When a friend goes through a divorce it can be one of the most trying times of their life and may leave you feeling helpless as you watch them suffer through the process. You may feel as though you are walking a fine line between being helpful and overbearing, between giving them their space and feeling like that you are abandoning them. Although each situation will be different there are some basic guidelines you can follow.
Do not criticize their spouse
During a divorce, and most especially in the beginning, hurt feelings and raw emotions often lead to an unloading of all their negative feelings about their spouse. While this is a perfectly normal part of their healing process it may be tempting to turn it into a bashing session at the expensive of their former spouse, avoid that at all costs.
Listen and offer sympathy but do not engage in this process with them. While you should not necessarily feel the need to defend their spouse, the process of falling out of love with someone can be long and airing your negative feelings about their spouse while they are still working out their feelings may create a strain on your relationship. If they have children, be extra sensitive and never speak unkind words about either parent while they are present.
Do not give advice unless it is asked for
I recently had a conversation with a friend who had gone through a terrible life-changing event. She said that after people found out about her situation they would come up and express their sympathy and then each one would offer advice. Then one day she had a friend call her and simply said “I am so sorry this happened to you. I love you, and I am always here for you if you need anything.” She was surprised to find overwhelming relief at not having to sit through another round of unsolicited advice.
Although it is usually given in the right spirit it is not appropriate unless it is requested. When in doubt “I’m sorry. I love you. I’m here for you,” may be all you need to say.
Do not assume you know the whole story
As any married person can attest marriages almost always look different from the outside than from the inside. Do not automatically assume that you know everything about their situation based on the information you are hearing from one or both parties.
Do not give advice or make a judgment about the break up. Even your closest friend may make mistakes in their marriage that they would be ashamed to admit to anyone, including you. Making hasty assumptions and passing incorrect judgments can severely damage a friendship.
Do not be so optimistic and upbeat that you deny your friends grief
You want to be that person that pulls them out of this dark point in their life and that is admirable but there is a hard and painful process that they need to go through first. Denying the misery they will have to experience will not save them from having it and may cause your friend to put distance between you so they can go through it on their own.
Make yourself available
For phone calls, for lunches, for parties. It is necessary that they know someone will be there for them and the loneliest and most frightening times usually are not in the middle of the day when it is convenient for you. Let them know that you understand that and you are there for them anyway. Offer to go with them to social functions that were once attended with a spouse. Consider that they may feel hesitation to be in social situations because they are used to being part of a couple and going alone will make them feel vulnerable.
Watch for signs of serious depression
It is normal to experience some depression associated with such a traumatic life event. But there is a distinct difference between serious depression and the normal grief that you will most likely see your friend go through.
If you see a serious fluctuation in their weight.
If you are aware of insomnia or excessive sleeping.
If they are uncharacteristically irritable or become angry.
If they frequently complain of fatigue or body aches not associated with illness or exercise.
And most especially if they talk of overwhelming feelings of worthlessness or suicide.
Do not assume it is normal. Help them seek immediate medical attention.
Do not make everything about the divorce
Occasionally a call to your friend to talk about things going on in your life will be a welcome distraction. You may feel like you can no longer call them and have the types of conversations that you did before their divorce, however, that type of normalcy might actually be beneficial.
Remind them of their good attributes
By the time the divorce process has started there has been such a lack of kindness and positive words for so long that your friend may have lost sight of who they are. They may start to see themselves solely through the critical eyes of their former spouse.
Remind them of things that you love about them and talents that they have and remind them often. They may be overwhelmed with the bleakness of their situation and have a difficult time imaging themselves happy again. With your help they will begin to refocus their view of themselves and begin to see a more hopeful future.
Divorce is not easy. A supportive, loving friend can make an otherwise difficult situation a little easier. Be that friend.