what can i do for a sister in a bad situation?
August 19, 2011 1:29 PM   Subscribe

How can I best support a sister who is getting divorced?

My sister is 27 and has been married for three years to a dunderhead from hell. She does not know I despise this guy, because I thought it stupid to tell her. She lives alone with him n another continent, and he decided to leave her because he's not ready to be married, an idea with which I agree completely.

I would like to know what I can do to support her and be a great sister/best friend. Moving from her current location is not an option so she's pretty lonely and more sad than I've ever seen her. I may be able to visit, by I don't know for sure.

Have you been through a similar situation? What helped you most? I'm really worried about her, she sounds uncharacteristically depressed and blue.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is more to it than this, but: DO NOT talk smack about him to her. You can say you're angry at him and disgusted with his behavior, but if you tell her he's a dunderhead, then the subtext is that she's an idiot for being hung up on a dunderhead. This may be true, but it's not the best idea to introduce at this juncture.
posted by KathrynT at 1:39 PM on August 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

Oh, bless.

Visit if you can, keep up a steady (but not overwhelming) stream of emails with light/amusing cartoons, stories, recipes, etc if you can't. Maybe send her a gift cert for a massage/pedi, if that's her thing and you can afford it. Schedule skype/chat dates. Basically, just let her know that she's fabulous, loved, and not alone.
posted by cyndigo at 1:46 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Been through this recently with my cousin who lives in another country to me and split up from her partner of almost 20 years in the spring. And what she seemed to appreciate was to have someone who listened, to get little messages every once in a while to let her know I was thinking about her and to get little survival/pamper kit type things, which I could buy online and have sent to her as a little surprise.

Be guided by her likes and dislikes and just be supportive. And don't bash the guy when you communicate with her. It's about how she feels and how to support her. The fact that you disklike him is irrelevant.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:51 PM on August 19, 2011

Let her know as often as possible without sounding rude that you'd take her in no matter what.
posted by k8t at 1:53 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

What everyone said above...keep in touch with her because there's a good chance she'll lose a few friends through the process, especially if they had some "couple friends."

If you're running interference between her and the rest of your family, tell them that comments that begin with "at least..." aren't helpful. Like "At least it was only 3 years" or "At least you have no kids."

Also, be patient. One day she'll sing "I'm gonna wash that man right out of my hair" and the next she'll be thisclose to calling him just to hear his voice when he answers. That's why not mentioning that he's a dunderhead is a good idea.

And chocolate, if she's into that.
posted by ladygypsy at 3:03 PM on August 19, 2011

I think it's clear the OP thinks criticizing the husband in front of the sister is stupid.
posted by Tarumba at 3:11 PM on August 19, 2011

To quote:

"She does not know I despise this guy, because I thought it stupid to tell her. "
posted by Tarumba at 3:13 PM on August 19, 2011

Listen, listen, listen, listen. Even when she's repeating herself. Definitely visit when you can. I had my sister with me the day my ex-dunderhead moved out "amicably." We made brunch and played video games and the whole time she listened to me talk bullshit about how it was temporary and for school. She just listened.

Yes, visit to listen in person, offer your space if she needs a mini-vacation. Hell, go to her continent for a "vacation" of your own and see some sights to distract her. Take lots of wine.
posted by motsque at 3:14 PM on August 19, 2011

My parents divorced when I was 3 years old, and I'm 30 now. My mom still talks about the people who let us stay with them, took her out to lunch, and chatted with her like she was still a normal person who they liked (as opposed to a criminal, victim, or project.) Economic assistance - or little luxuries - may also be very needed/loved. My parents were poor when they were together and flat broke (sleeping on buses during non-custodial weeks, moving into Grandma's spare room) when they split up, so I mostly heard about the absolute necessities that were provided. I think that era is why she thought of Taco Bell lunches and Coke/donuts breakfasts as "splurges" even when my stepdad started making six figures, a decade later.

Oh, and if she has a piano or queen bed or anything else heavy and bulky, helping her to find a good home (whether in storage for the future or not) could be extra-appreciated. My mom's piano was the cause of enormous drama in the first year or so.
posted by SMPA at 3:14 PM on August 19, 2011

Communicate with her daily if possible, - LISTEN - as all posters above have recommended.
posted by sandyp at 3:45 PM on August 19, 2011

When I got divorced, I most appreciated the opportunity to get out of my own head. You can't socialize in person, which would be best. So barring that, if you can Skype with her and have topics completely unrelated to anything like her failed relationship that you can have interesting conversations about, do that frequently.

If you have direct contact with anyone she knows where she is and can chivvy them into taking her out to parties as your proxy, that sort of thing, that might also be good.

I didn't need friends to make sympathetic noises or anything like that—in my case, they were as likely to piss me off as anything.
posted by adamrice at 4:03 PM on August 19, 2011

Tell her you support her. Tell her you're behind her. Ask her what she needs. Ask how you can help. Send her care packages. If you have the means, ask if she's okay financially. Offer to help her in choosing a lawyer.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:46 PM on August 19, 2011

I'd call a lot, and be open to hearing whatever she is going through. When your own emotions are high, you realize that you can handle strong emotions, and you notice how well other people can be there with you, support you, and let you lead ("totally! he should burn in hell!" or "oh, what a hard morning, I am so sorry" or "you're getting stronger, that's great!") vs. their inability to either hear where you are or sit with those emotions ("do you really think that??" or "just be glad he's out of your life!" or "sure, but you'll be crying again this afternoon").

Practical questions are good when you don't know what to say to someone who is going through massive change: "what's it like where you are you living now?" "what did you have for dinner?" "is it hard or strange to sleep alone again, or are you happy to have the whole bed to yourself?"

Also, without going overboard or being obvious that it's a project, I'd try to remind her of who she is and why you love her. "Saw this article and remembered your 5th grade science experiment!"

And nthing that the right kind of support can be immensely valuable at this time. I remember with great gratitude the people who invited me to house-sit when my relationship collapsed.
posted by salvia at 9:37 PM on August 19, 2011

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