By Stacey Freeman
What’s worse than suffering? Watching those we care about suffer. When a friend or family member is going through a divorce, standing on the sidelines can be frustrating as we struggle with how best to offer our support. All we want to do is take the pain away, to come up with a solution that will make everything better – fast. The problem is we may not always know how, meaning, even with the best of intentions, we can misstep without even knowing it.
That is why we decided to poll our favorite experts about how they would assist family and friends who are divorcing, what not to say, and, finally, the best and worst things others said to them while they were going through their divorce. The results were heartfelt, at times humorous, and, most of all, honest, making for some valuable advice. Here’s what they said.
Star of Bravo TV’s “Untying the Knot;” Founder & CEO of DivorceDating, Author, Attorney, Television Personality, Volunteer, and Divorce Success Story
“What not to say? ‘I got this in my divorce, so should you.’ Every divorce is unique. Yours is, too. Other pieces of bad advice include telling someone to fight and never compromise, take the kids away from their spouse, not listen to their lawyer, not hire a financial advisor, spend all their money before ‘he’ does, and flaunt their new boyfriend. It is only good advice if you are looking to have a high-conflict divorce. Remember, divorce doesn’t have to be that way.”
Founder of WealthySingleMommy, single mom, writer, journalist.
“Help your loved one focus on building a positive future for themselves and their kids — in career, co-parenting and romance. Avoid saying things like, ‘Take him for all he’s got!’ or ‘Don’t let him see the kids!’ Instead, urge them to focus on building their careers, being smart with money, and aiming for a low-conflict separation, as well as positive, equal co-parenting with the ex. Urge them to take their time dating. It is normal and healthy to start thinking about the next chapter of their love and sex lives, but help them focus on their own development and not rush into anything permanent. Try not to say too many negative things about the ex. People do sometimes get back together, after all!”
CDC Certified Divorce Coach®, MBA; Founder & President, The Divorcierge®
“Check in regularly to let them know you’re there if they need you but don’t force them to talk about it if they don’t want to. My best support was a friend in California that I could call at 3 am since it was midnight there! Encourage them to get out of the house: exercise, meet a friend, take up a hobby. Do something to distract them and make them feel good. Listen. Help them think for themselves. Everyone is offering advice, and the best person to advise them is themselves, they just need to see it.”
“Divorce is a process with many phases and components. Refrain from telling horror stories about other divorces, bad mouthing the ex or soon-to-be-ex, or saying things such as, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll meet someone else.’ The worst thing someone ever said to me during my divorce was nothing! Our best family friend never acknowledged to me that she was sorry. Even worse than that, my mother told a table full of our relatives with my daughter sitting there that I left my husband and she felt bad for him! What helped me the most were the encouraging words and acknowledgment I got from those who said the decision I was making was the right one. Their support meant the world to me.”
Divorce Coach, Mediator, and founder of Since My Divorce
“When you’re offering to help support a friend or family member who’s going through a divorce, try to come up with a specific offer. So instead of saying, “Let me know if you need any help,” offer to bring them dinner or pick up their kids from school, for example. Ending a marriage is overwhelming and trying to think of something someone else can do for you often creates more work, especially if you then have to call and ask them. If the person is already separated, try to think of household tasks they may not have been doing such as checking the furnace filter, doing the laundry, getting the sprinklers blown out, or even taking out the trash. Offer to show them how to do it or share your go-to contractor. Divorce usually means meetings with professionals such as a lawyer, a coach, a mediator, a realtor and so on. You’ll really be helping your friend if you offer to pick up their kids and take care of them whenever they have such meetings.”
Freelance writer, copywriter, author, comedienne and public speaker.
“If someone is divorcing with kids, ask how you can help with the kids or give the parent a break. Becoming a single parent overnight is hard. Not having another parent to fall back in is a huge life change and support from loved ones means a lot.”
“Just show up and listen. That’s really what your friend needs. Someone to listen. Your friend’s divorce may not be anything like your other friend’s divorce, or your uncle’s momma’s baby daddy cousin’s divorce… Let her just vent and talk to you. Being there and listening is the greatest thing you can do as her friend during this time. Trust me.”
Writer, divorced mom, Worthy blog contributor, Editor-in-Chief at Femme Feminism.
“Be aware that they may not feel comfortable asking for help and/or may be so overwhelmed by all the changes happening around them that they don’t even know what to ask for! Here a few things to look for and places you might be able to step in. It can be overwhelming to take over the responsibilities for upkeep on a house after formerly sharing the duties with an ex. Did he take care of all the yard work? Offer to come over and mow. Look at the gaps left in their daily tasks from an ex’s absence and think about where you could fill in. If the house was sold and she has to move, it’s a safe bet she could use some help packing and hauling boxes. Helping out with daily tasks like mowing the lawn or laundry during a chaotic transition period takes something off her plate. Speaking of which, don’t be afraid to show up with a casserole or a pizza, either.”
Divorce Warrior, author, Worthy blog contributor, divorce, stepparenting, and parental alienation educator.
“Just be there for them! Divorce is such an emotionally draining experience, and your friend or family member needs to know that you will always be there for them, willing to listen, and to be of help when everything in her world is falling apart. Help her move, babysit the kids, give her something to laugh about, and let her know that although you may not completely understand what she’s going through, you still love and stand by her!”
“When your friend is getting a divorce, the last thing she needs from you is condemnation for her choice, second-guessing of what was likely an excruciating decision for her, or saying anything that compounds any guilt or shame she may already be feeling. She’s already devastated by what has occurred and doesn’t need you to make her feel like a failure or oddity. My mother’s reaction to my divorce was the most heartbreaking to me. I wanted her unconditional love and support. Instead, she scolded me and told me I just needed to endure whatever bad was happening within my marriage because I surely couldn’t do any better! ”
Mindset coach, holistic health expert, divorced mom, Worthy blog contributor, founder of The Free Life with Nicole Amaturo.
“Be mindful of how terrified they are venturing into this new life as their old one slowly crumbles away. They’re going to have strong and confident days while other days they’re going to be angry, tired and weak. It’s part of their mourning process. As they go through this, it is essential that you do not project your own fears and insecurities on them. Don’t make their issue about you. Separate your story from theirs and meet them with patience, unconditional love and compassion.”
“I once went to a best friend’s party during my divorce and her mom asked me how I was doing. It was one of my stronger days so I told her how inspired and alive I was finally feeling after a long time of feeling dead inside. She replied with, “Are you sure you want to leave? Don’t you realize all men are the same? Do you think you’re actually going to find something different in another man?” You can imagine my twisted face in response to such a barbaric and inconsiderate reply as doubt and fear raced through my veins. But, just as it came is as quick as it went when I quickly realized she was projecting her own story onto me and never left her unhappy marriage to find her happiness. Had I not been self-aware enough, my whole day could’ve ruined. Be the light for your loved ones; they need you more than you know.”
Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Worthy, Big Sister, Best Aunt Ever.
“Unconditional sister’ing through a divorce is a must. My advice? Be your sister’s lifeline. Help her think straight. My sister was blindsided. She didn’t want to believe he could be so terrible, so selfish. She always covered, made it right, put him first, then the kids and the house. She never made herself a priority. She reached out to me first with a phone call. My job became one of helping her see through the tears and learn the divorce laws of her state, find a local attorney, set appointments, and learn the facts. My sister had to become smart quickly about a subject she knew nothing of. We did it together. I became her coach, advocate, and manager in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I was there to help my sister think about how to protect her needs and the kids and prioritize herself for the first time ever.”
Social Media Manager at Worthy, loyal sister and friend.
“Being on the sidelines of someone else’s divorce is challenging because no matter how understanding and available you are to her you can’t actually fix it for her. The best thing you can do is be a constant and even source of support while she goes through the ups and downs of getting over her breakup. Never judge, especially when she isn’t at her best, and don’t be afraid to suggest professional help, whether it be a lawyer, therapist or financial adviser.”
Certified Family Law Specialist, owner and managing attorney of Levine Family Law Group, and founder and CEO of Hello Divorce.
“We view divorce as an event. As if one day you announce, “I’m getting a divorce,” and the next day your marriage is over. The truth is, it’s a journey. It’s a process. It’s a method by which your friend is transitioning out of their marriage and re-prioritizing their relationships, especially their relationship with themselves. Let them know you get this, that you’re in it with them for the long haul.”
“We live in a culture that values independence and self-reliance, so sometimes our friends don’t reach out for the support they need. Offer a drink, tea, a hike, or nothing at all but company. They may not yet know what they want or need, and it’s important to remember that wants and needs can change significantly over the course of a divorce. Think about the support you can give in terms of communication – a weekly check-in phone call, a regular email you send with no expectation of a response, mailing a funny card on occasion – and check in every so often to make sure you’re not overdoing it. You can also think about the support you give in terms of action. What can you do that will help alleviate stress, make their lives easier or at least take their mind off their own situation for a while? Maybe it’s popping by with dinner, maybe it’s offering to shuttle the kids to soccer practice because you’re headed there anyway, maybe it’s heading over to her place with a bottle of wine and a problem of your own for your friend to help you work through.”
“Reiterate in as many ways as you can that your friend is in the driver’s seat. They may not feel like they can control a lot of what is happening in their life right now, but at least they’ll know they can count on you when they need you – and that you’re equally comfortable sitting on the sidelines for a little while if that’s what they need, too.”
“Allow your friends and relatives to mourn their marriage in their own time. That period will vary from person to person. Don’t judge. Don’t tell them they are moving on too quickly or not quickly enough. Only they can gauge when they’re feeling healthy and strong. One day they will wake up and just know.”
About the Author
Stacey Freeman is a writer and blogger from the New York City area, a divorced single mom, lifestyle editor at Worthy.com, and the founder and managing director of Write On Track, LLC, a full-service consultancy dedicated to providing high-quality content to individuals and businesses. A respected voice for divorce issues affecting both women and men, Stacey has been published in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Town & Country, The Huffington Post, xoJane, Scary Mommy, The Stir, MariaShriver.com, The Good Men Project, and various well-known platforms worldwide. Stacey is frequently called upon for her expertise and insights on the divorce experience and has repeatedly been quoted in The Huffington Post’s divorce vertical. Stacey holds her B.A. in English, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from the University at Albany and her J.D. from Boston University School of Law. Email Stacey today at Stacey.Freeman@WriteOnTrackLLC.com or call 800-203-1946 for a free consultation and proposal. For more information, visit www.WriteOnTrackLLC.com.