How To Support A Friend Through A Divorce
It was Thanksgiving morning, while we were still in bed when my then-husband turned to me and asked for a divorce.
We’d been married for a year and 3 months, but he’d been my person for 13 years.
The details of the divorce don’t matter here. Divorce is hard regardless of the circumstances — whether it’s an amicable split or not, or whether there are children involved.
At 28, during a time when many of my friends were in long-term relationships, getting married or having children, my marriage was ending and I was the first of my friends to go through it.
Like any major life event, friends and family are often your first line of support. It’s no different with divorce. But when you’re the first one in your group of friends to go through it, it’s not always easy for your loved ones to know how to support you.
It’s been 5 years since my separation (and ultimate divorce) and I’ve learned a few things about the kind of support I wish I had had.
Here are 5 ways to support a friend going through a divorce:
1. Listen without judgement.
Throughout your friend’s divorce, they may turn to you as a source of support as they work through their feelings.
Accept that you won’t know (and likely will never know) the full details and circumstances of your friend’s divorce, so it’s not your place to share what you think of the situation.
But you can be there for your friend to lean on and be their support as they go through this difficult time.
For me, I found the most comfort and support from my coworkers. Maybe it was because they didn’t know my ex to share an opinion of him, but it gave me the space to process my rollercoaster of emotions and feel truly supported at the same time.
2. Don’t trash talk their ex.
Your friend is grieving the loss of their partner. Depending on the circumstances of the split, they might vent about their ex one day and reminisce the next.
Support your friend by listening and acknowledging their feelings, but try to refrain from sharing what you think about their ex. Statements like, “they’re a jerk”, “they never deserved you”, or “I never liked (name) anyways”, although may seem supportive, isn’t helpful.
When my friends would trash talk my ex, I would flip-flop between feeling foolish for having stayed in the relationship and feeling hurt that they were saying such negative things about the person I loved.
3. Hold off on giving unsolicited advice.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best not to give unsolicited advice. You don’t know the circumstances of someone’s life and relationship, and you could be inadvertently causing harm.
During the first 2 years after my separation, I received a lot of unsolicited advice from friends like:
“The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.”
“You’re not getting any younger, you should really consider dating.”
“Make him pay.”
These attempts at advice were problematic. The pressure to start dating or to have casual sex made me feel empty and inadequate as an individual, and the suggestion to “make him pay” would only add fuel to an already contentious divorce.
4. Take the time to understand their new reality.
After the decision to divorce, there’s a transition into their new life and routine. Take the time to understand their new reality and see how you can continue to show up and support them.
When I first broke the news of my divorce to friends, there was an initial outpour of support and invitations for coffees and dinners or offers to help.
But as time went on, it became harder to keep up the same social life I once had while juggling my day job, working overtime and working a second job to pay for my divorce and everyday living expenses.
By the time I was back on my feet, the invitations out and offers to help had stopped and my relationships with those friends had faded. It felt like I had been left behind or forgotten.
5. Keep what you know about their ex to yourself.
With social media, it’s easy to keep tabs on people these days.
If your friend has chosen to remove or block their ex on social media, respect that they need their space and may not want to know the details of their ex’s life.
Getting unwanted information about my ex’s life felt like punches to the gut and were reminders that I had not moved on as much as I had hoped. It often left me measuring my post-divorce progress against my ex’s, which never felt good.
It’s not easy to know how to support a friend going through a divorce. We’re not taught how to be present with someone else’s pain, so when the discomfort becomes unbearable, many will choose to walk away.
I wish my friends hadn’t given up on me. I wish I hadn’t pushed them away.
Although my existing friendships weren’t able to weather the storm, I was really fortunate to have a strong support system at work to help me through the worst of it. Some of these coworkers have become close friends, and I can’t thank them enough for being there at my lowest.
If you’re helping a friend through a divorce, know that they appreciate and value your friendship, even though it might not always feel like it. When the dust settles, they’ll be glad to have you by their side.