How to Help a Friend Through a Divorce in 18 Loyal Ways
There may not be an infallible method for how to help a friend through a divorce, nor how to pry off the lid she’s got clamped on her real feelings. Sometimes, though, you may wish for a lid to put on her determination to post every insulting meme she can find, and block her from running by the old house “to pick something up” when really, she just wants to see whose car is in the driveway.
Even the best of friends, the most soulful, empathetic, insightful and funny among us may sometimes think we just failed miserably when trying to help.
Hang in there with her. It’s not easy but it is simple to help your friend through this messy metamorphosis and give her – if not everything — the most important things you would have put on your own divorce wish list.
Because, you know this all too well. Divorce can feel like a trampoline set on a nest of fire ants, a pogo sticking marathon on cobblestones of loss and rage, wild elation and tearing fear. It’s the sound of thin ice cracking, a naked ballet class in quicksand with hallucinations of Olympic judges hiding nearby, or it can be a thunderstorm of grief in a thimble.
It’s also a glorious unleashing of a woman’s potential, a Renaissance fair of possibility, an unfurling, a chain-snapping, brazen dance into the savannahs of self-discovery and finally getting to be exactly who we wanted to be.
How lovely it is when we get to be the Fairy God-Sister for our friend and give her some thoughtful comfort in the face of all this. Besides your magic wand, here are 18 ways to offer sustenance and succor to her, whether tangible or emotional.
How to Help a Friend Through a Divorce
1. It’s OK to Be Whatever, However, Whenever
Let her know that it is 100 percent allowed to be All Over the Place for a while. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is this: “You will have a different, really extreme emotion every five seconds. Just roll with it. It will pass. Let yourself feel it and then let it go when you can.”
One of the most powerful divorce gifts we can give our friend is to meet her where she is. She will second-guess, she may babble, she will cry and then laugh like a loon, and she will probably want to buy some really questionable outfits. Try to let her. Sometimes we just have to let the crazy out.
For a grounding on what is happening with her (or yourself?), check out “Your Shocking Post-Divorce Behavior”
2. Ask, Don’t Tell
If something feels like a really bad idea, ask her if maybe there’s another option she might consider, another way to look at something. If she’s not ready to go there yet, don’t push. Try to listen for the good timing, a natural segue and those little Easter egg word cues you can follow to the place where she’s ready to hear that there might be “another way”. And if she’s absolutely certain the hot purple plastic tube top with dominatrix ties at the neck is part of her new go-to-hell outfit of choice…well…maybe find a Girls’ Night Out option where that works and then bring a can of Mace and a sweater.
3. Don’t Make Her Wrong
Sometimes it’s difficult to bite our tongues, but it’s crucial to listen without judgment, without telling her where she “ought” to be in the process. There is absolutely no “ought to” here. Everyone has their own process and does things their way in their own time.
There is no measuring stick for how this goes and no time limit for when she should be “over it.” Nope. If the words “should” or “ought to” want to leap out of your mouth, reel them back and swallow them.
4. It’s Not a Failure, It’s a Re-Route
Look at it this way. Divorce (or the threat of it) is that GPS gal keeping us all headed toward the road of what is healthy — a solid, fulfilling partnership or preventing us from getting stuck in the gridlock of a miserable marriage for the rest of our lives.
5. Patience, Patience, Patience
No sighing, no secretly rolling your eyes, no patronizing, no lecturing.
The best way to listen to someone is join them for the trip — but not be a backseat driver. You’re there to feel it with her, laugh with her through it, hug her and mirror back to her what she’s ready to hear. Sometimes pushing someone does help, but more often, our friends need to know they have people on their side more than they need to be challenged. Divorce is challenging enough.
6. When in Doubt, Delegate
You learned this in your own divorce, and now, it’s time to pass it on and not waste time. Among the greatest gifts of helping a friend through a divorce, is to encourage her to reach out to the right people for their divorce advice and expertise. Don’t just start and stop with a divorce lawyer, inspire her to connect with a divorce coach and to learn how one could anchor her and save money, time, and most of all, pain. If she hems and haws, let her know that many divorce coaches give free consultations to demonstrate how they help, so what’s to lose? And getting your friend a meeting with a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) is critical, since economics will play a definite role in her divorce. (You learned that yourself from your divorce coach😉.)
7. From Delegating to Depositions, Help Her Hire a Lawyer
Sometimes having an attorney in your corner is the only way to make it out of a divorce with the assets, the parenting agreements and the sense of control you need to recreate a life with more than just remnants and scraps. But of course, lawyers are expensive. If you have the means, lend her the money or even gift a portion of what it will cost, even if it’s just that first meeting. If that isn’t feasible – and let’s face it, these days certain grocery items are enough to cause sticker shock – check with your friends to see if pooling funds or even a GoFundMe account is a possibility, but make sure everyone understands that discretion is paramount. Along the lines of discretion, keep in mind that she may need to keep legal meetings strictly under wraps, particularly if she’s dealing with an abuser. It may be necessary to pay in cash or help her set up a separate account so as not to leave a paper trail. She will also want to interview and/or research which lawyers are best and get a general idea of what she’s entitled to and what she can expect. Try to help her formulate the best questions to ask a divorce attorney at a consultation.
8. Remind Her of Her Best Self
You’re her cheering section through this battle, so mean it. Divorce can flay us, leave us hollowed out, bring up every fear and dimmish every bit of confidence. She’s going to forget how great she is, so remind her. Don’t wonder why or get frustrated with her; the best of her is in there, she’s just in a blinding whirlwind of change right now and can’t see herself clearly. Tell her she sparkles, that she’s smart, resilient, gorgeous, funny and that she’s tougher than she thinks. Remind her of what she’s already faced, why she should be proud of herself. Remember when she kicked that 5th grade bully in the shins because he kept teasing you? She probably doesn’t remember that right now, so tell her again. Make her laugh. The finest help we can give, the most loving way to be a friend, is to see the best of her when she’s miles away from her best and then keep telling her what you see.
9. Don’t Villainize Her Ex
He may be a Grade A douchebag, but let her say that first. It doesn’t mean you can’t offer insight, but spewing vitriol and insults over him before she does (and she will likely reach her angry phase at some point) could just make her think she was stupid for marrying him in the first place — like she was the only one who didn’t see it. It also runs the risk of emoting for her, which is less a matter of empathy and more a matter of co-opting her process.
10. Don’t Superimpose Another Divorce Story Onto Hers
This goes along with not co-opting her process. We don’t help by giving her another story to compete with. Don’t up the ante with the “had it worse and done it better” angle. Every story is valid. There is a happy medium between letting her know she’s part of a very big tribe of women and diminishing her voice and her unique story with a constant refrain of other women’s headlines. She needs you to hear her. By the same token, it’s not ok to make her fears and her sadness worse by telling her all the horror stories you’ve heard, nor is it helpful to project some angry story of your own onto her and her situation. This isn’t your part of the show. Here’s an example of what “making it all about you” looks like: One friend said to another, “Well, I hope you don’t go after your husband’s IRA. My brother’s wife went after his IRA, and it’s really not fair.” In what world is this helpful? This isn’t the time to use your friend’s story to vent your own frustrations.
11. Don’t Villainize Her Ex… But Don’t Date Him, Either
There’s a code among friends, girls, so just eliminate that little fantasy from your head right now. It really shouldn’t have to be said. You may have always liked him. You might understand why he and your friend are divorcing. But if you want your friend to stay in your life, do not get involved with her Ex now or afterward. This is not to say you can’t be civil, social, or friendly with him down the road. But dating him? That’s a certain way to throw gas on this fire and make her pain and sense of betrayal 100 times worse.
Take it from another divorced woman, and remind yourself “What You Should Never Say to a Divorced Woman.”
12. Text Her
She needs to know someone sees her, that she’s still got witnesses for her story, especially now when the plot twists are coming hard and fast. She needs to know she’s on someone’s mind. “Good morning, Beautiful Girl.” (It doesn’t matter that you’re not her dream lover; she’ll know how you mean it). Some other things she might need to hear are, “You’re a total bad-ass. I know this feels god-awful right now but it’ll get better and you’ve got this.” Or “Hey, babe, just thinking about you. Want to get coffee?” Or simply, “At least you’re not vomiting right now.”
13. Meal Delivery
With or without kids, this may not be a money saver but it eliminates the need to have to think about One. More. Thing. It also gives her back a little of the framework she may be missing, that sense of being partnered, and it frees her up from the “hangry” impulse choices that are great at times but may be difficult to resist when she really wants to resist them. Sun Basket offers delivered meals to prep, all ingredients included, or microwavable options. There’s also Blue Apron and Hungry Root for vegans. If there’s enough of a friend and family network, Give in Kind is a “meal train” system, and on the other end of the spectrum, Spoonful of Comfort does just a one-time delivery. And there’s always Amazon. My sister’s friend had bone broth delivered to her during her recent Covid quarantine; she said it was a wonderful gift, not only to have something soothing and nutritious already prepared when she was far too tired to do her own cooking, but also as a tangible reminder that she was loved and cared for.
14. Give Her a Logistical Lift
Offer to pick the kids up after school, or to host them overnight at your house for a pajama party. Call her from the grocery store and ask her if there’s something she needs. Tell her you’ll feed her cat or take her dog for a walk. It’s these small, practical things that help her feel partnered even if she’s no longer married, and lets her know she’s not alone – whether in her divorce journey or in the howling wilderness of Wal-Mart.
One of the things that brings out the sadness in a divorce is missing the touch of someone she loved, and often wondering if she’ll have that again. A massage session is a soft way to be nurtured, feel beautiful and relaxed and also be out in the community again in a way that is both stimulating and soothing. Massage Envy or Zeel have locations in most cities, but word of mouth for local practitioners is often the best way to find the ones with the golden touch.
And send her this link, so she knows where she is headed: “46 Steps to Ensure Your Divorce Recovery: A Definition and a Guide”
16. The Pretty Basket
Women are pretty great about finding things that remind our friends that they’re beautiful and desirable but also don’t make them feel like they now have a self-improvement assignment. My sister got me some really wonderful hand-made bath bombs complete with crystals and pretty stones in them, so each bath was a delicious whipped-froth Sundae with a little treasure hunt afterward. Brilliant.
A good hand cream is always nice and nail polish is a good one; it’s fun and the toes can often be as creative and vivid as we want them to be. Candles, of course, a comfy pair of PJ’s, a teddy bear for her to sleep with or another wee beastie she might happen to like – maybe a plush toy sloth, duck or iguana is more her thing. Regardless, it gives her something to hug at night when the silence gets really loud. If you’re confident and it feels like a needful thing, a high-quality vibrator is a gift that keeps on giving. If you don’t feel like you’ve got the knack for this, Unbox Me is a woman-owned care package business — and those women might have just the right item for your pal.
17. A Week of Work-Outs
See if there’s something she’s wanted to try and tuck a week-long gym membership in her basket of goodies you might give her. Maybe it’s a spin class, maybe it’s pole dancing or a kickboxing gym — whatever grabs her imagination. A lot of anger can surface after a divorce and there is nothing so satisfying as the shotgun blast sound of a full-size punching bag when you kick it with everything you’ve got. Classpass allows women to try it before buying it, keeps her active and those much-needed endorphins percolating.
And of course, the …
18. Girls’ Night Out Coupons
You know, to show off those highly questionable outfits. Love those things.
Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and print journalist living in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Connect with Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s still more help for a friend through a divorce: Since 2012, SAS for Women has been entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women like your friend, six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies. All of it sent discreetly to her inbox.
Encourage her to join our tribe and stay connected.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”