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Supporting Friends During a Divorce

August 7, 2013

stormy-skies-in-wet-spring-by-megan-balli

By Amy Hackworth. Painting by Megan Balli.

Today our discussion of supporting our friends through challenging times continues with thoughts about how to best love our friends when they’re going through a divorce. Divorce is so painful, and complicated, and extremely difficult. How do we help?

For some people, like my friend Wendy, her divorce happened suddenly. “For me,” she wrote, “it was almost like a bomb being dropped. The first several months, I was in shock. ‘Is this my life?’ I would ask myself numerous times every day. Offers to talk were appreciated, but I didn’t even know what going on in the beginning.” In her situation, Wendy appreciated friends who didn’t pry, feeling that occasionally people were more interested in the juicy details of her divorce — and passing them on to others — than supporting her.

In other cases such as my friend Peter’s, a loving invitation to talk about his challenges was just what he needed. Though Peter acknowledges professional therapy might be advisable, he writes, “There is nothing more convincing that support exists for you than having friends simply take the time to offer a listening ear. There is something inherently genuine and valuable in a listener who isn’t trying to reach a conclusion with you, but rather is seeking inclusion in your challenges of the moment.”

Both Wendy and Peter shared how much it meant when friends reached out to their children, too, inviting them to over to play (and stay for dinner!), offering genuine friendship, teaching new skills, attending interesting events, and including them in plain old fun. This means support, inclusion, and genuine care for kids whose lives are also in transition, as well as time for grieving parents to be alone and take care of themselves for a bit. Remember that your friend still needs to have fun, too, and invite her to dinner and the movies just like you always did. “Divorce isn’t contagious,” Wendy says. “Single people still enjoy going out to dinner or to the movies with their married friends.”

And speaking of dinner, the gifts of meals or treats are always appreciated. The transition from two adults running a household to just one is daunting to say the least. You can’t go wrong by dropping by with a healthy dinner or a special treat.

But anything that shows you’re thinking about your friend’s challenges is helpful. Wendy again: “It touched me deeply when I would receive a card in the mail. For me, going through a divorce made me feel completely alone, so when I received something it was a wonderful reminder that people cared. Above all, divorce made me feel inadequate. I wondered why I wasn’t enough and what I had done wrong. Emails letting me know people noticed me, supported me, and were cheering for me boosted my confidence when it waned.” Being aware of birthdays, holidays, and other special events is another great idea, but Wendy cautions against Valentine’s Day. When a friend brought her a flower on Valentine’s Day, she felt it drew extra attention to her single-ness.

Peter especially appreciated, just like any of us would, friends who offered love without judgment. Instead of judging him or his situation, the most helpful friends “only saw an immediacy of need and looked to determine real ways they could offer some type of support, whether it be physical (with food), social (with inclusion of my kids), or emotional (by actions that said ‘you aren’t alone in this’).”

And there it is: once again, the answer to supporting our friend when they’re hurting lies in taking action. What have you done to help? And how have you been helped? Share your ideas and teach us to become better friends.

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Game Show Hostesses Need Not Apply | Diary of a Divorced Diva
August 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christy@SweetandSavoring August 7, 2013 at 5:24 pm

What a valuable post. I haven’t yet had a close friend go through a divorce, but I imagine it must be one of the most terrible things to experience. Thank you for sharing your friends’ experiences!
I think unconditional love is key- the last things anyone needs is judgment. Unconditional love, emotional support, and finding real, practical ways to help out are great things to remember.

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2 Jenni Bailey August 7, 2013 at 6:05 pm

This is such great advice. My husband and I have seen two friends get divorced but, in both cases, we only really knew one half of the divorcing couple and not even that well. My fear is that if I run into someone I haven’t spoken to in a long time and hear they are getting divorced it will seem weird – as though I really am digging for the juicy details – if I suddenly start calling them or offering to hang out. It can be tricky to find the balance between offering support and presence and looking like a grief tourist.

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3 Jenni Bailey August 7, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Editing to add: Is “grief tourist” too heavy of a term? I just googled it and I think it means something darker than I expected.

See what I mean about it being tricky? How awkward would it be if I had said that to a friend who was getting divorced? Yikes.

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4 Sara August 7, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Jenni: I totally got what you meant in your first comment, but after reading your second comment I had to google “grief tourist” as well. Double yikes! :) :) :)

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5 Rachel August 7, 2013 at 7:06 pm

This subject is timely for me. Just this week I heard about a friend who went through a divorce a few months ago. I felt terrible that I didn’t even know about it and then perplexed as to how to talk to her about it. Thank you for this series.

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6 Amy August 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm

A few years ago my husband and I were on the brink of divorce and seperated for a few months. (We have reconciles thanks to a wonderful therapist and our commitment to each other.) The advice in this post is terrific! We had friends and family who were supportive in many of the ways Peter amd Wendy describe. It meant so much to both us to feel supported, no matter what the final outcome may have been.

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7 Dee August 8, 2013 at 2:36 am

Are there any books you may recommend gifting to a mother of two going through a divorce? Obviously everyone’s experience is different, but would really like to send something to my friend during this time. Other suggestions? Thanks.

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8 lisa thomson August 8, 2013 at 5:50 am

Hi Dee, I actually wrote a book for women going through divorce called “The Great Escape; A Girl’s Guide to Leaving a Marriage”. It has been very well received by bookstores and women readers. Click to my site for more information. Also, there is one that has gotten great reviews (It was published in 2007) so it’s a little older but it’s called “The Good Divorce” (sorry I can’t think of the author’s name)

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9 Sarah August 8, 2013 at 2:51 am

1) Sending cards
2) Sending textos with Good night and good morning (they certainly miss it).
3) Inviting the person to do something to take care of herself or himself: exercise together (go for walks, this helps beat depression), offer a massage.
4) Ask what this person would like to do without their kids (go to an exposition, movies, a weekend trip) and arrange for it. Babysit their kids!
5) If you are real close friends, check for their financial issues and see if you can help. A divorce is financially quite tough too.
6) Share lifting up musics.

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10 lisa thomson August 8, 2013 at 5:45 am

Thank you for this wonderful post. It is so important and I know people don’t always know what to do. For me, some friends helped me move some things to my new house and this was a huge moral boost. Although I had movers for the big stuff, there were lots of smaller items I had forgotten and they came back to the matrimonial home with me. I couldn’t have done that without them. I think the worst thing a friend or family member can do is stay silent and not call or check in. It’s time spent that shows we care.

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11 Sunny Day August 8, 2013 at 10:05 am

Oh… when someone moves out of the house… Help reorganize the closet (so there won’t be ahalf empty spot) and other areas of the house where the partner won’t be there anymore…

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12 Chelle August 8, 2013 at 10:25 am

Some of the wisest advice I ever got was from my dad. When I asked him why a marriage had ended (very old family friends), he said, “Don’t ask. I don’t want to take sides.” In other words, avoid the gossip. I’m now old enough to watch friends go through divorce. In one case, in particular, the wife made a very foolish mistake. But I don’t know what that mistake was. She’s my friend. She’s still the girl I know and love. And he’s still the guy who hangs in there.
Obviously, with truly close friends, I don’t need to live in ignorance. But for those “I’ve known them forever” couples? It’s nice to just love them and not dig for details. And stay friends.

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13 Ann August 8, 2013 at 11:27 am

Taking them out to dinner or having them over for dinner a lot. Telling them to “Let it all out!” If you’re going out to dinner it’s good to ask the server to find a private area table and not to come over so much so you don’t get interrupted with water refills! My friends and I took our friend out. She cried the whole time but we also laughed a lot. It was good for her to let it all out in front of us. The stress can build up and be harsh on your body. Telling your friend, “You don’t have to brave in front of us.” is important. I also sent cards and got gift certificates for clothes and massages.

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14 Jaci August 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm

When an old friend heard I was recently divorced he offered, “Congratulations.” He reminded me that no good marriage ends in divorce, and I was now free to focus on positive relationships. Since I’d had some time to heal I gladly accepted his message as a refreshing way to look at the situation. It’s probably not something that you should say to a person who’s just begun the process, though.

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15 Kimberly August 8, 2013 at 7:28 pm

When I was divorced, the best thing my family and friends did was help me get settled into my new place. I couldn’t afford to stay in our house, so I struck out on my own. Having sweet little tchotchkes and trinkets to start decorating with was delightful. Also, money was tight as I learned to live on 1/4 the amount I used to have, so it was nice when friends paid for the outings and dinners that they insisted I go on to get my mind off of things. Oh, and ask if your friend wants you to go to court with him/her. By all means, don’t feel like you have to go into the courtroom (awkward!), but a buddy to ride to/from with is very nice.

The worst well-meaning thing people said to me was: “Well, at least you never had kids!” Eeek. Instant waterworks there.

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16 Happy August 9, 2013 at 10:31 am

I heard the “at least you never had kids” remark A LOT. It didn’t help. It’s also amazing how many people try to breeze past it like it didn’t happen. Divorce is like a death where no one dies. You often lose an entire family you were close to, not just your spouse. Despite the bad end, I grieved for what I once had or thought I had and feel very much like a failure. My identity was wrapped up in him, being part of a couple, etc that it was really hard to figure out how to move forward. So many people asked me about my last name and what I was going to do (and felt free to share their opinions of my choice). That was really difficult when I was challenging my own identity. The best friends were just there, willing to share stories of the good times and the bad, and let me lead. They didn’t try to fill in the silence which left room for me to share when it was hard.

I didn’t have kids, but I do know friends who have gone through divorce with them and they tell me that some of the hardest times at the beginning are when the kids are with their spouse in ashared custody arrangement. Having someone to take care of takes you out of your own head. The silence is deafening so I have tried to be sensitive to that and offer grown up time with them during those intervals.

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17 Catherine August 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm

What a great article. I recently split from my boyfriend of 17 years and as none of my friends have experienced this, it was clear a lot of them didn’t know how to help me. I agree with a lot of the things said here – I would reinforce – keeping your friend busy when their child is with their X, helping with practical issues such as moving house and definitely just texting/ringing to let them know they are not alone. It has definitely made me realise who are my true friends!

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18 Jessica Léycegui August 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm

This is a very compassionate-wrote text, I’m so moved… I divorced 3 years ago and it really showed me how amazing my friends are. They have supported me from day 1, never letting me fall so down and helping me bounce off faster. Having someone you know it will always love you no-matter-what, just-as-you-are, with no interest other than see you happy again, ready to see you fall again but never leaving your side ¡it’s amazing!

Gabrielle, I love your blog and your collaborators! Amazing team!

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19 Liz Bohannon August 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Oh, this is good. I’d be so grateful for a post on how to love/support friends who have recently miscarried. I am in a season of life where it seems like this is a frequent loss and I’d love to hear some perspective and ideas on how to love someone well during this unique season of grieving.

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20 Roline February 7, 2014 at 3:02 pm

The one thing that I experienced in my divorce was that it didn’t just break up our so called former happy home.It brole up the entire family especially if was adultery was the cause of the divorce. It broke up friendships. The mutal friends had to decide in which boat they want to row. Some friends hanged out with my ex and his lover. So I came to a point where I made the decision I can’t decide who they should hanh out,but I can certainly decide who I want to be with. And it was easy.Call me selfish? My sfriendship circle shrink. It was fine. The friend who decided to row in my boat were very supportive. I came to a point where I prayed to God to fast forward my pain and anger.I felt at the time that losing someone through death is more bearable than divorce. Its a living death. Is there anything worse than that? I don’t think so. And I’m glad He didn’t do it. I had to go through it. I’m only divorce for 1 year and 4 months.now. But the signs of a broken marriage showed 5 years ago. What is so strange that a anniversary date change into a divorce date. I met someone now. Wonderful guy. He made me realised that there is life after divorce. There is light at the end of this dark tunnel. Hang in there. Wait on God’s divine timing. I look back and and can’t believe that I cried day in and day out. Thank you God. You neva let go of my hand. I’m currently working on forgiving my ex and his lover. I need to.Otherwise I will be their prisoner for the rest of my life. And my road forward will be much heavier. I want to travel light. I need to free myself. I’m working on it. Thanks for this blog. My colleague went through the same experience. I could be her pillar. And I notice through her oain how I have moved on and how I grew. Thanks you lord again.

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21 Tina February 25, 2014 at 7:02 pm

I have stood beside my friend through such a horrible time when her husband left her and the four children. Two of the children were a toddler and the other was about 6 months old. The other two children were already older teens. He claimed he needed space to figure himself out and as it turned out, he has been having an affair with co-worker though he denied it. Two years of him playing games with her and the children. Finally, my friend grew a pair and asked for a divorce. He hasn’t paid child support since last August and he claims he doesn’t have the funds to support the children. However, he does have funds to buy his lover expensive dinners, gifts and trips. Hmmm… not what I consider a good father! Idiot! Anyways, I’m one of a small handful of her friends that have been supporting her through her pain and anger as best as I can. She did have one friend avoid her during this time and that person continues to do so. Nobody needs a “friend” like that in a time of crisis. If anyone of you ladies have a useless friend like this one, cut your ties and keep moving forward. True friends will be standing beside you with love and compassion through the good times and the terrible times. I told my friend, the best revenge is to be more successful and to live life to the fullest for herself and for her children. Just be awesome! It’s never to late to find out who you truly are… Go girls go!

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