Marital Problems 101
September 23, 2023 10:38 AM   Subscribe

How can I support my friend during a divorce?

My friend's wife is divorcing her. It came completely out of the blue and my friend is pretty shook up and not doing too well. I came over the evening I heard and tried to be there for her as best I could but it felt like I didn't know what to say or do to help. I've seen my parents go through six divorces so I'd like to think I'd have some experience with this but I've never gone through it myself. If you've gone through this what did your friends do that made a difference? I know there's not much I can do but I want to support her any way I can.
posted by downtohisturtles to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just being there is helping. There’s nothing for you to say. Your job is simply to bear witness to her trauma. As with all grieving processes, the passage of time usually helps.

Certainly do feel free to bring food, take children on outings, run errands, pack boxes, tend pets. With the exception of bringing food, get her consent before doing the thing.
posted by shock muppet at 11:18 AM on September 23 [6 favorites]

My far-flung friends sent me a big folder of cards, each with something kind in it -- a song lyric, a memory, a wish for strength or peace.

I'd open one whenever I was feeling particularly low in mind. They helped me start to believe that I wasn't going to be alone and hurting forever.
posted by humbug at 12:58 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]

Ask her if she'd rather you listen to her or distract her! Those are gonna be the most helpful options, but only she knows which one she wants, and it's risky to guess. If the answer is "listen," it's best to really do that—listen, don't talk too much. The likelihood is that the more you hear, the more you will want to either badmouth the ex (may go over well, may not, may blow up in your face later) or gently suggest that maybe she behaved or is behaving badly (especially if she goes a little bananas post-divorce which has happened to most women I know). Unless she's actively putting herself or others in danger, neither of those is necessary or a great move! And honestly there are so many perfectly understandable reactions that are also Not It. One of my friends responded immediately with "this is why I never got married" which gave our friendship a knock that it never really recovered from. So yeah, depending on what she wants, offer a mostly quiet and sympathetic ear, or offer a neutral space to hang out and have fun/be distracted so she can feel normal for a minute.
posted by babelfish at 1:30 PM on September 23 [3 favorites]

Ask what she needs. Don't assume anything about what would and would not be soothing or helpful to her. Be aware that the kind of support she would welcome can and probably will change. So just check in with her about whether and how you could best support her at regular intervals.
posted by virve at 1:49 PM on September 23

Things my friends did that made a difference:

Positively: (things to do)
- Ordered food and grocery and care delivery of things I would not buy for myself because I was saving money for a lawyer. Lawyers for divorces cost so, so much and you don't know what the total will be. It makes you feel guilty about everything nice you do for yourself.
- Believed what I had to say about the marriage, even if they hadn't seen that from the outside. Nobody knows how the shoe pinches until they wear it; bad marriages are often being papered over on the outside. Someone who seems charming may still have done bad things.
- Let me call them late at night to vent. Texted me to remind me that I could do that.
- Kept calling me to offer to take me to things. Offered to drive and pick me up.
- Passed on observational information about things my ex was doing that would affect my life.

Negatively: (things not to do)
- Said "Maybe you'll get back together". I didn't want to; even for people who do want to, that's just not something that needs to be held out as a possibility.
- Passed on emotional labor needs around my ex and assumed I would still handle them.
- Asked what I needed. I had no idea what I needed and felt like I was an enormous burden that blotted out the sun that had no right to have needs.
- Told me to go sleep with people. For some people that works; for me that wasn't what I needed and I found that advice jarring.
posted by corb at 1:50 PM on September 23 [6 favorites]

The absolute best gift I got during my divorce was a beanie-baby sized beanbag moose.

He became known as the "Divorce Moose" and was a constant companion (and reminder of the friend who gave him to me) throughout the process and a good time afterward.

Eventually I gave him to another friend who was going through a rough time, and I've since lost track of his further adventures. I would like to believe that he is still out there, sharing his moosiness with people in need.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:25 PM on September 23 [6 favorites]

Good things:

-Believed what I had to say about the marriage. I completely echo corb’s comments about this.
-I had a birthday soon after and floated the idea to have a birthday party and within two hours all my distant friends were texting me their flight reservations. The party was one of the sweetest events of my life.
-My totally non-crafty friend hand-sewed me a hilarious voodoo doll of my ex-husband. At the time we didn’t even know yet all of the bad acts my ex had been committing. It was an act of pure solidarity.
-I did go a little crazy and when I wailed to my mother “What am I doing?” she said, matter-of-factly, “You’re getting through it.” It was so kind and generous and reassuring.

Bad things:

-Literally argued with me about my own experience of my marriage and events that they hadn’t witnessed. One of these people had only met my ex-husband once. I cut off that relationship altogether. Another was one of my oldest and closest friends and I have just accepted that she is fundamentally lacking in this regard, but it was a real blow to our friendship.

I think, in short, just take her part. It’s by far the most helpful thing you can do.
posted by HotToddy at 8:17 AM on September 24 [2 favorites]

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