Divorce is difficult, not only for those who are in it, but also for friends and family.
Knowing the right or wrong thing to say can be daunting especially considering the emotional sensitivity of the topic. Pushing the wrong button at the wrong time can send your friend into either an emotional breakdown or worst even -- reactive damaging behavior.
Gone are the days when getting armchair advice from the barbershop is reliable and confidential. Life is more complicated than it was years ago; laws and legal advice are cumbersome and costly and relationships and family units are simply more complex than in the past. While our world has changed so dramatically, humans: their emotions and responses to stressful events, are pretty much the same.
There is no question that for those who are trying to help their loved ones through this journey -- your words matter a lot. That brings with it a huge responsibility and sometimes a burden you did not sign up for. Your friend/family needs you and so here are a few tips for helping them and still keeping those friendly boundaries in tack:
- Help them reflect on their language to ensure they are using empowering language and not the language of a victim. Victims are stuck and will not heal until they are responsible and accountable. Yes, that means to be accountable to whatever happened.
- Do your best to remain objective. Of course you are there for them but when they are off base -- tell them so that they can begin to move on.
- Encourage them to work with mediators if at all possible. Going at it with lawyers will only delay moving on and will cost everyone emotionally and financially. There are lots of alternatives out there now. So help them do their research and make good decisions.
- Point out to them when they are making decisions based on emotion and encourage them that more time and research would be wise.
- Encourage them to get counseling, regardless of whether they feel it is needed. Everyone can use the help of an objective set of ears that has no motive other than to help them move on (we hope).
- Remind them that this does not define their life -- it is an event in their life. But how they move through it will define a large part of who they are. Do not create a negative divorce legacy.
- Buy them a couple of great books. No pity party books but empowering, life changing books -- there are many out there.
- Encourage them to look good on the outside, exercise, buy something new, get a new haircut, etc. This is not shallow -- this is smart. Divorce is a confidence destroyer and it may take years to rebuild that. In the meantime having a nice book cover will speed up the process and make them feel better.
- Do not engage in detailed conversation with them around their children
- Do not overly bad mouth the ex. You can listen and support without getting caught up in the drama. Help reduce drama, not increase it.
- Set boundaries around when to discuss their divorce and when it is time to just have fun. Divorce can be all consuming and yet a break can be one of the best things to bring clarity. Set out events and state that tonight "we are not talking about your divorce, we can talk about you, your great future etc. but no divorce talk".... Then, stick to that deal. You will do your friend, yourself and your friendship a lot of good.
- Remind them that the enemy is only negative thinking. That is it! What we think is what we create. Change your thinking; change your life. In fact, this advice is well suited to everyone.
- Lastly -- just be there for them with open arm, love and honesty and know that you too will learn from this.