Watching a loved one going through the emotional steps leading to a divorce can make you feel utterly helpless. You know the pain is real, but what can you do to help? The fear of doing too much is as true as the fear of not doing enough. What if you do or say the wrong thing? It can be unnerving. Here is some guidance on how to best help a friend going through a divorce without worrying about making a mess of things.
Spend Time With Them
A married person is used to spending time with someone. When the ex moves out, it may be a relief, but an empty home is a lonely one and a sad reminder of what used to be. Suggest getting together with your friend as often as you can, for a movie, dinner, or just coffee. Have him or her over for a meal. You don’t even have to discuss the divorce if it doesn’t feel right. The important element you are providing is some needed company.
When Your Friend Is Moving
At least one person usually leaves the marital home during a divorce. It’s a heartbreaking step. Separating her things from his. Deciding whether the picture they bought while on vacation goes in the “his” or “her” pile. The act of packing personal possessions and removing them from the family home can bring out every sad, devastating feeling. It puts the breakup in true perspective.
Whether your friend admits it or not, he or she needs you. Help bring boxes and fold sweaters. Place books and dishes in a box. It’s okay to talk about your favorite television show to provide some type of mental distraction. Your mere presence will make all the difference to your grieving friend.
We listen to people every day. But how much do we really hear? Actively listening involves letting someone talk without interruption and genuinely hearing the meaning behind the words. Allow your friend to talk, vent, ramble, or just strike out at the world. Losing a spouse through a divorce is a kind of death. He or she needs to go through the grieving process. You can’t save your friend from the pain. But you can be there and help with the barrage of emotions that are happening.
Just listening can become a challenge when your friend trashes his or her ex, and you are tempted to jump in with full agreement. “I always said he was a jerk!” Your friend is on a high emotional level and just needs to be heard. You bashing the ex will not be appreciated when the conversation is over. When in doubt, speak less and listen more.
What you can do is acknowledge your friend’s emotional turmoil. “You sure are angry right now.” “The future can look scary.” Validate what he or she is going through. It’s a bad idea, however, to press your friend for details about the split, as in, “So, how often did they meet at that motel?” Leave it to your friend to reveal the details at his or her own pace. Otherwise, such a question may be considered intrusive.
Be a Helpmate
Being married means that one has an automatic helpmate. One loses this person during a separation. Now, your friend is confronted with problems that did not exist previously. Who stays with the kids with they are sick? Who picks up emergency groceries and sends out the dry cleaning? The truth is, life becomes much busier without a live-in spouse. Help your friend whenever possible. A simple call, “I’m at the market. Do you need anything?” will be deeply appreciated. If the ex took care of the children while your friend got her weekly manicure, offer to do the same. Your friend will likely have less time on her hands now that her spouse has left. Cooking can be an especially painful reminder that she is now cooking for only one person.
Surprise your friend with an occasional cooked meal. Simply drop it off. If you cannot cook, surprise her by ordering a pizza. Be a partner as well as a friend. And remember that food is always a source of comfort.
Don’t be a pest with constant phone calls, but it’s thoughtful to check in every few days with a simple, “Do you need anything?” The answer will probably be no. But your friend will appreciate knowing that there is someone who cares enough to check.
Your Friends Starts Dating
He hasn’t yet removed all his things from the basement of the home, and she’s already dating. You know it is far too soon and that she is facing a huge crash. Avoid a lecture. Your friend has a right to make her own mistakes. Be sure she knows you will be there when she needs you – as she will.
Being there for a friend going through a divorce can be a slippery slope. You want to help, but your friend must go through the grief and healing process on his or her own. You are not a therapist and should not act like one by giving specific advice.
The best thing you can do is be there. Make sure your friend knows your support is unconditional and non-judgmental. And physically, spend time with your friend to help them get through these tough times.
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