Getting divorced is probably one of the single most difficult hardships that a woman will ever walk through in her life, right up there with the death of a parent or a cancer diagnosis. If you have a friend who is in the midst of a divorce, it might be hard to know what to say or how to act. Should you talk to her about it? Should you make jokes about her ex? Should you avoid the topic altogether?
While all divorce experiences are different, I’ve put together a list of a few things that people have done to support me during my divorce that have been really helpful.
Talk to her about her divorce.
In my experience, it is usually difficult and awkward to announce to people that I am in the middle of a divorce. It feels like a “coming out” of sorts. Sometimes I’m forced into confessing because I’ve bumped into an old friend who immediately asks, “Where’s the husband today?” Sometimes strangers see me with my children and just assume I am happily married. Even in telling good friends, I always worry about getting a negative reaction — perhaps someone might want to push me to work things out and stay together with my husband, not realizing the great lengths I have gone to already trying to do just that.
Here are some things NOT to say:
- “Divorce is a sin, you know.”
- “Those poor kids.”
- “But he seems so nice!”
- “But you two always seemed so happy together!”
Some helpful things to say:
- “That must be so hard.”
- “I know you’re doing what’s best for you and your children.”
- “That took a lot of strength/bravery.”
- “Do you want to talk about it?”
I’ve found that last one to be particularly helpful. Many people say, “I’m always here for you if you ever want to talk,” which is nice, but I will rarely feel free to talk (to anyone but my closest friends) unless you make the first move. Ask her if she wants to talk about it. And if she does, then ask her specific questions and follow-up questions. And be a good listener. It is bizarrely comforting and therapeutic to be interviewed with questions about my divorce (from someone who cares, not someone who is looking for gossip fodder). Asking questions lets her know that you care about her story, and you want to better understand what she’s going through. Some people flounder in conversations like these because as soon as a divorce is announced, they feel like they need to immediately offer some words of comfort to smooth things over. But nothing is more comforting than being given space to share your heartbreak with a sympathetic listener.
Don’t assume how she is feeling.
I’ve never been a particularly emotional person. I’m pretty steady. I underreact to things. But divorce has me feeling an entire range of emotions that I’ve never experienced before, sometimes all within the same week (or the same day!). One day I might feel super optimistic about the direction my life is heading, and then the next day I’m struggling to get out of bed and eat an actual meal, eyes swollen from crying all night. One day I’m regretting everything to do with this divorce, and I’m struggling not to late-night dial my ex and beg him to take me back. Then the next day, I’m so full of rage I’m contemplating pulling a Carrie Underwood on his car. I am all. over. the. place.
Some things not to assume:
- “I bet you’re glad to be rid of that loser.”
- “There’s a single guy at my work I could introduce you to.”
- “If you miss him, then maybe you should get back together.”
- “I’d better not tell her about my good news (new pregnancy, new home, new job, etc). She doesn’t want to hear my good news right now.”
Something helpful to say:
- “Just checking in: how are you feeling today?”
- “Any new developments in your divorce case?”
- “Could you use some company? Let’s grab dinner.”
Ask her how she’s feeling. Even if you just asked yesterday. Even if you just asked this morning. Chances are she’s feeling different than the last time you asked and she could use a friend. Or maybe she’s feeling just fine at the moment and she would love to hear about your good news. Don’t feel like sharing happy things is going to somehow be insulting to her in the midst of her hardship. She probably doesn’t want the two of you to ONLY discuss her divorce every time you talk. If she’s a good friend, she is perfectly capable of sharing in your win while she’s in the midst of her own loss.
Give her your support.
What do you give someone who is going through a divorce? Again, everyone’s divorce experience will vary widely, so you’ll need to use your own discretion (or when in doubt, ask her what she needs).
Here are some things you may not have considered that are super meaningful:
- Give her your time. It’s hard to step away from the kids, I know…but whenever you can find a chance to get away and take her out to coffee or go take a walk in the park, she’ll appreciate it. If she’s sharing custody of her kids, she’s probably flying solo right now more than she ever has since first becoming a mom. I’ll bet she’s feeling lonely and could use some company.
- Offer to help. If she is in the midst of lengthy meetings with attorneys and court hearings, ask if you can watch her kids for her or pick them up from school. It will be one less thing she has to worry about on an already stressful day.
- Buy her dinner. Or deliver her a meal. You may not know her financial situation, but divorce is EXPENSIVE, and I bet money is tight right now.
- Offer to donate household items/furniture if she’s moving into a new place. This was one of the most helpful ways that my little village supported me when I moved out of my marital home and into a new apartment. When I look around my new place, I see all of the gifts from people who supported me on one of my darkest days.
- Give her a gift card to purchase household items/furniture. She could probably use it!
- Give her an inspirational gift: a framed quote, a letterboard with an uplifting message, a bracelet with an encouraging word, or maybe even a fun ring she can wear on that newly empty left hand ring finger. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just meaningful.
- Throw her a party when the divorce is final. This is something that I always see in movies, but I’ll admit, I haven’t reached the “wanting to celebrate” phase yet. Definitely ask your friend if this is something she would like to do before you make the plans. It could be anything ranging from a fancy dressed-up dinner downtown with just the gals to a full-on bachelorette party on a rented party bus. You know your friend. Do what suits her.
You don’t have to have experienced divorce to support your friend going through a divorce. Just being there for her, listening to her, and inviting her to spend time with you (even if you’re doing something boring together, like shopping for groceries or folding laundry), will mean a lot. Too often people shy away from a grieving person, afraid to step into the difficult, messy emotions of a crisis like a divorce.