After more than three decades of showing a decline in occurrence, UK divorce rates are now once again on the rise since 2009. In 2010, divorce rates rose to 5%, amounting to 119,589 divorces in England and Wales (Office of National Statistics), and affecting 11.5 people for every 1000 of the married population. With these large numbers involved, everyone is most likely to have a friend or two who are going through a divorce. It would be useful to know how to best help a friend who is going through or has just gone through a messy and painful divorce.
Commit to being around your friend.
If you sincerely want to help your friend, seriously commit to being around for the big and little stuff, if she would appreciate your company. This may entail being consistently available for errands, dinner parties, court hearings, weddings, or Friday night movies. Having a friend to go with or be with, in place of a partner, helps to ease her back into the single lifestyle. Being able to depend on you to be around is a big comfort. The last thing your friend needs is another person letting her down or abandoning her in this trying period.
Don’t choose sides.
If you are friends with both partners, you will find yourself in a precarious situation. Make a conscious decision not to take sides. Try not to give negative comments about the ex-spouse. Better yet, keep your opinions to yourself. Divorce is messy enough with just two people involved. It will not help to be embroiled in what could turn out to be a three-cornered fight. The best way you can help your friends is by staying neutral.
Listen to your friend.
Friends who are going through a divorce are certainly going through so many emotions such as loneliness, pain, grief, anger, and a sense of failure. Having someone listen to them while they rant and cry is a big help to them. Simply being able to unload their feelings on someone who will not judge them is enough to lighten their spirits. You don’t even have to offer advice or answers to their predicament. If you listen attentively and with unconditional acceptance, the mere act of listening is enough.
Keep your friend’s revelations and secrets to yourself.
In the course of her talking and ranting about her divorce, your friend might share deepl y personal information with you. You should keep bits of sensitive information in confidence. Remember that your friend is already in a very vulnerable state and betraying her trust by sharing details of her life with others is the worst thing you can do. Realise that whatever information she shared with you may have been revealed inadvertently due to the intensity of her negative feelings.
Give your friend lots of hugs.
One of the most salient losses your friend would undergo and one of the things that she would probably miss is physical touch. Offer your close physical presence and give her lots of hugs to reduce the void left by her change in status.
Understand that it will take time to get over the divorce.
Your friend is going through a drastic life change. Acknowledge the enormity of this event by giving your friend time to get over the divorce and to heal. She has to have time to grieve for her loss so that she can eventually move on. Do not rush her into putting the past behind her if she is not ready to do so. It is unrealistic and selfish to expect your friend to be back to her old jolly self in little time.
Encourage your friend to forgive the ex-spouse.
After some time has been spent blaming and finding fault with the ex-spouse, encourage your friend to consider forgiving her ex-spouse. Moving on cannot be possible without forgiving and letting go of the anger, resentment, and hurt experienced during this time. These negative emotions only serve to cause more pain to your friend and may distract her from more important concerns such as the well-being and security of her children.
Help out with chores and responsibilities.
Find out what specific needs your friend has in relation to getting things done and resuming normal life routines. Offer to help with numerous little things that can provide such considerable relief and comfort to your friend. Babysitting, cooking, and driving for your friend are but a few of the little acts of kindness that you can engage in that could spell the difference between a turbulent transition to single life and a smooth one.
Help your friend find a local support group.
Divorce entails an immense loss and change in lifestyle. Your friend who is going through this most unsavoury of experiences will definitely experience feelings of loneliness, self-doubt, anxiety and uncertainty – all very troubling and stressful emotions. If you have not gone through a similar experience yourself, you may not be able to relate to her difficulties. Encouraging her to attend and helping her find a local support group for divorcees might provide her with the comfort of knowing that she is not alone and that there are many others who share her difficulties. A support group would also most likely be able to offer her effective solutions for her problems.
Suggest counselling if you feel it is necessary.
If a reasonable amount of time has passed and your friend seems to still be as angry, bitter and pained as she was in the initial stages of divorce, it may be wise to consider professional help. Tactfully and sensitively suggest counselling to your friend. Offer to drive her to the therapist or even accompany her, if she so desires.
There’s no denying that divorce is extremely painful and stressful for everyone involved, but knowing how to be a good friend during this difficult time makes the challenges of divorce just a wee bit more manageable.