How to support a friend going through divorce

Written By Kara Francis

If you have a friend going through a divorce, you may feel awkward or unsure about what you can do to support them. Here are 7 tips to help you show up as a good friend during your friend’s divorce process.

1: Just listen. In these types of difficult situations, most people just want to be heard. Don’t try to fix the situation or offer your own advice. Get comfortable spending time in long, heavy periods of silence if your friend is processing emotions. The best thing you can do is let them lead the conversation at their own pace – the friend might not always want to talk about divorce or their marital relationship. In fact, catching up on what’s going on in your life might be a nice distraction from your friend’s spouse. Regardless, stick to their agenda.

2: Empathize. Don’t offer up your own experience that you think is similar to theirs. So many people unwittingly turn the conversation back to themselves, even though their intention is to empathize with the other person. But that’s not what empathy is about. Empathy is about really seeing things from your friend’s perspective and acknowledging your friend’s emotions that they are expressing to you in real time. Do not try to tell their story for them or assume you know how they’re feeling based on your own experience. It may seem awkward to refrain from chiming in about your experience, but being more mindful about how you empathize can be one of the best ways to help your friend.

3: Socialize. Invite your friend to social events and to spend time together in different ways on a regular basis (such as a yoga class, dinner, coffee, or a concert). However, make it a no pressure invite – let them know they can accept or decline without feeling guilty. And don’t plan an entire event around the friend – this puts too much pressure on them to show up and be in the spotlight.

4: Support them. Reach out and ask how you can support your friend, not just when you initially hear the news of the divorce, but frequently and consistently throughout the entire process. This includes major events like the holidays, their birthday and their wedding anniversary. Many people just want you to be available to listen to them, which isn’t too time consuming for you. Your friend may even tell you she wants to be left alone and will reach out to you after the dust settles. But if she actually asks for tangible support (such as a weekly call, a baby-sitter, help with moving, etc.), you need to be prepared to actually follow through with your offer to help. Don’t offer support if you can’t actually give it.

5: Let them be. Don’t take it personally if your friend doesn’t act like your usual friend right now (such as forgetting about a get-together, being quiet or moody when you’re out together, bailing out on an event or trip at the last minute because they just can’t handle it, etc.). They have enough going on in their lives right now – the last thing they need to worry about on top of all their problems is feeling guilty about not showing up 100% in your friendship.

6: Don’t get too involved. Be on their side, but don’t fight their battle for them. Don’t lash out at their spouse or other family members. Don’t spy on their spouse or stalk them on social media. It never ends well. Who knows, your friend could end up reconciling with their former spouse, and then you could lose a friend. Or you could get dragged into the case by having to sit for a deposition. It’s just not worth it.

7: Refer to a professional. If your friend’s issues start to feel overwhelming for you and are above your pay grade, it’s ok to recommend professional help, such as a coach or therapist. It’s not fair or realistic for you to take all of this on if you feel like you can’t handle it. Be honest with your friend: explain that you will always be there to support them and aren’t going anywhere, but you are not trained to address some of these issues, and you think they would really benefit from working with a professional.

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