going to have to downsize—and that’s part of the process.”