Four years ago, I became the person that no one wants to be. I was the “divorced” friend—the humiliated, suddenly-single mother of three confused children, ages ten and under. I’ll spare you the gut-wrenching details of my time in this emotional blender, because what you really need to know are ways that you can help someone in a similar situation—and ways to avoid causing even more pain. There’s a reason that people get divorced, and many times, it’s bad. You don’t want to make it worse. So I’ll begin with the “don’ts.”
When it comes to dealing with a divorced friend, here are three things you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t “pick the scab.” As tempted as you may be, you should not Facebook-stalk your friend’s ex and tell her all about the shocking pictures you found. Do not remind her that you recently saw her ex behaving badly and spill the juicy details. And for goodness sake, do not insinuate that she could have done something better to preserve the marriage (e.g., being nicer, younger, thinner, etc.). I can promise you that she has re-lived the wounds a million times in her mind, and before she can truly move forward with her life, they must begin to scab over and heal. Bringing up the bad stuff is like picking the scab. Don’t do it.
- Don’t judge. This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised. I once had a woman stop talking to me on a plane when she realized that I was divorced. Yes, that’s right. She literally stopped mid-sentence, and did not say another word to me for the duration of the three-hour flight. Ouch. If she could have only walked a mile in my shoes, she would have discovered what it’s like to choose between running into a burning building and jumping from a 1,000-foot bridge. Please, don’t judge. You have no idea what really happened in your friend’s situation. You didn’t live it.
- Don’t offer unsolicited advice. When a friend goes through divorce, you can’t magically fix the situation, no matter how hard you try. And the more you talk, the more likely you are to say something incredibly insensitive or inadvertently hurtful. Your friend needs a listening, supportive ear, not a results-oriented analysis of how everything should work out. Don’t offer unsolicited advice to try and fix a problem you can’t solve.
On the other hand, there are many ways to help—here are three things you should do:
- Do include. Divorce is not an infectious disease. Really, it’s not contagious. Invite your friend to the “married people” events. Include her just as you did before. After all, she’s still the same wonderful person and friend that she was before her marriage ended. Don’t treat her like she doesn’t belong anymore. I am eternally grateful for my married friends who invited me anyway once I became single.
- Do reach out and encourage. Getting a divorce can feel like being shoved in a box and put away in the attic—people often don’t know what to say or do, so they don’t do anything—leaving the divorced friend feeling as if she’ll never escape the world of solitary confinement. Reach up there and take your friend out of her isolation. Send a note. Make a call. Stop by for a visit. Offer to help with her everyday responsibilities or kids. Plan a girls’ weekend. Anything to encourage your friend to keep going. One of the sweetest things that a friend did for me after my divorce was to leave a beautifully-framed picture of my children on my front door step, along with an encouraging note. I still look at that picture sometimes. It catapulted me forward at a time when I was so deflated that I didn’t think I could go on. Encouragement—even in small doses—is nourishment for the divorced soul.
- Do connect. Many women who divorce have been unbelievably isolated from the world for a long period of time. They have felt too ashamed and scared to ask for help. If you can, connect your friend to potential employers, other friends who have gone through similar circumstances, and those who can foster growth and help counteract the painful sting of such a humiliating life event. After my divorce, I landed a fantastic job through a church friend who took valuable time to connect me with one of her professional colleagues. This made a lasting impact on the landscape of my life. Divorce is so disconnecting. Do everything possible to help your friend stay connected to the right people.
I’m happy to say that I can write this post because of those who included, reached out and encouraged, and connected me during the darkest days of divorce. They didn’t pick the scab, or judge, or offer unsolicited advice to me along the way. And now, I’m very happily remarried—and very, very thankful.