You’ve just found out that a close friend or family member is getting a divorce. Naturally, you want to help out any way you can – perhaps by offering encouragement or advice.
What are the do’s and don’ts of lending a hand to a divorcing friend in need?
1. Be unconditionally supportive.
To begin with, recognize that this is likely a very tough time for them. It will be encouraging just to know that someone is there, ready to help without any conditions or expectations.
Make sure they know that you are not judgmental or critical about their situation. This isn’t the time to wag your finger at them and point out all the flaws that led to the end of their relationship.
When you commit to helping them, whether as emotional support or for something more practical like helping them move some of their belongings, make sure you don’t bail! The last thing you want is to give them the impression that everyone is abandoning them. Go out of your way to reassure them that they have a deep support network on their side.
Sometimes what is needed most is a willing ear. Divorce is often very difficult emotionally, and it is important that they have a safe and comfortable place to express their feelings.
Remember that even if they confide in you, it isn’t necessarily the right time for you to unload all your own thoughts, opinions, or experiences about the situation. That can just add fuel to the fire. Be a listener, first and foremost, and offer your advice if asked.
By listening to their thoughts and considering their needs, you can avoid making the mistake of rushing them into something they aren’t ready for. It takes time to acclimatize after divorce, regardless of the situation. The last thing you want is to not give them enough time to move on.
3. Don’t place blame or choose sides.
It can be tempting to think that tearing down their ex is a good way to vent emotions and show your friend that you are on their side. More often than not, however, this just stirs up feelings of resentment, which can actually hinder the healing process.
Another possible side effect is that it can complicate the legal process. When separating couples agree to cooperate and find a mutually beneficial solution to their divorce, it can save a huge amount of time, money, and grief. By “muddying the waters”, you could be getting in the way of a peaceful resolution.
Similarly, don’t gossip behind their back. This is especially damaging if you slip details that they shared with you in confidence. Humans are drawn to juicy gossip and sensational stories – but this is not the situation where you want to be the star storyteller. If they find out that you’ve been airing their dirty laundry, it could have devastating consequences on your relationship and on their ability to come to terms with their divorce.
4. Respect their privacy.
Even if they have relied on you as a confidant throughout the entire divorce process, remember to respect their right to privacy. It is very natural for them to want some space so they can think and grieve during this time.
At the same time, don’t forget about them or allow them room to become isolated or depressed. Invite them along to occasions so that they know they have friends who love and support them.
5. Encourage them to find a lawyer.
If they come to you with questions or concerns about their legal rights or the process of divorce, the best thing you can do for them is to encourage them to find a lawyer. Many mistakes that divorcing people make could be avoided if only they had taken the time to check the legal implications of their actions with a professional.
By helping your friend to find a lawyer quickly, it will get them on the road to recovery without any damaging legal missteps.