It can feel like a minefield when someone you love is going through a separation or divorce. What do you say, how can you show up for them? What should you absolutely not say or do? In this guest post, Divorce and Separation Coach Chloe O tells us how to support someone going through divorce.
Anyone who has had a loved one go through divorce or separation will have grappled with these types of questions at some point or another. Of course, we all want to help. We see someone we love experiencing heartbreak and facing some of life’s toughest challenges: we want to save them! Unfortunately, no matter how good our intensions are, friends and family can often be unhelpful and complicate the situation further. So put away your superhero cape and explore my five tips to best support a loved one through divorce.
Inevitably, the person experiencing divorce will be feeling a wide range of emotions. Sadness is a common one of course. But anger, resentment and frustration towards their soon-to-be-ex are also hard to avoid. As a friend or family member, you will want to be there for them and make them feel better. It can be tempting, in that context, to say what you think they want to hear by confirming the negative feelings they have towards their spouse or the divorce process as a whole. Resist the temptation!
Very often, the best thing you can do for your loved one is to listen to them, let them vent and express their feelings. Avoid adding fuel to the fire by reinforcing their negative thoughts or badmouthing their spouse. This does not provide any relief to the person and can actually be quite offensive at times. In the vast majority of cases, what your loved one needs from you is for you to provide a judgement-free space for them to pour out their thoughts and emotions.
It is also important to keep in mind that an amicable divorce resolution will always be better for everyone involved, including the children. That requires both parties to be cool-headed and collaborative. Therefore, by reinforcing their negative thoughts, you are also making it harder for the person to make the right decisions for themselves and their family, and to invest in their future.
By extension to my first point, it is important to take time to understand what support the person needs from you. It might be that they want practical advice on a specific dilemma, or maybe they don’t want to talk about their divorce at all and just want to have some fun. Asking that simple question of “what do you need from me right now?” can help you focus your efforts on providing the support that is actually needed and that will help your friend or family member feel better.
Keep an open mind, do not assume or project what you think they need. Simply ask them and accept that the answer might be different depending on the day.
Going through a divorce brings a tsunami of change and uncertainty which only add to one’s professional and personal responsibilities. People who are experiencing divorce often do not have time to think about what they need, and often deprioritise their self-care. As someone who loves and supports them, you can help them identify some trained professionals who can support them. I recommend spending some time educating yourself about various divorce professionals and thinking through which ones could be of help to your loved one. Are they experiencing significant grief, guilt or trauma? Recommend a good therapist. Are they lost with regards to making the right decisions and navigating the changes that come from divorce? A Certified Divorce Coach® can help. Do they need legal advice to better manage the divorce process? A Family Solicitor is the right resource for this type of information. Are they worried about their financial health? A Divorce Financial Advisor will be a great source of support.
Make sure to ask permission before presenting these various options to them, so you can ensure they are open to your recommendations and understand that you are really trying to help them. There are many divorce professionals out there who offer various services based on each couple’s individual situation, it is mostly a matter of knowing they exist and understanding how they support their clients. So take that burden off of your loved one’s shoulders and help them build the right divorce support team for their needs.
It happens all the time. Someone is experiencing a situation similar to your own, or of someone else you know, and you want to tell them what to do based on the knowledge you have acquired. Please don’t. Every divorce is different and every case is different. What happened to you or your friend might bare some similarities with the situation at hand but it will never be the same. Sharing war stories about what you did and what happened in your own divorce is irrelevant and misleading. More dangerously, it can lead your loved one to make the wrong decisions and ignore better advised counsel.
Keep in mind that the law might have changed since your own experience of divorce, and the interpretation of the law will vary considerably from one courtroom to another, and from one country to another. If you feel your loved one needs to understand what the most likely outcome might be if they went to court, recommend a good Family Solicitor they can speak to. Giving your opinion of what they are “entitled” to will only confuse things and lead to poor decision-making.
As I mentioned in point 3, there are many competent and specifically trained divorce professionals out there. Let them do their job and support your loved one effectively by referring them to the right people rather than improvising your role as a divorce expert.
While some of these tips might go against your initial instincts, they are all focused on doing what is best for the person who is experiencing divorce. If your objective is to be a source of support through this difficult period of their life, invest the time in listening to them and simply being there for them. Sometimes helping doesn’t require a superhero cape.
Chloe is an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) professional and a Certified Divorce Coach. Her objective is to help women to divorce successfully: faster, cheaper and with less conflict. By learning to avoid the common emotional pitfalls, Chloe's clients achieve a better divorce, with a reduced psychological and financial cost for everyone. This allows them to come out of the process in a stronger position, feeling confident and ready to start the next chapter of their life.
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