How to Handle a Friend's Divorce When close friends go through a divorce, the situation can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. Use these tips to ease the transition and strengthen your marriage. BY DIANE GOTTSMAN
Divorcing is an earth-shattering event. Offering a friend support will help them through.
“ The reality is that no one knows everything about the personal lives of their friends, however close they are. There are two sides to every story.”
When friends divorce, it impacts everyone around them. When you’re friends with a couple who’s breaking up, it can create a whirlwind of emotion: shock, sadness, worry, even reflection or concern about your own marriage—if it happened to them, could it happen to us?
As your friends undergo a painful, all-encompassing change in their lives, you and your spouse may ride your own emotional roller coaster as you wrestle with two tasks: maintaining your friendship with the divorcing couple and also taking away lessons that will help you keep your own relationship solid.
Protecting Your Friendship
Your friends are about to travel a rocky, difficult and emotionally-charged path. Here are a few tips to support them as they divorce.
Be as good of a friend as you can. Few situations in life are as stressful as ending a marriage. Even if your friend initiated the divorce, he or she is still in for all the challenges of ending a relationship and transitioning to a single life. You are bound to have conflicting feelings about the situation, but do your best to be a friend and continue to spend time together. Don’t treat divorce like a contagious disease that you might pick up from your friend over lunch.
Do remain as neutral as possible. You may be closer to one spouse than the other—maybe the friendship between the wives brought both couples together. Still, whether you spend time around one or both of the divorcing spouses, don’t badmouth either party to the other. Not only is it unhelpful, but there’s always the possibility that they will reconcile.
Resist the urge to judge. The reality is that no one knows everything about the personal lives of their friends, however close they are. There are two sides to every story; do your best to trust that both people have worked on it as well as they could. Resist the urge to chime in with what you think should or should not happen unless specifically asked.
Extend invitations to your friend... repeatedly. It can be a lifeline for friends in such a dramatic transition to know that there’s someone there for them, even when all they want to do is be alone. Keep extending invitations even when they turn you down. Don’t be afraid to call at the last minute for a spontaneous meal or drink—you just might catch them at the right time and even if they decline, they’ll know you’re thinking of them.
Be a friend to their kids. Did your two families spend time together? Extend invitations for play dates so that the kids have some feeling of normalcy by spending time with friends they know while parents get a break to either run errands or simply have some time to themselves.
Don’t get in the middle. Staying close to both of the divorcing spouses can be like walking along a fence. Don’t put yourself in the position of relaying messages or betraying confidences.
Don’t be afraid to mess up. Many of us are nervous around people who are grieving, whether it’s over the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship. We’re afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. While understandable, don’t let that fear lead you to completely shut down the lines of communication with the person. The most important thing you can do as a friend in this situation is to let them know they’re not alone.
Protecting Your Own Marriage
When friends divorce, it can make you stop and evaluate your own relationship—and that’s not a bad thing. By discussing a friend’s divorce with your partner, it can give both of you a chance to safely re-evaluate the values and attitudes you both have about your own relationship.
Get your spouse’s perspective on the situation. It’s a good opportunity for honest, open dialogue about marriage. If you’re a woman who has hashed the situation over with other women friends, you might be surprised by what your husband thinks about the situation.
Keep your eye on the prize. Your friends’ experience can lead you to re-examine what’s important to you in life. You may be surprised at your feelings when your divorced friend embarks on a new relationship or has new experiences as they work to forge a new life for themselves. You might even feel some jealousy when your friend has the freedom to jet off for a weekend when the kids are with their other parent. Remember that despite some thrills, they’re still on a difficult path. Consider your own goals and what you want out of life, your marriage and your family and be sure to communicate those aspirations with your husband or wife.
Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.protocolschooloftexas.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.