How to Help A Friend Cope with Divorce
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Do you have a friend who is recently divorced or currently going through one? Are you finding it difficult to find the right words or to comfort your friend the way he or she needs? Perhaps you feel awkward around your once jovial friend, who seems to have become an entirely different person. Maybe you’re friends with both parties and are having a difficult time staying true to both relationships. Regardless of the circumstances, it is difficult to be a friend to someone enduring a divorce. But as complicated as it may be, it is necessary to support your friend in any way you can.
The Damage of Divorce
Divorces are devastating. They hurt both parties, and if children are involved, the psychological effects are immense. Divorce is also prevalent. In fact, nearly everyone is touched by it, as nearly 4 in 10 marriages fall apart. In America, the high divorce rate has resulted in troubling statistics for family well-being and personal health. Only 42 percent of children live with their married, biological families. Divorced men are three times more at risk to commit suicide than their married counterparts. Debt and financial burdens afflict both partners after a divorce, and nearly half will live in poverty
Personally experiencing a divorce not only ushers in great risk, but it also enhances emotional heartache in a similar way to experiencing a death. Divorce affects men and women in equal numbers, but their emotional differences and societal circumstances can make their experiences different from one another.
If your friend has children, this may complicate the matter, as changes in family structure and personal roles intensify stress and sorrow. Like it or not, most women receive custody of the children. For women, they now must experience the burdens of single parenthood; for men, they must now live with the deep emotional pain of not seeing their children as often as they’d like. Of course for both, watching their children struggle is one of the greatest pains of divorce.
Even if your friend doesn’t have children, the anguish and emotional upheaval are just as great. Possessions are split up and houses are sold. Dreams of a different future are broken along with their homes. Other friends and family members may become distant, either because of religious beliefs or fear of the new situation. Maybe your friend is feeling a tremendous amount of loss because of this, not just losing his or her spouse. It is a complete disturbance, destroying everything your friend had once held dear.
Psychological Emotions of Divorcees
To help your friend, you will need to approach the situation from a point of empathy. You may have experience with divorce, whether you are divorced or whether you are a child from divorced parents. However, you must recognize that every person will cope differently and the circumstances of every divorce are diverse. With this understanding, don’t help your friend with advice from your perspective. And certainly do not pass judgments on either party. The best thing you can do is recognize and understand the individual and unique emotions of your friend.
This is most likely the first and most common emotion of divorcees. You will have to recognize various aspects of your friend’s divorce to understand the source and object of his or her fury, but sometimes, the anger doesn’t have a direct relationship to any specific event. Anger can also come in the form of resentment. Your friend’s anger may be directed inwardly, at his or her ex, or a third party.
For some, a divorce is liberating, but that doesn’t make its stigma is any less severe. People pass judgment when they hear the “D” word. People also pass judgment on themselves. Divorce is hard to accept, and it can feel like a failure. Children and religious beliefs can also complicate the situation.
Your friend may develop symptoms of anxiety through the fear and stress of the situation. Divorce is an unknown, and many people live in fear during and afterward. Finances, children, possessions, jobs, friends…it’s all unfamiliar and scary.
There is no way to get around it, divorces are sad occurrences. The grief that is attached to a divorce is like that of a death. In fact, it is a death; it is the death of a marriage, a persona. Your friend may miss his or her ex. The heartache surrounding a divorce is real and painful.
What You Can Do to Be There for Your Friend
More than ever, your friend needs you by his or her side, even if it’s in silence. It’s lonely enough losing a spouse, but to lose another friend would be devastating. People who go through a divorce may feel as if their identity is being challenged. While this is a time of turmoil, with work and support, it can become a time of renewal and personal growth.
Be a good listener. Your friend doesn’t need to hear about your problems at the moment (although you do need to benefit from the relationship, too, at some point). What he or she needs is to talk and work out emotions to grow as an individual. Listen in an unbiased, loving, and understanding manner.
Offer your help. Could your friend benefit from your taking the kids for a few hours? Does your friend need help planning and preparing meals on his or her own? Can you wash a car or take clothes to the dry cleaner? Use your talents and your friend’s needs to suggest little ways that you can ease the transition.
Include your friend in plans. Make sure to think of your friend when meeting up with others, and make specific plans with just him or her. What does your friend enjoy doing? Also, trying something new, like zip-lining, may be the adventure he or she needs.
Don't avoid your friend. The worst thing you can do is stay away. If you are friends with both parties, you either need to make an agreement with both or cease seeing either one. However, always keep dialogue open concerning this arrangement. Also, if your friend has changed (obviously), this is no time to evade his or her presence. Personal insight is required to be a true friend under all circumstances.
Don't turn your conversations into ex-bashing sessions. First, divorce and relationships are complex. When you try to rehash events, you’re subconsciously trying to fix them (or figure out what went wrong). Do not oversimplify the events and emotions that abound within a marriage. Your friend will only hold on to bitterness, hostility, and other unhealthy emotions if you allow him or her to wallow in them. Your friend needs to break free from psychological barriers to begin to heal and develop.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
9 Devastating Effects of Divorce on Men. (2010, May 11). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.articlesbase.com/divorce-articles/9-devastating-effects-of-divorce-on-men-2345469.html?en
Holbrook, C. (2015, January 1). Top Five Emotional Effects of Divorce. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.coachingfordivorcedwomen.com/emotional-effects-of-divorce/
Pescosolido, A. (2015). How To Help A Friend Cope With Divorce. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.yourtango.com/experts/divorce-detox/how-be-friend-someone-going-through-separation-ordivorce