5 Ways to Support People Who Are Going Through Divorce

Guest article provided by: openspacemediation.com

As a divorce mediator and coach, I talk to people about divorce almost every single day. You’d think I’d be used to it…that hearing people’s stories would become old hat at some point. And it’s true that I have heard all kinds of stories – some heart warming, some violent and scary, some sad. I don’t get as affected as I used to be, in part because I’m used to it and in part because it is my job to be neutral, stable, and emotionally secure.

Last night, however, my cousin and her husband sat me down yesterday and announced they were planning to divorce after 25 years of seemingly blissful marriage. For some reason, this news caused me to burst into tears, which surprised all of us. I hurriedly pulled myself together so that I could be the supportive family member (and divorce professional!) that they needed me to be, but I was well and truly shook! It took me some time to readjust my face and pivot to supporting them, rather than making them feel like they needed to support me. 

So what was my big problem? How did a divorced, seasoned divorce professional like me get so rattled by my cousin’s news? But more importantly, how can I support both of them even as I’m dealing with my own feelings of loss? 

A divorce coach’s Top 5 Ways to Support People Who Are Going Through Divorce.

Do listen without judgement or commentary

It should go without saying, but the most important thing you can do is listen. Allow them to process their feelings, voice their concerns and fears, and be a shoulder for them to cry on without judgement. Don’t ask them if they’ve thought it through: they have. Do not try to change their minds:  they don’t need to justify their decision to you. Instead, just listen. Let them know that you will love them the same,  married or single. Divorce, like any other traumatic life event, will likely trigger the 5 stages of grief (and then some). It’s not linear, however, so expect them to come to you with a wide range of emotions at any given time and be prepared to hold a safe space for them. 

Do not tell horror stories

Please don’t tell them divorce horror stories! They don’t need to know that your co-worker’s divorce cost $50k and lasted a year. Don’t tell a vulnerable friend she should “lawyer up” because otherwise she’ll lose all her money and her kids to boot. You cannot believe how dangerous it can be to do that. People who are going through divorce are already plenty scared and often angry. And decisions made out of fear and anger can be extremely costly on all kinds of levels. It can drive up the animosity, increase conflict, make communication worse, and negatively affect the financial (and emotional) bottom line for the whole family. 

Offer Day-to-Day Support

Going from married to single takes some getting used to on all levels. Having to suddenly do everything on your own can be challenging – especially if you have kids. So offer to watch their kids, run an errand, bring over a meal, or simply ask them what they need. A divorce almost always involves the need for one party to move – yet another traumatic life event. So you might want to offer to go house hunting with them, pick up moving boxes, or help pack (another activity that can be triggering for people going through divorce). 

Be a Thought Partner

If your friend is still trying to figure out what path she wants her divorce to take, help her connect with resources in your community. Many places offer divorce workshops like Second Saturday or Rebuilding that can be extremely informative and help take the mystery out of the divorce process. If they’ve decided to take the mediation route, do some background research to help them understand the options in their community. Maybe they need a realtor, mortgage lender,  attorney, or domestic violence support: offer to help research resources and local laws. Divorce can completely overwhelm people and they find themselves frozen and unable to make decisions – having a friend walk the path with them can really help.

Keep them in the social loop

Divorced people often report not being included in the same social gatherings they used to enjoy as a part of a married couple. They also may not feel comfortable as a single person in social events – especially in the early days. That shouldn’t stop you from inviting them out, including them in family events, and making sure they are as welcome single as they were married. Let them know they can show up as they are, warts and all, and help them feel comfortable and loved. Men especially can feel challenged socially when they divorce, so even if they decline an invitation (or several), don’t give up. It will take some time for them to adjust to their new status.

It can feel personal when a friend or family member gets divorced. It can be tempting to rush in with judgement, solutions, and your own emotional baggage. They don’t need that: they need you to be a secure, stable source of support and understanding.  Show up for them in the way you’d want someone to support you if you were going through something traumatic. 

Liz Merrill is the owner of Open Space Mediation and provides a variety of divorce services: mediation, coaching, collaborative divorce. If you are thinking about filing or are already in the process of divorce, schedule a free consultation. If you have a friend going through divorce who could benefit from professional services, share this post. Read her recent featured article in the Colorado Lawyer, Managing High Conflict Dissolutions in Mediation and Court.