Divorce can be extremely traumatizing and debilitating. Its process creates lengthy legal battles, havoc for children involved, a cycle of emotions, and affects someone’s life in every capacity. Yet learning how to help a friend going through a divorce can feel quite intimidating. You fear you may say the wrong thing or worsen their pain. Yet, ultimately there is no shining solution to release the trauma they’re experiencing. But there are ways to support your loved ones and help them heal.
How to Help a Friend Going Through a Divorce
1. Lead with empathy
Divorce is a living loss. So, whether or not your friend asked for the divorce or their partner did, it doesn’t matter. Losing someone dear to them forms a significant void in their life physically, mentally, and emotionally. It also creates a loss of identity because couples merge. Their language becomes “we” instead of “I”, and over time, they can even develop biological similarities. Therefore, this loss is felt within them on a significant and holistic level. So, lead with empathy during their grieving process.
2. Mindfully listen
It’s important to brace yourself that the conversations with your friends may seem endless, replaying every detail of their marriage or talking in circles. But that’s okay. They need someone willing to sit through it all with an open heart and a set of ears to take it all in. Additionally, it’s normal to speak repetitively; it’s part of the grieving process. So, resist the urge to ignore their calls or change the subject and listen with pure mindful loving attention. Your presence and unwavering love will move mountains.
3. Don’t make assumptions
It’s common for people to make statements like “Congratulations” after hearing about someone’s divorce, or on the opposite spectrum, they may automatically assume it’s a tragedy. However, these statements are cruel because they negate the truth of what’s actually happening and further worsen the pain. It may also prevent your friend from coming to you to vent or ask for your help. Instead, ask them, “How do you feel?” and “What can I do for you?” These questions lead with compassion and empathy and refrain from false assumptions.
4. Help them
What do you need following a stressful or traumatic event? Empathy, time to decompress, a great tub of your favorite ice cream (one of the best self-soothing techniques), and probably loads of support? In fact, the latter is one of the best ways on how to help a friend going through a divorce. And a part of that support, when the roles are reversed, and you’re helping your friend, is to be there with a helping hand. Cook a meal and bring it over, offer to run errands for them, babysit their children, clean their house if they can’t muster the energy to do so (very common), and help out with things their partner used to do. Your presence will help provide solace during a traumatic time and remind them they’re not alone.
5. Keep inviting them
Many feel rejected by their married group of friends following a divorce. Even more, married couples who share friends may start to diverge, picking a side. So, not only does a person experiencing a divorce grieve their partner, but they also begin to grieve their lost friendships. To make matters even worse, as mentioned earlier, divorce is a traumatic event, and it does cause or exacerbate mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Therefore, support is a critical component in alleviating their resulting symptoms. Yet, even if they tend to decline your invitations, know that it’s a part of their healing process and keep asking them to hang out. No matter what.
Did you know divorce is one of the most traumatic events an individual can experience after death? It’s true. As a result, their grieving period will not be linear. It will involve highs, lows, and everything in between. So, continue reminding them you’re there for them and show up. Divorce is very isolating. Culturally and societally, it also carries stigma, and it’s common to feel shame and profound loneliness. Therefore, send texts, be there, and call to chat. It will make a world of difference.
7. Provide patience
Depending on many factors, like the nature of the divorce, the ongoing legal battles, their resilience, children and trauma, your friend may continue to grieve for years. Healing from a divorce is a lengthy process and the subsequent pain doesn’t magically disappear overnight. Yet if you find yourself becoming frustrated that your friend is still sad or depressed, remind yourself that divorce is a type of trauma. They aren’t expected to “get over” the divorce on your timeline. They need to heal according to their own.
8. Don’t place pressure
It’s worth mentioning again that checking in is always instrumental in helping your friend. However, when you call or meet with them face-to-face, don’t place pressure. For example, strongly refrain from asking for more details or providing insensitive antidotes like “It’s in the universe’s hands” “You’re better off”, or “There’s more fish in the sea”. Additionally, avoid saying anything that comes across as judgmental when they prefer to keep quiet. Everyone’s journey to healing from grief is different. Therefore, send sweet texts reminding them you’re there, ask them, “What do you need?”, or provide a fun distraction like taking them out, going on an adventure, practicing relaxing indoor and outdoor hobbies, or crossing an item off their bucket list.
9. Don’t speak poorly about their ex
If your friend’s partner wasn’t the nicest, you may want to jump at the opportunity to trash-talk them. But refrain from doing so. This tip also applies if your friend is speaking poorly about their partner. Indeed, it’s important to remember that grief creates a rollercoaster of emotions. One day they might feel empowered and on a high speaking about all the sad memories, while another, they may wake up crying non-stop and missing their partner terribly. Furthermore, trash-talking their partner may also trigger defensiveness and could create a wedge within your friendship.
Remember, a divorce is a traumatic event and a living loss. Therefore, the best ways on how to help a friend going through a divorce are to always lead with empathy, be there, help them, and allow them to vent and experience the rollercoaster of emotions. These tools will significantly help your loved one on their healing journey.
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