Even if you’re not divorced, you probably know someone who has been divorced, or someone who is currently going through that trial by fire.
How can you be a good friend to someone who is getting a divorce? Whether your reaction is “WHAT?!?!” or “I TOLD YOU SO!”, your friend will probably turn to you for help.
While everyone deals with their own separation/divorce differently, and not everyone needs the same things (although “chocolate” and “Kleenex” show up frequently), here are a few guidelines:
1. Have a short memory.
Your friend is in a bad, bad place – even if he or she is the initiator of the divorce. Give them a little slack (temporarily!) when it comes to normal social interactions. You may be out for dinner and suddenly she dissolves in tears. Or you may find that he’s forgotten how to shave on a regular basis. These things will pass. Let them go.
On the other hand, if she’s still crying in public after a year, or he goes full Mountain Man, you might need to have a talk. The bad time should be a speed bump, not a permanent condition. It’s difficult to deal with a person who wallows in their own misery.
Think of it this way: pretend your friend has just had major surgery, and is in the recovery area coming out of anesthesia. They’re confused, in pain, and may say and do things that are totally out of character. Don’t hold it against them.
2. Forget “normal.”
“When will Jane get back to normal?”
Divorce changes a person. They may change for the better, or for the worse (and in most cases, some of each). If you did not know them before they got married, they may revert to pre-marriage behaviors you’ve never seen. Or they may embark on a journey of self-discovery and develop new behaviors.
They don’t call it “life altering” for nothing.
Think of it this way: pretend your friend is obese, and finally decides to change her lifestyle. She stops joining you for after-work drinks and nachos, joins a gym, and starts bringing salads for lunch every day. While it’s kind of a bummer to lose the “old” friend, it would be totally wrong to sabotage her progress by insisting on nachos. Instead, come find me. I’m always up for nachos.
3. Don’t throw fuel on the fire.
Venting plays a large and vital role in the divorce process. You will probably find yourself on the receiving end of tearful ranting on numerous occasions. You will hear things about your friend’s ex that will curl your hair.
See #1. Remember that you are hearing one very skewed half of a very emotional story. You will never, NEVER, know what went on in their home between them. And it will help no one for you to join your friend in verbally abusing their ex, or worse, treating the ex poorly in public.
Think of it this way: this is not the Jerry Springer show.
4. Don’t become a security blanket.
You cannot replace your friend’s spouse. If your friend begins subtly pressuring you to take on that role, it’s totally fair to draw a line. You are not required to spend every weekend with your divorced friend, or cancel your own plans because he/she is having a bad day. If your friend begins to guilt-trip you into being their full-time buddy, they’re not being a good friend to you.
5. What if you have to choose?
When couple-friends get divorced, you and your spouse are faced with The Choice – Team Mr. or Team Mrs.?
You don’t have to choose.
Let me say that again. You don’t have to choose. If you want to be friends with both, then go right ahead. Don’t share information between the parties, and don’t pretend to be friends to gather snippets of gossip. If your friend is pressuring you to cut ties with their ex, or cuts ties with you because you continue to be nice to their ex, they’re not being a good friend to you.
Think of it this way: by staying on pleasant terms with their ex, you are modeling good behavior for your friend. By refusing to be nasty, or petty, or mean to that person, you are showing your friend how they should behave.
And if all that fails, bring chocolate and Kleenex. And nachos.