When someone loses a loved one, you offer your sympathies. When someone has a baby, you send a lovely gift. When someone is divorcing, you...? Hmm. Right. You know you should do or say something -- but you choose to keep your distance instead.
Here's why you shouldn't: On the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is ranked number two out of forty-three potential life stressors. Number one? Death of a spouse. Number three? Marital separation. In the top three life stressors, splitting up a marriage takes up two spots. Just knowing these stats should compel you to change your don't ask/don't tell policy on divorce.
Years ago, a couple I didn't know well announced their divorce. I was surprised when I got a call from a friend of the divorcing wife, Anna. The friend said Anna wasn't feeling supported by the community and suggested I reach out to her. Huh? I barely knew the woman. It wasn't my place to stick my nose in her business. So, regretfully, I said -- and did -- nothing.
In the numbing weeks following my own split, I ran into an old acquaintance. She quickly approached me, presumably to offer her support. As she rushed to my side, she exclaimed, "I'm opening a new bakery -- I hope I'll have your business!" And, yes, she knew about the divorce. I was speechless.
I learned quickly how Anna must have felt. Being part of a huge network of other parents, teachers, close-ish acquaintances, coaches, distant family -- and have very few of them acknowledge the divorce was disconcerting at best. Perhaps, like in my Anna story, they thought it none of their business.
But offering support is not intrusive. It's greatly appreciated when you're struggling through the #2 life stressor. So, what can you do? Here's how divorce is life-changing -- and how you can help:
1) Single parenthood. One parent usually takes on the bulk of parenting after divorce. If the kids are small, this makes even the most routine activities challenging. There's no running out for a quick errand while the other spouse watches the kids.
What you can do: Offer to pick up the dry cleaning or drop off a gallon of milk. Drive her kids to soccer practice or take them to a Saturday matinee. Do something to lighten the load. There are million ways to do this. Be creative.
2) Loneliness. Yep, even your friend who wanted the divorce is feeling the sting of post-divorce isolation. It may be years since he's lived alone. And living with kids part-time doesn't really count. Yes, he may need his space but he also needs some adult companionship.
What you can do: Check in with him often even if it's just a quick text. Suggest you meet for coffee. Make efforts to include him when possible, even when the other invited guests are all couples.
3) Money woes. Even if finances weren't much of an issue before, they probably are now. Maybe your friend can no longer afford to join you for a girls' spa weekend or even for dinner at that semi-pricey restaurant.
What you can do: Be sensitive to that. Suggest you do things that are fun but not costly: go apple-picking, walk your dogs together, drop by for a glass of wine. And, if you're feeling generous, treat your friend once in awhile.
4) Self-doubt. She may be plagued with insecurity following the split. Maybe she wonders if anyone else will find her attractive or she's feeling like damaged goods. Divorce challenges everything she knew to be true about her identity, her life and her future. No wonder she's feeling unsure.
What you can do: Build her up. Tell her what a good friend she is. Compliment her appearance and her talents. Suggest new confidence-building activities. When she's ready, help her get back out there in whatever way she chooses.
5) Divorce keeps on giving. It's a stressor that doesn't go away. Especially when there are kids involved, the realities of divorced living hang on.
What you can do: Even after the initial crisis has passed, there will be ongoing challenges. Accept that and be patient. The repercussions of divorce aren't going away anytime soon.
6) Divorce is emotionally debilitating. Some situational depression is normative after a divorce. But if you see your friend struggling to socialize, go to work or take care of his kids, it may be time to step in.
What you can do: Gently tell him you're concerned and suggest he talk to a therapist or offer to help him find a support group.
And if none of the above feels right, try saying this: "I heard you guys are splitting and I just want you to know how sorry I am. I don't want to interfere but I know this is a challenging time. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help."