So, here’s the deal: getting divorced stinks. The end. Even those couples who have amicable divorces (I’m told they exist) would tell you it stinks. No one ever dreams of getting divorced one day.
Before my own experience, I had only two peers in my extended circle who had gone through it. Sure, as a kid, I knew a few adults in my world who were divorced, but very few of my friends or family had experienced it.
When I think back on how confused I was early in the process of my own divorce, I realize that my friends were walking through this new territory with me for the first time, too. They had never accompanied someone down this painful road before. I’m sure there were moments of difficulty for them as they navigated how to be my friend in the midst of a life crummy season.
Perhaps some of you currently have a friend going through separation or divorce and you feel like a deer in headlights when it comes to knowing how to respond. You might be thinking “What should I do? What should I say? What shouldn’t I say?” If you have a friend currently experiencing separation or divorce, or you just want to be prepared in case it happens, I encourage you to keep the following ideas in mind. These are a few thoughts gleaned from my own experience, as well as from the perspectives of some other divorced friends, of which I’m now fortunate enough to have quite a few.
Your Presence is Your Gift
Speaking for myself, talking to a lot of people during the process wasn’t that fun. I chose a small group of friends to know the whole story. As previously stated, the vast majority of my friends were not experienced in the nitty gritty of divorce and so they didn’t always know the “right” thing to say. But, they were there for me with listening ears, encouraging texts and emails, care packages and hugs. If your friend is trusting you with her story, just being present, listening and being available may be more than enough. Some other practical ways to show support include accompanying her to a divorce support group so that she doesn’t have to go alone. Or, maybe you could offer to watch her children if she has an appointment with her attorney? Does she have a court date coming up? Ask if she’d like you to be present for the hearing as a sign of support. Most importantly, encourage her to find a counselor to talk to if she doesn’t already have one. My friends were awesome, but, I wouldn’t have emerged from my divorce in one piece had I not seen my qualified counselor.
A Little Goes a Long Way
Getting divorced when you’re also responsible for caring for small humans is brutal. Remember the worst break up you’ve ever gone through? If you’re anything like me, you probably just wanted to lay on the couch, watch sad movies and alternate between eating entire pints of ice cream and not eating at all. Well, that’s kind of what people getting divorced would like to do except that instead of just feeling sad, it’s a mixture of sadness, anger, fear, relief, and anxiety. They have to deal with these overwhelming feelings while still somehow packing lunches for school, helping kids with homework, going to work, changing diapers, paying the mortgage, perhaps moving, mowing the lawn, and not completely losing it. As you can imagine, it’s a challenge.
Any sort of encouraging text, phone call, email, or care package that you think would help someone get through it would be welcome. Perhaps you could come over some night and help with laundry? Or, maybe you could make up a few freezer meals. The stress of the divorce process doesn’t last forever, THANK GOD, but, at first, it can be overwhelming. Small and practical ways that you can help your friend accomplish her daily tasks are likely to be welcomed gladly.
Err on the Side of Inclusion
When in doubt, include your separated or divorced friend in gatherings and other social plans. I remember that when I got married, I was all of a sudden included in parties, events, and other informal “clubs” that I hadn’t been welcomed into as a single person. Well, getting divorced unfortunately kicks you out of some of those clubs. As a divorced mom, I have come to terms with the fact that I never quite “fit” socially. When I’m with my single friends, I don’t quite fit because I’m also a mom. When I’m with most mom friends, I don’t quite fit because I’m not married. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m just a little bit of a mutant at all times.
I think sometimes married people don’t include divorced friends because they don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. Let me put you at ease: we have become experts at feeling uncomfortable! So, unless the only topic of conversation at your next backyard barbecue is “how awesome being married is,” I would encourage you to include your divorced friend on the guest list. Or, invite your separated or divorced friend to watch a movie with you and your husband some night once the kids are asleep. I have been blessed over the past few years to be welcomed with open arms by some of my married friends to spend time with them and their husbands, and I’ve had other divorced mom friends express the same sentiment. Custody schedules definitely dictate availability, but always feel free to ask.
When you know your friend is experiencing her first weekend or two of not having her kids because of a new custody schedule, call her up and make some plans. The first few weekends of not seeing my son were excruciating. I made the mistake of not having enough planned the first weekend he was away, mostly because of how quickly the new schedule was sprung on me. By the second weekend, I had wised up and bought a plane ticket to visit a friend out of state. Not seeing your kids for chunks of time NEVER gets easier, but I would say that you get better at using your time productively while your kids are away. The first few times can be really rough, and so if you’re able, and the price is right (because divorce ain’t cheap), I encourage you to plan a girl’s night out, weekend getaway, or just invite your friend over for dinner and wine and maybe a sleepover. Time with a good friend can be a really welcome distraction for a mama aching for her babies.
Extra Grace, Please
Don’t be offended if your friend doesn’t want to talk to you. Getting divorced is exhausting: physically, emotionally, financially, you name it. If you know your friend is going through a rough time but she isn’t talking to you, try not to be offended. Simply remind her that you are always there if she needs you. Perhaps you’ll be a better fit to counsel her down the road? As hard as it might be for you to be on the outside of her struggles, the last thing your friend needs in the midst of her drama are friends who are frustrated at her for not meeting their relational needs.
A New Woman
Don’t be surprised if the friend you’ve known for years emerges from her divorce journey as a bit of a changed person. Maybe she dates more than you expect her to. Maybe she doesn’t date at all. Maybe she joins a gym or develops some new hobbies and makes some new friends. Maybe her perspective on life and other issues shifts a bit. Divorce is one of the most jarring experiences a person can live through and I can say with 100% certainty that it changes you. So, try to be patient with your friend as she walks through, and someday emerges from, the fog of divorce. She’s still her; she just sees life with new eyes. Ask her about it.
My sincere wish is that no one reading this will ever need to heed any of this advice. But I know the reality is that many of us will know someone sooner or later that will face separation or get divorced. I hope these ideas will help you feel somewhat prepared for that sad phone call you may receive one day from your friend calling to share her news. With these tips, I believe you’ll help bring a hint of light to some of your friend’s darkest days.