We all try to be good friends to those we love. Often, we have no idea what that looks like or means. Being a good friend can take on various qualities at different times in our lives. This article is a simple way to explain what your friend or family member may or may not need at any given time during the long process of ending a marriage and healing from it.
I hope you find this article/blog helpful and share it with anyone you feel may benefit from it.
You are at a party with some friends. Everything seems to be going great, until one of your friends drops a bombshell on you “Craig and I are getting divorced”
OMG! You had no idea. You knew that things maybe were not all roses, but DIVORCE??? Before you respond with some issue of your own that you are throwing at them, think about what you are saying.
1. Respond in Kind (and kindly)
Once your friend tells you about the divorce, until they are truly over it, kindness goes a long way toward healing.
Try starting with a statement like “Are you okay?” or, “I am sorry to hear that.” This is where you start. This is at the beginning of the divorce when you are close to that person.
Do not judge. Saying things like “But I really like (insert him/her)” or “It is going to really suck for you” is a judgement. And no matter what you are told, you never know the whole story. No one knows the whole story of a marriage, sometimes not even the people involved in it.
Telling your divorcing/divorced friend (YDF from here forward) what they should or should not do does not open up conversation. Telling YDF going through a divorce how to act does not help them. It judges them. Maybe you prefer to tell YDF what they are doing wrong and a better way to be. If you prefer to sit in judgement, you are perfectly positioned. If you wish to help, there may be a much better way to do it.
During the divorce, just before the divorce, even after the divorce is over, non-divorced do not know what to say. Try to give YDF space and/or choice. Allow them to say whatever they need to say and let go of YOUR need to be okay with the response.
I know. It is very hard to NOT hold on to needing your response to land well with your loved ones. It is part of growing up and saying what you need. We can grow up a lot during a divorce, if we allow it.
The following is a mini apology to people trying to be kind
“You are divorced – I am so sorry,” was a common phrase I heard for quite some time after the fact. I was so tired of hearing that, that I started saying, “I am not” and that really upset people. They had no idea what to do with it.
Oops..let’s just call it post-divorce-stress-syndrome. Not that it matters, as my response is my own, but that is not really how I felt. However, comments from virtual strangers on a very emotional topic can be very tricky.
I am sorry if I made you regret trying to reach out to me. It was NOT you. It was all my issue and I just could not handle it at that time. Please know that is pretty much the case 100% (not an exact percentage, may be slightly exaggerated due to guilt or other factors) of the time in divorce situations.
I know they were just doing the best could and trying to be kind. I was not in a space to allow that, so I did not. I wanted to know that the hell I was going through was going to end. I needed to know that I made the right choice (even when it is exactly right, there are moments of pain where it feels just so wrong).
That ends my mini apology and long attempted explanation of stated events
So, what to say when you do not really know the person? Again, do not take any response personally, but feel free to use the following list as a reference:
I wish you the best
Divorce can be hard, I hope your is not
Take care of yourself
It gets better
If you feel the need to offer advice, which I do not recommend, as they are probably getting it from every corner, BUT, if you just can’t even help yourself, I have more suggestions. Here are some other things you could try that may not offend or feel like judgment:
I am an awesome divorce attorney. Would you like my card? ( must be true)
I know an awesome divorce attorney….… (this must be true as well)
I had a friend/relative go through an awful one. I learned some things, if you want to hear them, I would be happy to share (again, must be true).
See how the advice is offered, but not forced? Give them a choice at a time when many choices feel like they have been taken away from them.
We all want to help, but we must also think about whether the person wants our help. Sometimes the best help comes from strangers. Sometimes the most judgement comes from strangers. Sometimes we just want to wish someone well. Hopefully the judgement factor is not one and we all learn to deliver things in a kinder, gentler way.
I had a few friends attempt to give me advice/warnings. One in particular told me a horrible story about a woman who lost her children in divorce. The ex-husband had money which he hid from her. Therefore, she was not able get good legal counsel (she stayed at home with the kids) and ended up with no children and a very poor settlement. She was warning me to be careful. Yikes!
Another compared my divorce to one she was pulled into every time we had a conversation. Her shared parenting horror stories always ended with “this is what you have to look forward to”. While I knew she meant to help, and I love her dearly, it did not help in anyway. She was trying to alleviate her own anxiety about her situation and “warn” me at the same time. I felt sick after our conversations.
Compare and contrast is great in school, but in real life it can be offensive or hurtful. When you are already on the path of divorce, horror stories can stop, please. It just adds more fear to an already scary situation.
Keep the advice simple with close friends and family, if you need to give it. And ask first if they want it. Some examples of that would be:
Be care about (fill in topic here). I know some awful stories.
Don’t forget to check out (fill in blank here) on your martial settlement agreement. I have seen some bad stuff.
Be sure to check your (fill in here). That can be tricky I have heard.
As you can see, there is a space there for them to ask you about your horror stories, without turning their stomaches if the timing is not right. However, you still get to warn them about the impending doom you feel they are about to partake in.
It is a win-win! You have warned them, yet they have not had to get ill during the conversation! Yes!
Think about what you are going to say. When you are coming up blank, the best response may be a generic one : “I am so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
That is always a good one. It allows the person to know that you acknowledge their pain and that is often all that is needed. And, if they say something bitter in response, please let it go.
By the time you hear about the divorce, it has probably been going on for a while and you are only now hearing about it because people act like it is a dirty secret. Time to pick sides. Time to get rid of friends because they may not be very fun for a while. Let’s be honest — that sucks.
No matter who you are in a divorce, it hurts. Our legal system has made it to be so painful that it is a major undertaking to get it done. During this gut wrenching time you are supposed to try to get along with the other person who may be trying to try completely screw you and take your kids away. Plus, the other party probably feels the same way about you. It is ugly from all angles.
Watch your responses. It can make someone who is emotionally raw feel more alone than they already do (which is pretty alone in divorce) or really hurt an already open sore.
Remember – Divorce is a tragic event in their lives. And a lot of healing is required.
This is now leading us to our next helping point, #2. Whatever response they may have to your response, or anything else for the next few years (yea, years):
2. Do not take it personally when your friend seems a bit paranoid or psycho
If you are close to someone getting a divorce, you will see anger, childishness, bitterness, temper tantrums, lots of tears (I hope they let them out) and just plain awfulness.
I have found myself saying things that I know are not necessarily true (very exaggerated), but I am emotionally distraught at the time of my rant. Words come out in a rage of bitterness. This is not my normal personality. This is a lot of anger, sadness and pure anguish pouring out of my mouth in a deviated form.
There is so much emotional processing that must take place on so many varying levels. You don’t know when something will trigger an emotional outburst and it will come out like YDF just escaped from the psych ward * at the local hospital.
I wish I could have the job of Emotionologist (I believe I just made it up). Like meteorologist, only for people. Someone who tracks the emotions of a person on the edge and can send out daily predictions for the people in their lives.
“Today’s emotional weather for Marcy is partly sunny with a large rain (tear) cloud mid-afternoon and spots of mild to gusty laughter in the evening. Don’t forget the facial tissue this afternoon and dress lighter this evening.”
That would be so helpful to my loved ones, I know.
There are going to be moments when you do not know who YDF is anymore. But they pass. Your friend comes back. I swear! They may even come back a bit better as a person and a friend.
This, however, takes a lot of time and that brings us to….…
3. You may be so over it, but they are not
This one is really important. Divorce is like an onion. There are so many layers and it takes time to sort through all of them.
For those of you who have not been divorced, let me make an analogy about what divorcing takes to get through and over. Imagine losing a job, a loved one, a home, a family and a life all in the span of maybe one to two years. This is what divorce is akin to as you move through it.
You lose friends. I know, people like to pretend this is not true, but I assure you, it is true.
You lose the home you had helped create, whether it is the physical home itself or just the idea of the family home where you all live. You lose someone in your life that you love or at least loved enough to create a whole life with them. That life is destroyed.
Then, unless you are wealthy, there is serious financial strain placed on both divorcing sides. The strain and cost of the divorce is akin to losing a job. What was once enough to support one household must now support two. 401K’s may be sacrificed for one or both parties. Homes may be sold. Dreams of financial security that you had build for years are washed away.
Your family is now completely different due to “shared custody” or whatever your arrangement happens to be with children. Those little people that you love most in the world no longer live with you everyday. This was a HUGE adjustment for me as a stay at home Mom who spent all day, everyday with my children.
Even if you do not have children, the “family” you had as a spouse is gone. It is a completely different life than the one you knew.
Each one of these can take years to get over emotionally. Then in a divorce, you have it all pile up on you at once. Plus whatever real life issues you have going on. For me, it was moving twice in a year, losing my Grandmother whom I was very close to and other little things that feel so much heavier when you are already weighed down by the crap of divorce.
I know what you are thinking. If divorce is so horrible, why would anyone do it? Because the option of staying in the marriage is no longer and option. While most divorcees do not know how difficult a divorce can be prior to deciding to divorce, they would still get a divorce. That tells you how “over” the marriage was for that person.
Remember – what constitutes “over” for one person doe not have to match your idea of it. There is also the point worth noting that divorce is not often just a random idea that one just takes up quickly. It is a well thought out process which is hard before the conclusion of divorcing is even reached.
The point is, when you are tired of hearing about the emotional trauma, YDF is not necessarily done talking about it. When you are done reaching out to YDF to help, they may need it even more.
Yes, everyone has a busy life. Yes, everyone has things to do and a schedule that is overwhelming. However, being a friend to someone in this situation is so vital to helping them through it. Please make the time.
Check in on YDF at regular intervals. Make sure they KNOW you want to help them, whenever, where ever.
As I said in point number 2, they will come back around. You will see your friend again. YDF will never forget that you did whatever you were able to do to help them get through.
This does not mean it has to be a hardship for you. Boundaries are common issues I have seen again and again in our close relationships. Tell YDF if he/she is stepping on an emotional boundary. Tell him/her when you are having your own issues and you need their help as well. Clarity in communication with love will always help any situation. Don’t let them become a leech, but allow them be a part of your life and you be a part of theirs.
4. Encourage them to check in on themselves for depression
Depression sneaks up on you like a blanket at night, obscuring your view. When you wake up, you would think you would notice the blanket.
You may not know that the blanket is there. You eyes adjust to see things through tiny fuzzy holes where everything is slightly out of focus and partially obscured. It sounds crazy, but we are great at adapting to whatever comes along.
The reason you may not know the blanket is there is a simple one. You are already sad, upset, in chaos, whatever the emotions may be. Slipping past those and into depression happens so subtly that you are just there and you did not see the gradual change that slid in past mourning into full on depression.
There is no shame in being depressed. Regardless of what you may have heard, it is just an emotional state that needs to be dealt with like any other emotional state. With support and love.
Unfortunately, depression can often hold hands with divorce. Not always, but they seem to like to work together. If you become depressed during or after a divorce, it only adds about 1,000 more difficulty to the process of healing.
If you suspect that your friend has become depressed during the process, please encourage them to get professional help if they have not done it already.
If they do not believe they are, but you really think they may be, ask them to take a simple online test from Dr. Ivan Goldberg at:
This may assist them in realizing that they may be depressed. Ask them to share the results, if you feel it is appropriate. Take it along side of them, so you both take it together.
I took a depression test after my third child at my six week gynecological exam. I had no idea I was depressed. I knew I was extremely sleep deprived and stressed with a new baby and two others already at home, but I did not think I was depressed.
I took a very simple exam and the doctor announced the results when he came in to see me.
“I looked at your results from the postpartum depression test and I became depressed reading them” he stated simply.
I burst into tears. I thought I was just having a hard time adjusting.
That simple, quick test changed my life. Did not take away my depression, but it got me the help I needed to work on it and change myself.
If you see sudden behavior changes in your friend or family member, they may be suffering from depression.
Here are some common depression symptoms:
Sleeping – much more than normal or much less than normal,
Self Loathing – Comments about themselves in the negative that are normally not typical for that person, such as “I am such a failure at life” on a continuing basis,
Appetite – loss of or larger than normal eating habits,
Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
Loss of energy
Loss of interest in daily activities
These are just a few of the symptoms that a person who is depressed can experience. I have taken these symptoms (with a bit of rewording and it is not the complete list) from helpguide.org and symptoms of depression list. They also have numerous articles on women and depression, men and depression and other topics you may find useful.
As with all of these items, be aware of your language while expressing your concern. Make sure you are calm and coming from a place of love and not judgement.
Depression is not fun for anyone. But it can be overcome.
5. Forgive early and often
Your friend has become a crazy, emotionally unstable person with nothing good to say and is a buzz kill.
They are never any fun anymore.
They never want to go out and do anything.
Forgive YDF and go to them if you can’t get them out.
When you are the YDF it is easy to feel like you are just a pain and not worthy of the love your friends or family are trying to give you. Or YDF is tired of answering questions about their situation with false, easy cover answers. YDF may be exhausted from pretending to be fine all day long at work, school, kids functions, etc. So, instead of going out and being social, YDF stays home and sulks. YDF fears questions that may induce tears or obvious sadness in social situations. So YDF pulls away. YDF stays away.
Show up for YDF. Don’t wait for YDF to ask you. Just call. Just plan. Give them whatever you can without sacrificing yourself.
Push them to do things that feel too hard, but try to make it easier. Like plan a get together for YDF, when they may be the one that would normally do it.
Go with them to get a massage.
Forgive YDF for needing more support than usual for longer than seems appropriate to you.
Forgive YDF for sulking.
Forgive YDF for forgetting things and dropping the ball when they are usually on top of the birthdays and parties and visits, school stuff, doctor visits.
Forgive YDF for dropping out of your life because they appear to have sabotaged their own.
Forgive yourself for not doing as much as you want to for YDF and start trying to do more today. Tell them that you want to help and do more.
Be honest with themselves and yourself about how you feel, but use words that open the conversation, not end it.
Forgive YDF for saying something mean or stupid to you because they are just a hot mess. It will happen. And they will still need you.
Forgive YDF for needing the reminder that the drama will end, the pain will end and they will feel better again one day.
Forgive YDF when they are not yet consistently better, but you have seen a glimmer of the “old” friend and got hopeful that it was done.
Allow them to be whoever they need to be at any given moment. Just “be” with them when you can. This is the greatest gift you can give. I swear it will come back to you a thousand fold from that person when they are back full-force.
We all have hard times. Sometimes we just need to hold someone’s hand and know that hand is there to hold whenever we need it.
Thank you for reading this. I truly hope it helps others understand what may not have been understood before.
I am so grateful to those family and friends who have been so supportive of me in my journey to self through and after divorce.
I am so sorry to those friends that came before me and I did not help them the way I now realize I could have.
If we are not longer friends due to my situation, I only wish you love, joy and peace in your life. Thank you for the time you were in my life. I will always treasure it.
* “just escaped from a psych ward” is not meant to infer that psych wards are bad places. I believe in the need for them and the help they can give to those in need of psychological assistance. I also believe that everyone can benefit from psychological assistance at some time in the average life span. However, in this instance, I am playing on the idea of a patient that is so far gone, that that are not in the ward voluntarily and have now escaped from this place where they need to be held to protect society from that person. Divorce can make you feel that far gone for moments. Just moments, but if you happen to witness one..sorry.