One of the hardest things next to your own divorce is watching your best friend, or someone close to you, deal with all that flows from the breakdown of their marriage. Sometimes there is the desire to celebrate- you might have been watching from the sidelines for years and have ‘known’ for a long time the break up was inevitable. Just a tip, now is not the time to share those wise thoughts and come to think of it, I don’t know that time will ever come, so just keep them to yourself! More often though the news comes as a surprise and is almost ‘out of the blue’.
We never really know what is happening in the relationships of others and sometimes the breakdown of a close friend’s marriage can make us question our own relationships. It can be confronting and confusing and chances are you will suddenly see your friend in the depths of grief- they will go from being calm, rationale and seemingly unaffected, to overwhelmed, angry, teary and inconsolable (and back again all in the space of an hour!).
So what can we do to help those closest to us move through their divorce in a dignified manner?
1. Listen, listen again and then keep listening- This will be hard and you might hear the same things over and over again, but just being there, listening and acknowledging the emotions your friend feels will enable them to feel supported which is exactly what they will need. Right now they need to feel someone is ‘by their side’.
Listen without judgment- this can be the hardest bit. The early stages of separation are not the time to be uttering words like “Surely you could have seen this coming” or my favourite “I never liked him anyway!” Keep your thoughts to yourself as you never know what the future holds.
If it is a year down the track and your friend is still telling the same stories in which he or she is still the blameless victim it might be time to try a little ‘gentle’ reality testing! Do be careful, it might be wiser to encourage them to see a professional counsellor who will be in a far better position to help (and without the risk of damaging your friendship).
2. Help them to find the ‘right’ information- Almost every client I see during divorce says a similar thing- they describe feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to turn. Divorce seems to be one of those times in life just like parenting, when everyone around you is suddenly an expert! You can help your friend by making sure that the information and advice they are receiving is from the best source. We live in the information age and thanks to Google it seems almost any question can be answered from the comfort of your home- the problem of course is that we really never know whether the ‘answer’ is actually the right one for us!
When we are sick, we tend to see a Doctor- now we might try ‘Google Doctor’ first, but chances are we will dismiss that not so helpful online diagnosis and head off to the professionals soon thereafter. A divorce is no different, it is essential to seek professional advice.
Counsellors can help with the emotions and grief, providing strategies that will enable your friend to focus on the future and find their way there. Family Lawyers will provide information and advice on the legal issues that need to be considered. Financial Planners are great with budgeting and working out the right financial plan for the future. There are many other specialist advisors that can assist but the key is to find the right advisor for the issue your friend is dealing with.
If you are going with them to appointments, use those listening skills again and take notes but try and remember that this is not ‘your’ divorce and your job here is to support and ensure that your friend is able to make informed choices for themselves. You want them to look back on their decisions in 5 years time and know that they were good decisions- informed decisions- based on the right information.
3. It is the small things that really matter- When you feel like everything you have ever known has come to an end, it is normal to want to hide away from the world and sometimes pretend it isn’t even happening. At some stage though we have to drag ourselves out again and this is where, as a friend, we can really help.
A friend of mine who recently separated told me that the most challenging time for her was the first couple of weeks when she went home to her new and empty unit- there was no real furniture, nothing that was really hers yet, and of course her children were not with her which was perhaps the hardest thing. It is those quiet moments that your friend will need support and it can be as simple as a phone call or text message to check in and make sure they know that you are thinking of them.
4. Help them to find the silver linings- Being able to find a positive when it feels like everything in your life is upside down is a real challenge. We seem to be programmed to easily identify the difficulties in any situation rather than find the good things. During divorce, it will be really difficult for your friend to find the ‘silver linings’ as chances are their life has turned upside down- their home, relationship, friendships and social circles are probably changing and it may be entirely against their wish and out of their control.
If you can help them to focus on the good things, no matter how small, it will really help. Often there are few positives to be found in the end of a marriage and so as a friend we can help to create some for the future. You don’t need to organise an around the world adventure (although I am sure that might be perfect for some) it can be simple things- a walk, a coffee, a dinner or night out- just something that sits on the horizon as something that your friend can look forward to- a small silver lining to help get them through the tough times.
A great friendship is a lot like a marriage- it can be for life and will bring with it ups and downs, good times and sad times. When a marriage comes to an end we all need our friends by our sides to help us as we take those first steps into a new future. A great friend will be there, through thick and thin with chocolate, wine or beer in hand with boxes of tissues and reassuring words. A great friend also knows when to save us from ourselves, when to quietly and calmly remind us that a decision we are about to make may not be the best! And on that note, a final thought- if you find your friend making their way to Facebook to share their thoughts on their former spouse this is the one time you are allowed to ignore all the above advice, charge across the room and throw them aside to disengage their electronic device- trust me, they will thank you later on!