Zelena van der Leeden, MC, CDC® and Jake W. Purdy, PMP, CDC® are the Co-founders of Divorce Management, the first multi-lingual divorce coaching firm in North America. Divorce Management operates on a “pay what you can” model offering certified Divorce Coaching and Divorce Transition and Recovery Coaching. Further details can be found on their website.
Where I come from, they say that you can count your true friends with your fingers. People have different concepts of the word friendship, but one thing we can all agree on is that a real friend has earned your trust and that you have earned theirs.
Having someone’s support when we are going through difficult times can make the journey less painful and less lonely. Friends usually have the power to make us feel better, but sometimes they feel lost and unable to help.
When someone is going through a divorce, people start sharing their Kramer Vs Kramer stories. They tell you what they or others did to keep the house, or the kids and they try to connect you with the best shark in town! Divorce can be a traumatic experience, so when you meet someone who has gone through a difficult separation, you tend to bond and want to help.
If marital breakdown is affecting someone you love, here are some ways in which you can support them:
Ask how you can help
This might seem obvious, but if you have a friend who is clearly struggling, you might offer opti/ons and solutions that are unwanted. Some people like company and distraction: they want to relax and think about something other than divorce. Others need space: alone time, or less crowded events. They might want to vent and just have you sit there and nod and say: your ex is evil! Or, they might want to avoid the topic all together. They might need money, food or just someone to help with the kids and chores while they deal with the legal mess while trying to keep some sanity. Before you offer help, ask them what they need and then see what you can do to support them.
Even if you mean well, breaking boundaries can slow down your friend’s healing process. Unless you are worried about their wellbeing, if someone wants to be alone you must respect that. If someone says that they don’t want to talk about the divorce, then you shouldn’t ask about it. Let the person lead, but be inquisitive and attentive. Let them know you are around without being too intrusive. Let them share what they feel comfortable with and show interest without falling under the gossip trap. If there are children involved, remember that the high-conflict separations can end up in custody battles, so make sure not share any details about their case with anyone.
Sometimes a hug can go a long way.
Expect bad days
We’ve all experienced the blues. Being sad is not a bad thing, but being sad all the time is a sign of depression. If your friend is having ups and downs, that is completely understandable. You’ll know how to help because you have asked and you’ll make sure to respect their boundaries. If you are worried that they might be struggling with mental health issues, you might want to suggest that they talk to their doctor or to a therapist. Some cope with drugs and alcohol and if you think it is getting out of hand, consider saying something. Know that you are not a psychologist and that it is not your job to fix your friend; but a good friend will try to help by offering resources and connecting them with experts.
Offer a different perspective
Sometimes we try to be supportive by agreeing with our friends. While every single emotion is valid, sometimes people get stuck on an issue that prevents them from moving forward. This is normal because divorce can be stressful and scary and when people are scared they go into fight or flight mode. You can validate every single feeling they have while offering a different point of view. You might help them see alternatives or at least to consider options. Asking questions usually works: What scares you about that idea? Why do you think that? What would happen if…? If you have been through a divorce or know people who have, it’s easy to generalize and compare cases. Understand that every family dynamic is different and that everyone needs to find their own way. If you are encouraging behaviors that will worsen the situation, you are not helping your friend. Try to stay objective.
Cheer for them
Adapting to life after divorce is a process that takes approximately 3 years for most families with children. Your friend will go through a lot of battles: emotional, legal, social, financial… they will win some and lose some. They will have to negotiate and figure out their priorities and start a new chapter of their lives. They will feel lost and hopeless at times, so it is important that you help them celebrate the small victories: reaching an agreement, moving into a new home, getting a new job, putting themselves out there. If you notice a positive change in your friend’s attitude, make sure you point it out!
If you are worried about a friend and don’t feel comfortable having these types of conversations, you can refer them to a divorce coach. Shame and guilt stops people from opening up to friends. Don’t take it personally, just remind them that you are on their side and that you will be supportive while staying true to yourself.
Written by: Zelena van der Leeden, co-founder of Divorce Management
© Divorce Management 2024
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