“You’ve Got A Friend”—How to be a true pal during divorce

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Maybe you know the famous Carole King song or the version performed by James Taylor—a classic ballad of being there for your friend in tough times, “You’ve Got A Friend.”

It’s hard to watch a friend suffer and know you can’t fix it.

The end of a marriage is one of the most challenging things a person can go through—the stress and grief of divorce are not unlike the death of a loved one. For many people, it’s overwhelmingly dark. In addition to a rollercoaster of supercharged emotions, they’re enmeshed in a complex tangle of logistics and legal proceedings.

You want to be there, be a good friend, and do whatever you can to comfort and support, but you’re not sure how. Maybe you’re so afraid of getting it wrong that you’ve erred on the side of hanging back a bit.

Here are eight expert tips on what to do when your friend is divorcing

Be present. Divorce can feel like a lonely desert island. Not only has the person lost their partner, but even well-meaning friends suddenly get awkward, go quiet, and pull away. You don’t have to know how to do it perfectly. Proactively letting your friend know that you’re there for them—open to listen, available to help out—is huge.

Listen. When your friend is ready to open up, they will. Don’t press. If you feel close enough, you can lead with a gentle, fundamental question such as, “Do you want to talk about anything?” Allow them to talk, cry, vent, and complain. And then to cycle back through it all again—and again. There’s so much to process; it takes time. They’ll go in circles. Validate their feelings, but leave your own opinions out of it. Be a judgment-free zone.

Give more comfort than advice. There’s no perfect universal script, and nothing you can say will fix it. You don’t need to have answers; you just need to care and offer words of love and support.

Don’t compare. Every marriage and divorce is unique. Avoid comparing your friend’s split with your own or someone else’s.

Don’t badmouth the ex. Avoid saying things like, “You’re better off without them.” Your friend may have very complicated and wildly vacillating feelings about their ex.

Include and invite. Your friend may decline repeatedly and hole up for a while, but keep reaching out! It can be hard and scary to start socializing as a single after being partnered. Let your friend know you want them along. It doesn’t have to be a party, event, or big plan—it’s great to call and say, “Hey, I’ve got to do some errands; want to grab a coffee and ride along?” or “I need some fresh air, want to join me for a walk?”

Jump right in on the to-do list. There’s an overwhelming amount to manage during divorce, especially when someone is newly juggling co-parenting. Show up and mow the lawn. Help pack boxes and move. Bring dinner over. Drive the kids to baseball practice. Don’t stop with “Let me know if I can help with anything” (they probably won’t), but don’t be afraid to ask what will be most helpful; maybe they want to take the kids to baseball but would be thrilled to have you pick up a few groceries or drop off the dry cleaning.

Stick around. The pain, loneliness, and complications of divorce don’t end with the final decree. In some ways, that’s just the beginning of navigating post-marriage life. Being a true friend during divorce means being there not just until the initial dust settles but beyond—being there for the rebuilding process, helping them find themselves again in their new life. This chaotic and painful season will not last forever.

The skilled and compassionate family attorneys at SFLG can help smooth the dissolution process.

By Debra Schoenberg

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