How To Help A Friend Going Through A Divorce
Once you hit your late twenties and early thirties, the wave of "young" divorces may start to come. People who married just out of high school or college may find their relationships coming apart at the seams — and, as friends, you're all likely to get involved in the resulting emotional and financial rigmarole. Particularly if one of your friends has been divorced before, it can be difficult to know the appropriate type of behavior to help a friend in this situation. Should you help burn the ex's clothes? Go on ragers all night? Take care of their lives while they weep into a plate of cake? How do you actually help your friend get through a divorce?
One of the prime pieces of advice when dealing with anybody in a crisis is to set firm boundaries. Make it clear what you can and cannot do: making sandwiches for a kid's birthday yes; taking sobbing calls at 4 a.m. every night for a week no. You may find yourself putting aside your own emotional needs out of the desire to be kind, but after a certain point you'll only be draining yourself and end up being less effective as a friend. Practice good self-care and withdraw, with apologies, if things are getting a bit much.
Divorces have their own special requirements for effective support from friends, and you can do a lot just by being there — and by recommending a good lawyer.
1. Allow Venting — But Avoid Taking Sides
Regular break-ups suck, and many of the same rules apply to divorces — if you didn't do it when people had screaming matches in the college quad, you shouldn't do it now. That particularly goes for taking sides; chances are that the couple in question have built a life together, and share many friends, so you might just stress them out more if you're making them conceive of a future where that has to be "divided".
Let them run their mouths about their exes as much as you can stand it, but avoid declaring "allegiance". As the process plays out, don't play favorites if you can. The future may mean you end up socializing with one half more than the other, but that can wait.
2. Don't Judge
We all make mistakes. If one partner cheated on the other, there was a trust issue, or somebody had issues they refused to address — it happens. They're human, and you aren't in the marriage watching it all first-hand, so try your utmost to keep your judgement to yourself. Even if you privately think Partner A is a jerk and Parter B is a long-suffering doormat, keep quiet on those judgements as much as you can.
3. Help Them Find Legal Support, If You Can
Divorces are different from break-ups in the legal sense, and that's where things will rapidly become uncharted. Resources from friends are often seriously helpful to people going through the process. If you know a great divorce lawyer or a fantastic accountant to get their stuff in order, recommend it. Tell them to investigate their legal options, take things slowly, and keep things rational and friendly.
But here's one big note: if you have no idea what you're talking about, or your only ideas about prenups and divorce law come from TV, do not give advice.
4. Resist "Get Back Out There" Advice
Hold off on the "plenty more fish in the sea" comments. What your friend needs is possibly not a great night on the town picking up people left and right; they need self-esteem boosts to do with their own worth, yes, but there are other ways to achieve that. Implying that they need to get onto finding another partner rapidly may make them feel even more devastated that this partnership ended.
5. Celebrate The Marriage As Well As Mourning It
This is about grief as much as anything else. It can be very difficult for a divorcing person to let go of the bitterness and misery of the final years or months of a marriage, but one way of helping them can be to give them insight into the positive aspects of it, the strengths — not to convince them to reverse their decision, but to affirm that it wasn't all a waste of time, and that they gained from the experience. It happened, and they shouldn't put it in a box marked "Failure".
6. Fill In Practically, Within Limits
Divorce can be a chaotic experience, even if both people try very hard to keep life as normal as possible — particularly if they have children. The determination of visiting schedules can leave gaps and fretful experiences, and the onslaught of divorce attorney visits or mediations may mean some appointments go by the wayside. Offer practical help in ways that don't seriously impact your own mental or fiscal health. You can drive their kids to soccer once a week while they chat to their accountant.
7. Be Sensitive With Mutual Invitations
The best way to deal with mutual friends divorcing and the issue of inviting them both to parties is to talk to them about it. Make sure they know that you care about their thoughts and how they want to proceed, and that you accept any decision they come to. It's just considerate. At the very least, both deserve advance warning that this person will be at a social event, so that they can physically prepare.
8. Don't Be Smug About Your Own Solidity
Yeah, the idea of the smug married friend becomes even worse if you yourself are no longer smugly married. Don't focus on your own relationship while talking to them, or even bring it up, and try very hard not to go home and revel in the wonder of your own happy, quiet home. If anything, make their situation the catalyst for check-ins about your own partnership. You can feel grateful for what you have, but remember — nobody's perfect.
9. Don't Accept A Role As Messenger
This is not your job. Physically picking up their stuff from one home and moving it into another is fine, but moving papers from one partner to the other or carrying messages or intentions is not. You are not going to help by being a loaded gun transferring rounds between two parties; if they need a mediator, they should get a professional one. Encourage this if they show signs of trying to communicate in a roundabout way using other people — particularly with their kids.
10. If They Reconcile, Forgive
So you heard all the sh*t-talking, the insults, the misery, and now they've done a bunch more therapy and are trying to rebuild. Your role now is to support that, unless you think it's an extremely bad idea for very serious reasons (abuse, drugs, unaddressed mental health issues and so on). Otherwise, if your friends give each other second chances, you can too. Ultimately they are adults making their own choices; if you disapprove of the reconciliation, your options are sitting with it or having less contact with the couple. Yes, I'm sure this was a tiring process for you as their friend, but have respect for their decisions.
Images: ryan remillard/Flickr, Giphy