Even when it’s someone you know and love, it can be difficult to find the right words or gestures to express your support while he or she is experiencing grief, uncertainty or hardship. On the other hand, sometimes seeing pieces of a person’s life convinces us we know exactly what they need to hear or do in order to get back on track. Whether you’re feeling helpless in your friend’s chapter of transition or fear overstepping in involvement, here are some tips for offering your support in a gracious way.
- Cook a meal, go grocery shopping or buy supplies
If you end up doing a gesture like this, be sure to follow it up with an invitation for your friend to let you know whether he or she actually found it helpful. Assure your friend you won’t take offense whatsoever if he or she would prefer you to show support in other ways.
- Help physically relocate
If you know your friend will be moving spaces, ask if and when you can aid with an extra set of hands or wheels.
- Continue to be inclusive
Even if you often spent time with your friend in a couples setting, keep inviting him or her to social events. You may assume he or she might not be up to attending something with other couples or to being out at all, but even if he or she declines, it’s important that your friend knows he or she is always welcome.
As a fix-it culture, we are often tempted to tap into the instant gratification of a problem solved. Recognize that the complicated feelings surrounding divorce and separation will last a long time. Before jumping into advice and suggestions, simply be an ear to bend. Saying things out loud and feeling heard may be the best therapy for your friend.
- Stay neutral
The range of emotions people may feel while navigating divorce could extend from happiness to relief, deep grief to confusion, frustration to peace. Try not to assume what your friend is feeling. Further, resist the urge to trash his or her ex, which may inadvertently inflict damage to the divorce process as well as your relationship with your friend.
- Keep showing up
Even when the case is closed, the agreements are inked and a parenting plan is in place, continue to check in with your friend. The healing process follows no timeline.
- Emphasize he or she is not being judged
While divorce is common, dialogue surrounding it can be very tenuous. Don’t be afraid to come right out and say that there’s nothing wrong with what your friend has decided to do. Further, unless your friend offers, don’t press him or her for details about the “full story.”
- Research therapists, counselors, support groups
Your friend may ask you directly for a referral, but if not consider independently compiling some resources you can give to him or her. If he or she asks, you can be ready with suggestions. If he or she doesn’t ask, you can always send along a list saying you weren’t sure if it would be helpful, but you’ve gathered together some contacts just in case.
- Offer your time
Babysitting, picking up the kids, walking the dog, hosting the kids/pets for a couple days to give your friend time/space… anything to take something off his or her plate.
- Gift something
A massage, self-care basket, meal, experience.
- Force a set-up
Many people experience mixed feelings about dating after a divorce. While it may be thoughtful to connect your friend with someone whom you think he or she would get along well, try to avoid forcing the subject. Your friend may need more time and space before expressing interest in dating. Ask first and be very understanding and respectful of his or her answer.
- Talk behind his or her back about the divorce
Be a stand up confidante and someone worth trusting, especially if your friend has shared with you intimate information about the divorce.
- Always make the conversation about divorce
The divorce is not your friend’s new identity. Ask your friend to let you know whenever he or she is not interested in discussing it. In a time of transition and possible tumult, perhaps what he or she needs is normal conversation about topics far removed from the separation.
- Continually impose your opinion
Whether or not you have personal feelings about this specific relationship or divorce in general, avoid assertive language about what you think happened/should happen in the future. Remember it has nothing to do with you, beyond being an opportunity to support a friend.