Divorce can be many things; it can be a devastating loss, a grief, a trauma. It can also be a new beginning, a welcomed shift, a transformation. Most of the time, it is all of these things. It can be a time when a person needs to cocoon a little, accept lower social energy, and be more inward, but it is also a time when they need social support more than ever. As a friend, it can be tricky to know how to help during this time. Do they need space? Or do they want company?”
Divorce is complex, but caring for a friend in the midst of it doesn’t have to be. I have been all over the divorce care spectrum. At times, I have offered solid support, but have also made blunders by feeling awkward and avoiding people who needed a friend. Most recently, I’ve been on the receiving end of divorce care and am sharing my tips to best support a friend in the midst of a divorce.
1. Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing
Your friend needs your support more than ever. Divorce is isolating—especially with kids. Regardless of the divorce circumstances, your friend is in a new season of life and has some level of grief around their former life. So much of their identity as a partner is being shed.
Don’t expect a response—social energy can ebb and flow, and your friend may not have the bandwidth to respond at the moment—just be content knowing it was received with love.
Help them stay grounded in their identity as a beloved friend. A text, voicemail, or even a postcard can remind them of all of the meaning they bring to your life and the qualities you love about them. Don’t expect a response—social energy can ebb and flow and your friend may not have the bandwidth to respond at the moment—just be content knowing it was received with love.
2. Remember their kids need support too
Their child or children may not know all the details of the situation, but they certainly can sense changes and that can feel scary. Make them feel welcome and relaxed in your home and family. Offer to pick them up after school and keep them for dinner. This is so healing for kids handling waves of emotion in a major transition and such a relief to a mom who needs a break.
3. Handle specific tasks without them asking
If you are at the grocery store late at night, remember that your newly divorced mom friend can’t go out after bedtime without arranging a sitter. Text a specific action/item you’re going to drop off. “I’m at the store by your house, and I want to bring you my new favorite kombucha. Can I leave it on your porch?” Or “Heyo toilet paper is on sale! I’m dropping a case at your house—what other supplies can I bring?” This specific way of texting is much more effective than, “Let me know if you need anything.”
4. Help with some partner things
This doesn’t have to be steeped in any gender normative stereotypes, but if their lawn is overgrown—mow it while they are at work. Help put away their holiday lights. If they just moved, ask if you can help her frame some photos, organize her kids’ closet, or assemble furniture.
5. Plan a friend date
Planning a safe friend date for a massage, night out, or even just a walk would mean so much to her. Even if she doesn’t always have the capacity to plan things or even text back, keep letting her know that you want to be there for her. It might feel debilitating for her to plan things in advance, so sometimes a quick text of “Would a walk tonight feel nice?” Or “Can I bring dessert for a porch party after your kids go to bed?” might be the easiest thing.
6. Keep inviting her to the group!
Maybe you were part of a group of couples and think she might feel awkward coming to a group event alone (even if it’s on Zoom) but invite her anyway. She might not always come but will feel seen and cared for with the invitation. It helps her stay grounded in her identity as a part of the group.
7. Help her choose herself
The most important tip. A divorced friend can feel disposable, perhaps by her former partner, in-laws, or a lost friend group. This is one of the most important moments for them to choose themselves and define their own value. Their worth is not (and never was) based on their relationship status or role within a family. Help them build their own value by letting them know things like, “Your growth and vulnerability are really inspiring” and mean it. Applaud the things they’re doing (even the tiny things) like saying “I’m so glad you came over tonight” or “I’m so proud of the way you are mothering your children right now. You are so strong.” Help them believe all the wonderful things you see.