We asked Deborah Moskovitch, a divorce consultant and educator and author of the book The Smart Divorce (Chicago Review Press, 2007), to share her tips on helping a friend weather the divorce storm.
1. If you didn't like her ex, keep it to yourself
People can make off-the-cuff remarks that can be really hurtful. For instance: "I never liked him in the first place," or "You're better off without that loser," says Moskovitch. "These comments can trigger your friend's own insecurities, and make her feel ashamed for being with her ex."
If you bad-mouth her ex, your friend may internalize your comments and think they reflect on her. You could be doing more harm than good, so avoid using put-downs or confessing how you really feel about her ex. "With time, the divorced couple may become amicable and you'll have said things that can't be unsaid," Moskovitch reminds us.
2. Don't take sides
If you are a mutual friend of both partners going through the split, it is important to not take sides and to not indulge each partner with what the other is saying. "As a friend you do not want to repeat back what you've heard because it's just going to inflame an already high-conflict situation," says Moskovitch. It can also be very hurtful for a friend to hear that you keep in contact with her ex, adds Moskovitch, so be mindful of that, too.
3. Appropriately advising
This one may come as a surprise, but Moskovitch emphasizes that you should not give your friend advice. Reassure your friend that you are there for her, and then let her speak as you play the role of the listener. "When you are emotionally distraught you listen to everybody because you're so confused. So really you should just be there to listen and let them vent a little bit," says Moskovitch.
Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to be an honest but mindful friend to the just-divorced on page 2
She also suggests that rather than providing advice, you should refer your friend to people you think might give her good advice (for example, a therapist, family lawyer or divorce consultant). Something as simple as giving your friend some contact numbers or taking her to an appointment can help her greatly when she doesn't have the motivation or strength to do it on her own.
4. Be generous with your time and resources
Nothing brings you closer to a friend than having her pajama-clad, on your couch, crying and venting about her breakup. During this period when your friend is feeling vulnerable, it's important for you to be generous with your time.
Moskovitch suggests bringing her home-cooked meals, having sleepovers, inviting her out for coffee or to see a movie or go for dinner. If she has children, offer to baby-sit or take the kids for a couple of hours to give her some alone time. All these things will show her that you care. Don't have enough time to do all that? "Check in on them with phone calls every few days. If it's an extremely close friend I would call every day," says Moskovitch.
5. For those who are uncomfortable consoling
Some people aren't comfortable with talking about breakups, and are uncertain of the right things to say and do. Just because you can't empathize, doesn't mean you can't be a good friend. Moskovitch suggests being authentic and honest with the friend who is trying to heal, by saying "Excuse my ignorance, I'm not meaning to be hurtful." Let her know that despite saying something awkward, you do have her best interests at heart.
If that seems like a stretch for you: "Bring your friend flowers and let her know that you're there, making the visit short if you feel awkward," says Moskovitch. Small gestures will show that you are there for her, whether or not you say the right things.
In times of pain, people want to know they have support -- they don't want to feel abandoned more than they already do. They are likely feeling lonely and lost, and your company can give them the comfort they so crave. "During this time in your life you really find out who your true friends are," says Moskovitch.
Page 2 of 2