With nearly 39 percent of marriages ending in divorce, chances are you know someone going through a divorce or has gone through one recently. Even if your friend is leaving an unhappy marriage, divorce is difficult to endure. If you have never experienced the end of a marriage, you may be at a loss regarding how to help with the pain and heartbreak your friend suffers.
At ShounBach, we help our clients through the legal process of getting a divorce in Northern Virginia while lending a listening ear. Here are some tips you can apply to help a friend or loved one as they go through a divorce. If you or your friend needs a divorce lawyer, call us at 703-222-3333 or use our online contact form to schedule a meeting with a legal team member.
A great deal of how to act when a best friend is going through any sort of heartache or difficult situation is focused on assumptions. Do not assume your friend is always sad, but by the same token, do not assume they are okay. The best support comes when you listen when they need you and, above all else, avoid engaging in negativity.
Studies indicate that men and women experience divorce differently. Male friends and female friends may need different kinds of support at various times as a result. For women, the hardest part of the divorce process tends to be the time leading up to the dissolution of the marriage. For men, the aftermath of the marriage’s end and the divorce recovery tends to be the toughest. Still, do not assume either of these applies to your friend or loved one. Everyone experiences grief in their own way, and everyone is an individual.
For some people, the end of a marriage can even bring relief and even joy. When you constantly offer your heartfelt condolences, it can annoy your friend or continue to open wounds rather than be helpful. Recovering from a broken heart happens differently for everyone. Be mindful of that.
Just as you should not assume your friend is sad, you should not assume they are okay. While you do not need to ask them if they are okay every day, you can just say hello and check in. Let them know you are there and happy to listen if they need someone to talk to; otherwise, just let them know by your presence in their life that they are not alone. Just stopping for a night of popcorn and TV shows can significantly help.
Do not feel obligated or compelled to give advice or offer encouraging words. You may (and probably do) have opinions on the matter, but your friend does not need to hear them unless they ask directly. They may need to vent and grieve, and your job is not to be a divorce coach. You are doing everything you can for them by giving them a caring ear to listen to their troubles and empathizing with them.
When the time comes that they ask for your thoughts, it is okay to present them. Otherwise, avoid giving advice or opinions. Just listen to them when they need someone there. Your job at first is to lend an ear, not to make your friend feel better.
Your friend’s feelings will go back and forth during the divorce. Couples can often vacillate between hostility towards one another and deep feelings of love and loss. If you have negative feelings towards your friend’s spouse, you should keep them to yourself. Nothing is worse than saying something terrible about their ex, then the next day discovering that today they miss that person terribly. In addition, amplifying their negative feelings towards their ex can make the process of your friend’s divorce more difficult. Try to focus on the positive if you can.
We have looked at how you can help by listening and talking above. Many people, however, are at a loss as to how they can practically help someone going through difficult times. It is important not just to say, “If there is anything you need, let me know.” They will not likely, let you know. People do not like to ask for help as a rule, and they might not be in the headspace to even think about what they need. Instead, make concrete suggestions.
Your friend has lost a partner who likely did more daily than they realize. When someone suddenly must handle all the cleaning, laundry, bill paying, and chores around the house, they can get overwhelmed. This is especially true while dealing with the turmoil of a divorce. When you stop over to check on them, help with cooking, doing dishes, tidying up the house, and other routine chores.
People who are struggling neglect their health in favor of fast food, takeout, or processed foods. Helping out by dropping off home-cooked meals and eating together can be good. Bringing meals can be a touchy thing, however. Do not simply default to the old “dropping off a casserole at the door.” When bringing meals, take the time to prepare them and consider sitting down for dinner with your friend. Simply giving them a frozen dinner you picked up at the grocery store might make you feel better, but it is likely not what your friend needs.
Too many people default to bringing food because it is an easy way to show support. Still, it can quickly become overwhelming to the person receiving food from friends, family members, and everyone they know. Remember, this is not about feeling like you did something to support your friend. It is about the support your friend needs.
Just as they might get overwhelmed by household chores, your friend might have many problems dealing with all the errands they need to run. Offer to grocery shop, run to the post office, pick the kids up from school, or pick up dry cleaning.
Co-parenting is always a challenge early in a divorce. Offering your services as a babysitter can be a massive help to those with children. If you can take the kids out on the weekend to do something fun, this gives your friend the time to deal with the stressful and unpleasant discussions that accompany a divorce without the kids overhearing their parents arguing or seeing a parent struggle. Taking the children out for a few hours can be a fun distraction for them and the parents in a divorce.
Do you have other close friends who are divorced? If you do, it may be a great idea to introduce them to your divorced friend. Another divorced person may have experiences you do not have and can commiserate with your friend’s difficulties. You may also know someone like a financial planner, real estate agent, or attorney who can help them.
Socializing is essential as sitting at home alone can allow people to wallow in their grief and anger. When you attend social events with close friends or co-workers, invite them along. Do not be surprised if they are simply not interested in going out, and do not pressure them if that is the case. Just keep thinking of them and keep offering opportunities to socialize. When they are ready, they will need a new social circle and will appreciate the chance to interact with your friend group.
Your friend will go through many ups and downs during the process of their divorce. Sometimes they may seem fine. The next day they might be angry, sad, or depressed. It can take a long time for them to be consistently okay again. Understand that and be patient with them, even if it is frustrating for you. Everyone grieves on their own timeframe.
Offering emotional support goes hand in hand with checking in and being a good listener. Remind them every so often that you are there, that you are ready to listen, and that you care. Do not try to tell them how to feel; again, do not offer advice. Just be present and let them know that you are with them, that you know they are struggling, and that you are there for them in their difficult time.
After many divorces, someone must move out of the house. Your friend will certainly need help and support with this process. Be there to help them pack, transport their things to the new place, unpack, and get settled. Assisting with moving is one of the most practical things you can do to help someone in this situation.
If your friend is going through a divorce, they will, at some point, need an attorney. No matter how amicable they think the separation is at first, something always seems to come up that drives a wedge in the negotiations. A divorce lawyer can help to smooth things over while protecting their rights to what is theirs.
Many people are tempted to undertake acts of retribution against a spouse after a divorce, especially with a measurable fault basis. This is a terrible idea and something you should avoid at all costs.
Do not dump their ex’s property in the front yard or give it away. Do not engage in any sort of vengeful or retributive activities. These activities can be illegal, and you could find yourself on the wrong end of a civil or even criminal lawsuit, as can your friend. Being angry is natural and human. It is important, however, not to act on this anger or engage in questionable acts.
It is essential to understand that divorce is widely considered to be the second most stressful life event that any adult can experience. When your friend is going through the process, try to understand and recognize the difference between normal sadness and depression. Remember also that you are not a licensed therapist (unless you are), and while you can suggest that someone seek help, it is not incumbent upon you to make a diagnosis.
Healthy boundaries are essential in any relationship. You certainly want to be a good friend, but you also have your own health and wellness to consider. Self-care matters, and if being there for your friend affects your mental health, you may need to step back. Drawing healthy boundaries can be tricky, and you should be as gentle as possible, but it is important. If you cannot take care of yourself, you cannot properly be there for your friend in need.
You may find that your friend is not coping well with the stress and heartbreak of the divorce. You may suspect that their sadness has crossed over into depression. Show your empathy to them and tell them that you still love them and accept them as they are. Tell them that you are concerned about their mental health and would like to help but are unsure whether your support is enough.
Tell them that just as when you feel sick, it is okay to see a doctor. When you feel mentally unwell, it is okay to seek professional help. A therapist is an expert who may have dealt with other divorced people suffering from similar pain and heartache. Understand, however, that people are naturally resistant to going to therapy, so choose the mildest way of making the suggestion you can.
Never be pushy about the idea of therapy. If you come across as too straightforward, your friend might start seeing you as trying to “fix” something wrong with them. This is not the goal. The goal is to get them to seek help with their current mental state, not to make them feel like they are broken. The harder you push, the more resistance you are likely to encounter.
If your friend is really struggling and you get to a point where you genuinely do not know what to say to help them, let them know that you care and you are always here, but suggest that possibly speaking to someone from the outside may be a good idea. Suggest that they call a helpline. Many such helplines are available where divorced people can talk to counselors or even other divorced folks to give a new perspective.
Many couples think they can handle a divorce independently, but some situations are better handled by an attorney. If your friend needs legal help, it is vital to help them find quality resources. You should not go to the first attorney you see on social media. Advise them to be sure the attorney they hire will protect their rights every step of the way while also being a compassionate ally.
If your divorced friend has suffered a history of domestic violence or abuse, they should work with a family law attorney. They may qualify for assistance if they cannot afford an attorney and should contact their local legal aid office for help. An attorney’s service may be essential to getting them the divorce settlement they deserve and the protection they need from a violent spouse.
A finalized divorce includes a court order that outlines all of the agreements and stipulations made, as well as the responsibilities of both divorced people. This includes child custody, child support, alimony, spousal support, and property division. Sometimes one member of the couple does not live up to their obligations in the divorce agreement or divorce order. When this happens, help from an attorney can be essential in getting the wayward former spouse to meet their responsibilities.
The family law attorneys at ShounBach bring over 200 years of combined experience to helping couples through a divorce. When you choose ShounBach for your divorce lawyers, you are hiring a Martindale-Hubbell AV-rated law firm. Many of our attorneys have been designated Super Lawyers and recognized by many influential publications. These include the U.S. Top Ranked Law Firms®, Best Lawyers in America, Washingtonian Magazine, Ten Leaders, Washington Post, Northern Virginia Magazine and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
Our size and standing mean we represent high-profile, high-asset clients in the Northern Virginia and D.C. areas. We value discretion and our client relationships above all else. You will never have to worry about your attorney’s credibility or privacy when you retain us for your services. If you or a loved one needs a family law attorney, contact ShounBach today at 703-222-3333 or use our online contact form to speak with a member of our legal team.
Since 1975, ShounBach has served the Northern Virginia community. Our team brings over 200 years of combined legal experience and has grown to be one of Virginia’s largest family and estate law firms.