How to help friends going through a divorce or breakup

You don't always have to know the right thing to say -- just being a good friend who's there is often enough.

Helping a friend through divorce
Nothing is as heartbreaking as watching someone you really care about experience divorce or the breakup of a long-term relationship. These are life-altering events, and they almost always result in the person going through a messy grieving process in order to pick up the pieces and move on. Of course you want to be a good, reliable friend, but what exactly does that entail?

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

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