Helping a Friend or Loved One through Divorce

Divorce is an already paralyzing event for many men and women, and it comes with a flurry of emotions. Guilt, anger, jealousy, fear, and betrayal can be just the tip of the iceberg, depending on the circumstances under which the parties are splitting up.

Friends and loved ones may have a similar feeling of betrayal, prompting them to “take sides” in the process. Many people believe this is what support looks like, but it can be more harmful than helpful in some situations. The key to being supportive is to help based on what the divorcing person actually needs, and not what you think he or she needs.                     

Avenues for emotional support

Divorce is often painful, and it helps to remember that people react differently to pain. This includes you, even if you are not one of the people getting divorced. You are entitled to be angry, upset, or hurt for yourself and on behalf of your loved one. However, displacing your feelings onto your friend – assuming that he or she feels the way you do – may not be what is best.

Instead, listen to your friend’s concerns, but do not reciprocate with a negative discussion about his or her soon-to-be ex-spouse. This only helps to fuel negative feelings, and if children are in the house, it can cause damage to their relationship with the other parent.

Stay neutral and non-judgmental about anything your friend discloses to you about herself or himself, or his or her damaged relationship. Most people become self-critical or irrational in times of crisis and may confide in you details that otherwise never would have come to light. It is best to remember that he or she is vulnerable right now, and that his or her feelings or responses can (and probably will) change over time.

Keep your friend on good social footing by getting him or her out of the house. At some point during separation, it is common for parties to go through some form of depression; isolating himself or herself is a sign that this is happening. It’s a normal emotion, but to prevent your friend from becoming more withdrawn, make sure to keep him or her active. If you live far away, keep in touch via email, text, or phone calls, so that he or she knows you are still present in his or her life.

If your friend has children, you can offer to be there physically for the exchange, if warranted. The presence of a third party can make an enormous difference in behavior during pickups and drop-offs.

Taking the practical route

Part of separation and divorce means one of the parties will be moving out of the marital residence. The thought of packing all of your belongings, finding a moving company, and securing a new place to live can be overwhelming for anyone. This, along with everything else that comes with divorce, may cause your loved one to feel like he or she is drowning. Help your friend locate resources to make this transition easier. Try making a list of apartments that fit the criteria your friend would prefer, or help with a yard sale if the couple needs to sell the home and belongings. You could offer to babysit or pet sits on a weekend, so your friend can take care of errands or appointments.

If you see that your friend is struggling, suggest that he or she seek out a therapist who specializes in divorce. Talking through certain issues with friends is an immense help, but unless you are a licensed professional, you have a limited amount of assistance to offer. You could also be putting your own mental health at risk by trying to take on every problem that your friend is going through.

Domestic violence can change everything

If an abusive situation is at the root of the marriage breaking up, your friend might need to take safety measures such as filing a police report or applying for a protective order. Your friend might need help planning to leave safely before doing either of these things.

Your first urge might be to offer your loved one a place to stay with you. The intention is based on love, but this may not be the best option: the other spouse may know where to find your friend, placing both of you in danger. Many victims become nervous and have a change of heart because they fear retaliation. Offer to go with your friend to the police department or the court, so he or she doesn’t feel alone. You could also research domestic violence shelter options that fit your friend’s needs, but let him or her choose where to go.

Finally, urge your friend to seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney, rather than trying to take on the legal system on his or her own. Parties certainly have a right to represent themselves in court, but the value of having a professional who not only understands the nuances of the law but knows how to maneuver through the procedural quagmires is invaluable to saving your friend’s sanity. Even minor mistakes being made can stall your friend’s case, or cost an equitable share of his or her marital estate. In the end, hiring a family law attorney is the most sensible choice to make.

When a marriage is no longer working, emotions run high and it becomes difficult to keep your best interests in mind. If you believe you are ready to seek the advice you need, let the seasoned professionals with Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC guide you through the difficulties of ending a marriage. Schedule a consultation with a divorce lawyer in our Annapolis office through our contact page, or call us at 410-990-0090.