How to help a friend going through a divorce

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

It can be hard to know what to do when a friend gets divorced, but there are some simple and practical ways to help.

Every divorce is different, so there's no singular response, but being there to listen is certainly a good first step.

Relationship coach Megan Luscombe said people experience a range of emotions when going through a divorce, particularly if children are also involved.

"It's dependant on the situation, but common emotions are hurt, loss, fear, guilt and (nerves about) the unknown, and in cases where the divorce is mutual there are also common emotions of happiness and freedom," Ms Luscombe said.

"It's also important to remember in many divorces there is a division of assets and that can cause enormous amounts of pressure and stress."

The best things you can do as a friend are to not make any assumptions about what's happened, not be judgmental and never express joy at them 'finally' getting a divorce.

"Offer to listen without judgement and to give your time (this can be helping with their daily tasks or even around the house)," she said. "If you're unable to emotionally support them remind them to seek professional help and offer to accompany them should they want it. 

"It's important to continue to 'show up' for our friends when they're going through divorce and to keep our own judgements or assumptions aside."

When Anju Regis, founder of www.theseparationexchange.com, separated from her ex-husband she was taken by surprise.

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"I call my separation the 'surprise separation' because there was a third party involved, and in a moment my life changed," Ms Regis said.

"I thought we were happy, but clearly I was unaware of the reality. 

"While my ex had time to process his decision and actions to move on with someone else, I had to catch-up very quickly and just deal with it."

She turned to her closest friends.

"Instincts took over and subconsciously, I had set-up my support tribe - a chosen few that I chose to confide, ones that accepted my calls at all hours while I ranted and cried at times," she said. "They were patient and they were kind.

"During the early stages, I just needed people to listen and be there when I called."

She said while all divorces were different there were a number of ways friends can help from listening to offering practical help, including looking after kids, helping with the school run, providing meals or simply spending time with them.

"I think it depends on the situation or the reason you are separating and everyone and every situation is different," she said.

"Having the 'right' support (this is subjective and different for everyone), can be crucial in getting through the process and potentially diffuse/soften the impact emotionally."

Advance Family Law lawyer Sonya Black said friends offer much support to someone exiting their relationship.

"Your friend is going through a life changing event and having someone to trust and lean on when your 'usual' world has just collapsed can save a life," Ms Black said.

"As well as the grief they are experiencing, they may need to discuss the legal options they have been given.  

"Do a bit of research before you see them, there are a number of services which can provide advice and options, which could answer some questions to at least let your friend sleep at night." 

Here are her top tips for helping a friend through a divorce: 

  • Your friend may be silently experiencing grief, sadness, loss, guilt, fear, confusion, frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and worthlessness. Learn to actively listen.
  • Know your limitations and refer your friend for professional help if necessary - legal and psychological.
  • Protect the children from conversations about the other parent and their parent's relationship.
  • If it's a volatile break-up, remember safety is a priority and call 000 if you need to.
  • Manage your social media settings so your friend cannot be traced (if needed) and, if you wish to publicly comment on your friend's relationship break up, don't. Keep your opinions to yourself.
  • Offer a hand when you can - a meal, transport, child minding or a temporary roof.
  • Don't compare your friend's expectations for a legal outcome with yours or that of another.
  • Attend court appointments with your friend.
  • Do not act as a mediator or negotiator.