How to Help your Friend or Loved One Get Through a Divorce
I often have friends ask me how they can best support someone they care about who’s navigating a divorce.
Given the high divorce rate, nearly all of us have found (or will find) ourselves in this situation at one point or another: you learn that a friend or family member’s marriage is ending, and regardless of whether the news comes as a shock to you or not, it’s on you to determine how to respond and help them through what may be one of the most difficult periods of their life.
On the one hand, you might not know what you can do to offer support. But what often makes this situation even harder is the fact that divorce can be an awkward issue for us to discuss.
Because divorce is socially discouraged, our society has rendered it a fairly taboo topic, so we don’t openly (or at least regularly) talk about divorce in our culture. We were never taught how to address it with others. Instead, we tend to avoid shedding light on this life transition when it crops up because it’s something that’s just not “supposed” to happen.
But this very circumstance – our society’s aversion to the topic – can serve to make the experience all the more isolating and difficult for the person going through a divorce.
On top of any grief and emotional pain that individual might be experiencing (not to mention the overwhelming and complicated nature of the legal process), our culture’s treatment of divorce makes those going through it feel isolated, ostracized, misunderstood, and sometimes even like failures.
I know this from personal experience – not only because I happen to work as a divorce coach, but also because I’ve been divorced myself. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to go through. And those navigating the process can use all the help they can get (whether or not they realize it).
So how can we help someone we care about get through a divorce?
What follows are 3 suggestions I’ve pulled together based on both personal and professional experience.
1. Hold space for them
We each process grief and handle transitions in different ways. And divorce, by nature, inherently involves enormous change and loss.
Someone going through a divorce will often be grieving the loss of their spouse and their marriage, but also the loss of the life they’d imagined for themselves up until that point. They’re experiencing a massive shift in their reality and trying to come to terms with it.
And as someone who’s been through that transition myself, I can tell you firsthand that it isn’t always pretty. (I’d love to be able to say that I handled my own divorce with nothing but grace, grit, and resilience, but honey, that would be total bullshit).
I alluded to this in one of my previous articles (“Recently Divorced? Avoid these 5 Post-Divorce Pitfalls in order to Prosper”), but it’s common for people navigating a divorce to act out of character or even go into a downward tailspin as they attempt to process it all.
So what can you do to support them through this?
Hold space for them.
You can do this by –
a) allowing them to process their grief
Give them some time to express and work through the stages of grief. They may be willing to go through this experience openly – talking about it in the context of a support group, for instance – or they may wish to process it all more privately.
Don’t push them (to move on, to express anger, to share, etc). There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Regardless of their chosen approach, it’s important for you to recognize (and accept) that whatever grief looks like for them in practice might not resemble what it would look like for you, and that’s okay. Be respectful of their process.
b) not shaming them for their missteps
As a fallible human navigating an immensely difficult period in their life, they will likely make some mistakes (possibly many) throughout their divorce and maybe even post-divorce as well. Some might abuse drugs or alcohol. Others may lash out and damage relationships with people in their lives. Some might even get arrested.
And I’m not saying that this is excusable or acceptable behavior – especially if it serves to hurt or negatively impact others, such as their children. However, when someone you care about makes some mistakes surrounding their divorce, my ask of you is this: make an effort to keep your judgment in check and show them compassion.
Trust me, they are likely beating themselves up with a deeply self-critical inner narrative and not showing themselves much self-compassion or self-acceptance right now. And if they continue with that self-destructive inner pattern, it will probably continue to outwardly manifest as well.
By showing them kindness, empathy, acceptance, and support, you’ll serve as a model for them and point them down the path to self-love.
2. Foster connection
Going through a divorce is an incredibly isolating experience.
In the literal/physical sense, you’re suddenly living by yourself – probably for the first time in quite a while. But you tend to feel very alone in the psychological sense as well, even if you’re fortunate enough to have a solid support network and close friends who have been through the divorce process themselves, because no two divorces are exactly alike.
So how can you help someone who is navigating a divorce feel less alone?
a) Do what you can to personally connect & show them love, care, and support
Consider bringing them some home-cooked meals so they don’t have to deal with cooking for themselves. (You could also offer to take them out to eat if they feel up to it). Many of my clients have had family, friends, or neighbors do this for them and later shared with me how grateful they were to have that kind of support.
If you live far away from the person getting divorced, you can always send them a gift – perhaps something related to self-care. As a personal example of this, when I was navigating my own divorce, one of my best friends from grade school who lived 1800 miles away from me sent me a gift in the mail to let me know she was thinking of me and so sorry to hear that my marriage had ended. Her thoughtfulness and consideration for me despite the physical distance between us meant the world to me. I’ll never forget it.
Try to be thoughtful, observant of their obligations, and chip-in wherever you can. Maybe help them with their kids (if applicable) – taking them home from school or giving them a ride to soccer practice, for example. Offer to watch their dog, cat, or other pets while they take some time for themselves. Ask them what they could use some help with.
b) Encourage community
You could invite them to join you for a talk or workshop, a dance class, a group fitness program, or at a meetup gathering related to a shared interest you both have. You could explore new hobbies or activities together (from pottery to axe throwing, there really is something for everyone).
If you happen to know more than one person going through a divorce (or others who have recently been through the process), maybe offer to connect them with one another. During my own divorce, a good friend of mine gave me a heads-up that one of our mutual acquaintances was also navigating the process. Although he and I hadn’t previously known each other well, we became incredibly close friends as we connected over our shared experiences and found our way forward through our respective divorces.
If there are any divorce support groups, meetups, or other relevant communities in your friend or family member’s local area, let them know those groups exist in case they’d like to leverage them. (Not everyone will be open to attending a meeting of this kind, which is perfectly fine). Online communities also exist if that option proves to be more appealing to them.
Do what you can to get them out and engaging with others in some way. Remind them that there’s fun to be had out in the world. That people can be caring and compassionate. And that there’s reason to still have hope and be excited for what the future might hold.
3. Consider getting them a coach or counselor to work with
Having a counselor or coach in your corner as you navigate the divorce process or look to recover post-divorce can be invaluable. Whenever you find yourself going through a large life transition, such as your marriage ending, you’re presented with an incredible opportunity for growth and transformation. It’s fertile ground for some larger shifts to occur.
To help ensure those shifts are positive ones that are in alignment with what you want in life and who you want to be going forward, it can be hugely beneficial to have someone with relevant knowledge and expertise in your corner to provide you with guidance and support.
As a friend or confidant of someone going through a divorce, if you’re able to find a great therapist or divorce coach for them to work with (and possibly even cover the cost of a session or two for them), that’s an incredible gift to give them.
In terms of a counselor, I would recommend selecting one who specializes in divorce or the grief process. And if you go the coaching route, I would specifically recommend seeking out an experienced divorce coach.
Not everyone is familiar with divorce coaching, and not all divorce coaches have the same background, experience, and/or credentials, so I would advise you to be cautious in selecting whom to work with. I cannot speak for all divorce coaches in explaining the value we can provide (I’m fairly unique, in that I have a law degree and have also been through the divorce process myself), but I can tell you what I am able to offer my clients:
how to tell your spouse you’d like a divorce
what to expect and what the process will entail
what options you have / paths you can take to get divorced
how to prepare for your divorce
what resources you can leverage to get through the process in a way that aligns with your goals (i.e., as cheaply as possible, as quickly as possible, as amicably as possible, etc.)
clarity as to the process and steps you should take next
guidance, organization, and support throughout your divorce
how to best prepare for your mediation / negotiation session(s)
connection to any other experts you might need or benefit from (such as an incredible co-parenting counselor or resourceful Certified Divorce Financial Analyst)
how to rediscover & reestablish your identity independent of your relationship with your ex
how to gain a perspective on your divorce that will serve you going forward
tools and exercises to help you get unstuck and become the best possible version of yourself
assistance with goal-setting and staying accountable
guidance through additional life transitions (such as a move, career change, co-parenting, etc.)
help in getting to a place where you’re THRIVING post-divorce
I work with clients nationwide who are contemplating, navigating, or looking to recover from a divorce. If you or someone you know might be interested in working with me, I offer free initial consultations, and would love to help.
We can all benefit from working on ourselves. And at a time when one’s world as they’ve known it is completely shifting around them (as it does in a divorce scenario), having an expert and objective confidant to speak with on a regular basis can provide that individual with some much-needed clarity and stability.
Katherine Woodward Thomas perhaps put it best when she said, “contrary to popular belief, time does not heal all wounds. We do.”
Although this list is by no means exhaustive, I hope you find these suggestions helpful.
And if you have navigated a divorce yourself or helped a close friend or family member through one, I would love to hear from you. What other recommendations would you give? How can we better support those who are going through the divorce process?
Please contribute to the conversation by commenting on this post, and let’s do all we can to help those we love get to a place where they are thriving post-divorce.
Kim West is the Founder and CEO of When It’s Knot Forever, a company she built to assist and empower those approaching, going through, or coming out of the divorce process. Kim (JD, MBA) is a Divorce Coach who offers her coaching services nationwide. To learn more, follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
To schedule a free consultation call with Kim, sign up here: https://calendly.com/whenitsknotforever/freeconsultation
Check out her online mini-course on “How to Get Divorced”: https://courses.whenitsknotforever.com/p/how-to-get-divorced