Although it may seem like a fairly common occurrence, divorce is almost never easy. Even if the divorce is one that both partners want and best for all parties, it involves the death of a dream and a major life change.
If the end of a marriage or other primary relationship is contested or involves disputes over money or property, it becomes even more difficult. If the relationship involves children, and especially if there are issues around child custody, the world might just feel like it's wobbling on its axis.
Going through a divorce may upset everything a person knows to be true, and without the help and support of friends and family, a person can find him or herself in a devestating rut.
Here are some ways to help yourself - or a friend - who is going through a divorce.
How to Cope With Your Divorce:
Recognize that it's okay to have different feelings, sometimes all at once. Divorce is an extremely confusing time, and the feelings that arise can be extremely intense. Remember that it's okay not to understand your emotions. These intense feelings will lessen over time.
Take time for yourself and try not to stress too much. Yes, divorce is stressful, but now is NOT the time to give up on self-care.
Take a break and allow yourself to function at a less than optimal level at work, school or at home for awhile. Sure, it's not going to be the same level of productivity, but that's okay. You'll be back to yourself again.
Don't isolate yourself. Tell your friends and family you need their help and support. Find a counselor to talk to. Attend a support group for divorcees in your area. There is no reason to go through this alone.
Allow yourself time to grieve the loss. Maybe the divorce IS a blessing...but it's still a loss. And losses are meant to be grieved. Give yourself permission to grieve it.
Talk about your feelings. Let it out. You don't have to tell everyone, everywhere what's going on, but do let it out.
Your goal in all of this is to move on. And you will. You won't dwell in this forever - but the tricky thing about grief is that you have to experience it to move past it.
You do have a future. It may feel like there's nothing left without your old life, but it's not true. The world is a big place and you'll find a new, brighter future out there.
Make lists; whether it be for items from the shared household you want to take with you when you move out or things to tell the lawyer and/or counselor, write it down. Write it all down.
If you are a woman who wants her maiden name back, make sure to have it specified in the divorce decree. If you don't specify that when the final determination is made, you have to go back to court, file a new set of papers, and pay fees to get your name back.
Take time each day to focus upon nurturing yourself - do something that calms you, relaxes you, and allows you to heal.
Follow a routine. The breakup of a long-term relationship can disrupt just about every area of your life, which leads to increased feelings of stress, chaos and uncertainty. So make a routine and stick to it. It will help restore feelings of normalcy.
Don't turn to drugs, food, or alcohol to cope. In the short-term, it may make you feel better, but in the long-term, it will lead to much greater problems.
Take a time out BEFORE making any major decisions (moving across the country, new job, buying a new car) to make sure you're not just distracting yourself from dealing with the problem.
How to Help a Friend Cope with Divorce:
Learning to be alone for the first time in a long time can be extraordinarily lonely and depressing. Being part of a couple becomes a way of life, and adjusting to the newness of being a single, learning to do things alone, can be absolutely devastating, especially in the early stages of a divorce.
What your friend needs, above all else is this: knowing they have someone in their corner.
Acknowledge that it really, really sucks. Because it does. Yeah, there could be a lot of good that comes of the divorce, but the short-term reality? It sucks. So tell them that you do, in fact, understand.
Listen. Listen. Listen. And then listen some more.
Try to help your friend find and attend a local support group for divorcée's. The comfort of those who are going through exactly the same situation is invaluable.
Attend court dates, weddings, or funerals with your friend. As someone who is used to having a built in "plus one," this will go a long way toward making them feel comfortable.
Remind your friend that they are not a bad person - just stuck in a bad situation. Sometimes the guilt of divorce can be crushing.
The grief from a divorce may take a long time to overcome - remind your friend of this, if he or she feels as though it's "taking too long."
Love unconditionally. You don't have to approve of your friend's choices to love them.
Take all suicide threats seriously.
Hug your friend - they were used to being hugged by their significant other often. They're probably missing that physical touch.
Especially during the early days, remind your friend to breathe - and focus on one day at a time.
Help them sit down and review household bills to figure out their expenses. Often, this simple task can seem insurmountable as they go from a dual income family to a single income.
Help fill the freezer with ready-to-eat meals. Grief often makes it hard to practice self-care, which can include proper meals.
Offer to store family pictures and other reminders of your friend's past life if needed.
Your friend may want to revisit what happened and try to piece together where it all went wrong. You won't have the answers. They won't have the answers. This is okay. Just listen.
Offer to be a companion for night's out or dinners in to ease your friend into their new single lifestyle.
If you offer to help, commit to it. The last thing a person losing their partner needs is another person bailing on them.
Hold off on giving specific advice unless asked to do so.
If you ARE asked "what should I do about (insert item here)?", present both the pros and cons of the situation to help your friend see the full picture. Remind your friend that it is your friend's decision, not yours, and that your friend needs to what's in their best interest and the best interest of the child(ren).
Help document the details - things to tell the lawyer and/or counselor, items your friend will need when they move out, grocery lists, kids activities, whatever.
If there are kids involved:
- Keep the kids out of it as much as possible.
- Keep the talk about the divorce, the lawyers, the ex, to a minimum.
- Don't ask the kids for information about the other parent. If they bring it up, fine, but don't go searching for it.
- Offer to take the kids while your friend is dealing with the attorneys or the courts.
- Offer to take the kids whenever your friend needs a break.
Watch for signs of depression or anxiety, both in your friend and in their kids.
How NOT To Help A Friend Cope With Divorce:
Don't bash their ex. Even if it seems super obvious that your friend is better off without their ex, don't rub it in - it's just going to make your friend feel worse. Your friend already feels bad enough - hearing how you never liked the ex won't make your friend feel any better.
Don't choose sides. If you're friends with both partners, it's really hard to be friends with both and extra hard not to choose sides. Really, what you need to do is just listen to what either side has to say. Hold your tongue if one partner behaves poorly and keep your opinions to yourself.
Don't push your friend into doing things if they want to be alone. People going through a divorce need some time to be alone, so try to respect their wishes as best as you can. Remember, if you're happily married, your newly divorced friend may want to avoid you, simply because it hurts to have the reminder that other people are still in happy relationships.
Don't assume that offering help gives you the right to voice an opinion.
Don't share the details of the divorce or separation with others.
Don't bother with cliches. They're trite and they come across as preachy and condescending.
Don't rent happy romantic comedies to watch with your friend.
Don't fix your friend up on a date. When he or she is ready to date, you'll know it.
Don't judge. It may be really hard, especially if choosing divorce is something you believe to be a mistake, but remember that you do not know what goes on behind closed doors.
Don't offer advice unless asked. Unless, of course, the kids are suffering or there are serious pressing issues with money.
Don't ever - EVER - give legal advice. That is for a divorce attorney alone to provide. You don't know all of the legal ins and outs of the situation, even if you've been divorced before.
If you're in a new relationship or a happy one, don't rub it in. Use discretion if you're in a relationship. That doesn't mean you have to stop living, just try to be considerate and sensitive for awhile.
Don't lend money unless you're okay with not getting it back. Otherwise, it may strain a friendship.
Don't become offended if your friend doesn't act grateful for your help. When someone is overcome with grief, it may be a day-to-day struggle to survive, let alone be able to practice thankfulness.