Being a good friend sometimes can put you in a very stressful – what can I possibly do or say situation – especially when your friend is going through a divorce crises. As much as you want to be on her side and support her, you may actually stress her and freak her out even more about the decision she is making. In general it is always best to be a “good listener” during challenging times. When I was going through my divorce I got all sorts of running commentaries and suggestions by well-meaning friends that just stressed me to new levels. I deeply wished that they would know what to say and what not to say to me that would help me through that difficult journey. Sometimes I just wished to be heard with getting no response at all.
Here are some of the things that I came up with:
Don’t say:” Well, statistics show that almost 50% of marriages end in divorce”. How is that supposed to help and make you feel better? Even if divorce is very common it is still a very painful and traumatic experience. Telling your friend how common it is undermines how upset your friend is feeling and makes her feel unsupported.
Don’t give advice! I call this unsolicited advice and nothing drove me over the edge more than this. It’s amazing how many people who have never experienced a divorce think they have the greatest advice to offer. I believe people mean well, but someone who hasn’t had the experience or isn’t an expert in this field really shouldn’t offer unsolicited advice. It can come to haunt them back and lose a friendship over it if the advice lead to a destructive or painful results. Regardless of your intentions or connections to your friend refrain from offering advice, especially when not being asked. If asked and you feel ill equipped to answer your friend tell her something like: “I would love to help you with this but I honestly don’t feel that I have the knowledge or skills to help guide you the right way, and I care too much about you to give you advice that could potentially hurt you”. She will appreciate your honesty a lot more than advice.
Don’t exclude your friend from couple’s night out. I know you might think you are hurting your friend by inviting her to couples night, but trust me your friend doesn’t care if you are going solo or with a platonic friend or partner. It means more to her that you don’t drop her and keep her in your life and let things be as normal as possible. Some of my friends made this mistake which ultimately resulted in alienation.
Don’t make comments that are supposed to make her feel better but are really kind of stupid. For example: “He is an asshole”, “kids are resilient”, “you will find someone better”. As mentioned before if you don’t know what to say SAY NOTHING!
Don’t say: “I kind of saw it coming”, or “I had a feeling you guys weren’t happy”. If you are a true friend don’t make your friend feel like you were analyzing her relationship from the sidelines. It is not your place and will make her feel awful. Remember to keep your opinions to yourself.
Don’t badmouth your friend’s ex or soon to be ex. You are probably thinking that it will make your friend feel better when you point out negative behavior from her ex. Or maybe you are thinking it will give your friend the confidence in her decision to divorce. What hurt me deeply was how many people all of a sudden came forward with stories about my ex of things they knew he did and what they truly thought of him. Why didn’t they tell me when before I married him or when things were actually happening? Saying these things now really aren’t conducive.
Don’t’ ever say “I am jealous, you get to start over”. It’s amazing the kind of senseless comments people can sometimes say. Some people actually told me they are jealous that I had the courage to leave. I thought to myself, what are they jealous of? Custody arrangements? My endless Legal bills? The painful hardships of a torn-up family? The inferno I lived in? I couldn’t quite wrap my head around these comments. Of course, marriage has its ups and downs and some people look at divorcing people as lucky in the sense that they get a fresh start. Please know that just because your friend is getting a fresh start it is far from easy and her journey will consist of many challenges. Expressing to her that you are jealous of her freedom, reminds her that you are still married, and guess what, she really doesn’t need to hear this right now.
Don’t offer an attorney without being asked. Don’t say something like: “I know a great attorney, let me get you an appointment”. Stepping in while someone is going through a divorce and proactively offering your suggestions may come across pushy. Your friend needs space to think about things, so instead of being pushy just say you have referrals if she needs them and let her reach out if she chooses to do so.
Don’t say “Let me know if you need anything”. I was never good at accepting things from anyone so when people offered me that kind of help it really wasn’t much of a help. If you want to offer a helping hand to your friend who really needs you now, be specific: Offer to watch after the kids, or a sleepover so she can take a break, take her out to a movie, or cook her a meal. She will most likely accept what your offering or tell you that she has things under control when you offer more concrete help.
Don’t suggest: “Have a fling”! Your friend will be ready to date at some point, but suggesting a fling really belittles the fact that she is still in a mourning crisis and needs the time to heal. A lot of people feel pressured by their friends and sometimes even family to start dating too soon, and for many it really doesn’t work well. It will take your friend time to settle down after the divorce, to heal and better understand what really happened over the course of her marriage and ultimately find herself again. Be the friend she needs by trying to get in touch with what she is experiencing and learn how to support her during this difficult time.