Being a good friend means standing by and supporting your friend, even when times are tough. But if your friend is going through a divorce, it can be hard to know what to say. Here’s how to be supportive.
“How can you do that to your kids?”
You can be sure that your friend thought long and hard about the impact the divorce would have on her children before making a decision. While divorce is difficult on everyone involved, including children, the truth is that divorce is sometimes the best thing for kids, says Darci Walker, PsyD, of Core Parenting in Portland, Oregon. “It isn’t divorce itself that has long-term negative effects on kids. It is the conflict between the parents.” Sometimes getting divorced is the key to allowing parents to engage with each other in a healthy way. Yet even so, the decision to divorce often comes with guilt. Even if your friend is confident that divorce is the right decision for the family, there will almost certainly still be underlying feelings of guilt and doubt. You should try to assuage those feelings, rather than stoke them. These are signs your marriage could be headed for divorce.
“That would never happen to us”
When a friend is going through a divorce, it can feel comforting to put them in the “other” bucket—their marriage was different; ours is strong. But keep in mind your friend may not have seen the divorce coming either. Dr. Walker advises: “In order to be a supportive friend, we need to sift through our own issues, beliefs, and automatic assumptions and remember that what we think we know isn’t necessarily true. And that supporting our friend though a trying time means suspending our reactions and following their lead,” says Dr. Walker. Instead of trying to distance yourself from the divorce, try to think if it from your friend’s perspective: Divorce can happen to anyone, even someone who think she is in a happy marriage.
“He’s a jerk”
“While I might have felt that way at times, it didn’t actually help to think that I might have been wrong to choose him or that my kids’ dad was a bad person (he’s not). I know people often think that that’s supportive, but they should realize it then casts aspersions at their friend for being a bad judge of character,” says Melissa, who divorced a few years ago. “There may be times when venting feels good, but we also don’t need to get locked into the negative,” says Dr. Walker. “It is not helpful when a friend can’t see both sides of the bigger picture.” Even if your friend is professing hatred toward her ex, don’t jump on the bandwagon. Allow her to vent and be supportive without making similar comments. Here are 15 things divorce lawyers wish people knew about marriage.