Separation/ divorce is a period of great life upheaval and emotional turmoil. It’s heartbreaking to watch loved ones suffer through it, and it can be stressful trying to figure out how you can help, and what you should or should not say or do. But it doesn’t have to be stressful. The best way to help your loved ones is actually pretty simple: it all boils down to empathy.
7 Ways To Support Loved Ones Going Through Separation/ Divorce:
1.) Realize You Don’t Have To Choose A Side:
It takes two people to make a relationship, and it also takes two people to cause a relationship to end. Whatever the story may appear to be from the outside looking in, chances are the reality is much different. You truly never know, nor do you need to. The details of everything really aren’t your business. Being a supportive friend is your business though. If you loved both spouses before their split, it’s okay to love them both after. Losing a husband/ wife is painful enough, they really don’t need, or deserve to lose their friends too.
2.) Let It Be All About Them:
When experiencing great life upheaval and loss, what a person needs more than anything else is to be heard. To tell their story to a fully engrossed, empathetic, nonjudgemental listener. A listener who keeps the story focused on their friend, without constant interruption, or interjections of anecdotes of their own relationship troubles. This can be tough to do, but if you are able to do it, you will be giving your loved one a rare gift indeed.
3.) Try Not To Take Their Distance Personally:
If your loved one withdraws during their time of separation and loss, please try not to take it personally. Perhaps seeing you would cause them too many emotions they aren’t ready to face just yet. Perhaps most of the time spent with you in the past was with their spouse, and the memories are still too raw and painful. Whatever the reason, if your loved one seems to be avoiding you, they probably are doing it to protect themselves during an extremely vulnerable time. They still love you. They still think of you often. They still need you, and they will come around in time, I promise. Please just be patient and give them that time.
4.) Remember Every Situation Is Unique:
When confiding in someone, nothing is worse than being met with a “been there, done that” sort of attitude. Yes, hearts have been breaking since humans first walked the earth. Yes, separation/divorce has happened millions of times before, maybe even to you. This is the first time it is happening to your loved one though. Every headache, every heartache is very unique to them. Please be sure to dignify their experience, to honour their feelings, rather than diminish them by reminding them how common their situation is. Your loved one is aware they are not the only person to ever go through this. Reminding them is unnecessary, and sure doesn’t make them hurt any less. Please honour their feelings. Treat their suffering as something as individual as they are, rather than with stereotypes and generalizations.
5.) Remember They Are Mourning A Loss As Real As Death:
Experiencing separation/divorce is very similar to experiencing a death. It’s death of day to day life as you know it. It’s death of a future you had planned and taken comfort in. It’s loss of arms that held you, a partner you thought would be there unconditionally. It’s loss of materials, family members, time with children, family traditions and inside jokes. Years of once pleasant memories become torturous. A social status you took pride and comfort in vanishes, and is replaced with potential judgement and loneliness. Despite separation / divorce being a choice, it’s still a huge loss that causes very real grief. The fact that it’s a choice can also make it even harder, when feelings of guilt and self doubt creep in. Help your loved one by acknowledging how huge heir suffering is. What they are going through is a really big deal. As serious as death is. Remind them of this, and offer your sympathy often.
6.) Offer Advice Only When It’s Requested:
If your loved one is looking for advice during their separation/ divorce, they will ask for it. Even then, it’s very likely they won’t do what you say, unless deep down they have already made the decision to do it on their own anyway. Giving unsolicited advice (unless of course, you feel their safety is at risk) to your loved one during a time of such turmoil is likely to make them feel misunderstood and disrespected. Instead, you can encourage them when you think they are doing the right thing, and be there to offer a hug when they realize they have made (very importantly, their own) mistakes, which will teach them far deeper life lessons than following your advice ever could.
7.) Give An Abundance Of Encouragement and Praise:
It’s very easy for those going through separation/ divorce to feel like they have failed somehow. Remind your loved one that the real failure would have been to continue on living life feeling miserable, resentful and hopeless. To admit something just can’t work any more, and resolve to make extremely difficult changes in the hope of long term happiness is very brave. To face the emotional and financial consequences of separation, and dive all alone into a new life that is completely unknown takes guts. Never stop reminding your loved one of this. They have not failed. They have taken control of the one life they get to live on this earth. They are carving a new path. Praise and encourage your loved one every step of the way. Be their greatest fan. Most importantly, be you. Their life has completely transformed. That doesn’t mean your relationship with them has to.
Thank you for reading.
Be Brave, and Talk