Divorce is a death. A death of a united family. A death of future dreams and hopes. This death brings with it a heavy grief, weighing on the parties involved like a heavy blanket. As a friend, how can you support someone you care about experiencing such an emotional loss? Your tongue gets tripped up on the words you can’t quite string together the way you wish they would. You’re not sure if you’re making matters worse or if your compassion seems genuine or coerced.
There’s no foolproof way to console a grieving friend, but there’s a few key ways you can show your support.
1. Learn to Avoid Harmful Common Phrases
“You’ll find someone new before you know it!”
“At least your children are young!”
“Thank god it happened before you two had children!”
These phrases, although seemingly harmless, hurt to hear. There is much tangible loss in divorce. The different living situation. The divided items. The loss of someone sleeping beside you. No one can quite prepare you for the loss of the future, of the shared dreams you had with that person.
It’s why comments like the ones above come with a sting.
When anyone close to us shares difficult news, it’s reactionary to want to comfort them with the positives. Instead of trying to find their silver lining, challenge yourself to comfort them in a way that isn’t buried in clichéd messages. Forgo the typical comments on the way that their situation could be worse.
Perhaps the best thing to say is also simplest: “You’ll be okay. It may not be today or tomorrow, but you’ll be okay. I will be here to see you through it.”
As I battled with the depression and heartbreak that divorce brought, more than anything I just wanted someone to remind me that I would be okay. Don’t try and use their personal circumstances to point out what could be worse. Oftentimes, the only comfort you can give someone is your presence. Be there. Be open to listening. Don’t attempt to fix their problems.
2. Understand That the Dynamics May Shift
The immediate life changes -- the separated living, the divorce attorneys, the split family -- are known upfront. It’s the sudden shifts among your circle of friends or extended family that can be the hardest to adapt to.
As a friend, be understanding that dynamics may shift. It is nearly impossible for the same roles to continue when such catastrophic changes have happened. For an individual going through a divorce, it takes some time to find your new place amongst those in your life. There’s going to be some uncomfortable moments, some awkwardness as you discover that inside jokes now just make them wince. Your circle of friends may operate a bit differently, adjusting for the loss.
While the changes in roles and structure may feel a bit awkward or downright unpleasant, there’s a glimmer of hope offered by this change. There is so much personal development that stems from divorce and you will begin to see your friend cultivate a newfound strength. Healing can be beautiful to witness up close and it provides the opportunity to alter the dynamics of your friendship in an incredible way.
3. Follow Their Cues
The interesting thing about enduring a separation or divorce is examining how it zaps your energy levels. What is normally spread across multiple areas of life is all being allocated to the emotional distress you’re feeling.
So while they are picking up the pieces, they may not always be picking up the phone. There may be some distance during this transitional stage. It’s part of finding their new normal, finding that new rhythm that they move to. It’s part of the dynamic shifts and the aching heartbreak that tags along with it.
The best advice during this time? Learn to follow their cues. Allow them to set the tone for your get-togethers. There may be many tearful coffee dates where they rehash the night things went wrong. There may be an impromptu girls’ night out. There may be radio silence for weeks. Follow their lead and do your best to pick up on their emotions.
Supporting someone through the challenges of a divorce or separation is messy and confusing. Our go-to arsenal of positivity and silver lining searches are rarely the right fit for aiding a loved one
Learn to listen better, to reassure them of their strengths without trying to fix their problems, respect their boundaries and follow their lead. There is no solution to healing the broken heart of a loved one, but where there is love, there is patience and comfort and that’s as close as we can get.
Rebecca Hawkins is digital marketing professional that works with female entrepreneurs and well-known non-profits. When she's not brainstorming an ad campaign, she's perusing the aisles of Barnes and Noble for her next favorite book.