Although it can be easy to make a big difference in the life of a woman going through divorce, many of us don't have a clue how to respond or what to do. Here are some concrete suggestions you can use to help a divorcing or divorced woman in your life:
1.Lend an ear
Divorce, like any major life transition, brings up intense feelings and fears in those going though or recovering from it. A willingness to listen to these, without interruption or judgment, should not be undervalued. Divorcing women benefit from opportunities to "spill the beans" in the company of trusted friends who won't gossip or criticize. Otherwise, they may be left trying to get through each day while absorbed by the negativity, disappointment, a sense of failure, and fears about the future that divorce can bring -- no easy task! Don't feel like you have to provide answers, just listening is a gift in itself.
2.Give a shoulder
One of the ironies of divorce is that so many critical decisions have to be made while divorcees feel their worst. Providing a shoulder for a friend to cry on can help bolster the spirits and replenish the energy of a divorcing or recently divorced friend in need. Many of us feel deeply uncomfortable and struggle with words when someone we care about is crying. Comments such as, "It will be ok", or "I know how you feel", or even, "Why cry...you wanted this, remember?" are not helpful and can make a friend feel more alone or misunderstood. Better to just pass the tissue box or offer a hug, hopefully without comment or blame.
3. Pitch in
Being available to help out with everyday tasks could be invaluable: offering to babysit, share a meal, pick up the kids, do laundry, etc., these are some of the greatest gifts a friend can give to another friend who is ailing. Remember that your friend may not be able to ask for help now so don't be afraid to suggest or offer it.
4. Help over the holidays
At a recent weekend retreat for divorcing and divorced women, one topic that kept coming up was how painful the holidays can be when in the midst of or even after divorce. The rituals and traditions that once included the ex-spouse and his family may no longer be possible, leaving many divorced mothers feeling guilty, confused and at a loss as to where to go from here. Extending an invitation to join a family gathering can help rescue a newly divorced family from a lot of pain, sadness, and loneliness around holidays (even seemingly minor ones), so consider making room at the holiday table.
5. Provide resources
Divorcing women need support networks and resources such as experienced family law professionals (such as attorneys, divorce coaches, and mediators), competent and caring therapists, expert financial professionals, and even realtors, career counselors, and child specialists. Providing referral information, doing research, or making phone calls to help a soon- to-be or newly-divorced woman locate the professionals she needs is essential.
6. Offer R and R
Routinely taking time out from the whirlwind activities that can surround divorce (i.e. preparing to sell the house or move to a new town, adjusting to different schedules and routines, filling out and compiling loads and loads of forms and documents) is necessary to stay healthy and feel well. Regular workouts, pampering, rest, leisure activities, and entertainment often fall by the wayside during periods of high stress and difficulty, but these are just the antidotes to maintain balance and good mental health. Time away and time alone can also help clear away the fatigue and confusion.
Women need time, attention, information, and caring in order to sustain themselves and their families through the divorce transition and beyond. Friends can find simple and effective ways to offer their assistance to any woman who is thinking of, in the midst of, or recovering from divorce!