It doesn't have to be awkward.
All you did was ask your friend what was up. The last thing you expected to hear was "I’m getting a divorce." Now, what are you supposed to do?!
You want to be supportive, but you also don’t want to intrude. You're scared about saying the wrong thing, but you’re not sure what the right thing is. You don’t want to seem judgmental, but screaming "Woo hoo!" and doing the happy dance doesn’t seem appropriate either.
Here are 21 ways you can help a friend going through a divorce without overstepping your boundaries.
1. Ask your friend what you can do.
We all think we know what our friends want. But, sometimes we really don’t. Your friend may need you to do something you never dreamed of. When in doubt, ask!
2. Think before you talk.
Now is NOT the time to say "I told you so!" Even if you saw this divorce coming a mile away, driving that point home to your friend, when she’s already down and out, is cruel.
3. Be a friend.
Let your friend vent and listen to her story, even when s/he tells it to you for the five thousandth time. Just listen. That may not seem like a lot. But, it’s everything.
4. Don’t butt in where you don't belong.
5. Zip it!
It's tempting to want to tell your friend what she should do — especially if you have been through a divorce yourself! You want to protect your friend. You want to share your own experience! Don’t. Unless your friend asks for your advice, keep your opinion to yourself.
6. Be honest.
If you’re worried about your friend, say something. If you think your friend could use a little therapy, say something. And, for heaven’s sake, if you’re still in contact with your friend’s ex, make sure your friend knows. Otherwise, your friend is likely to feel like you betrayed them too.
7. Ditch the judgment.
Now is not the time to get all "holier than thou" with your friend. Even if you don’t agree with your friend’s divorce, or her behavior, dumping a truckload of guilt on your friend right now will not be helpful. If you want to be a friend, then love your friend unconditionally. That’s all you need to do.
8. Invite your friend out.
When you’re going through a divorce, it’s easy to feel like you just contracted the plague and no one around you wants to get infected. Don’t let your friend spend long evenings alone, wallowing in sorrow and misery. Invite your friend out for a drink, or coffee, or a movie. Be with your friend. That’s what friends do.
9. Keep inviting your friend out.
Everyone heals from divorce at their own pace. Your friend might not feel like going out today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month. But, at some point, they will be ready. Sadly, by the time that happens most "friends" have given up asking her out. Don’t give up.
10. Don’t push.
Providing social opportunities is not the same as demanding that your friend uses those opportunities. (Or making your friend feel guilty for NOT using them!)
If your friend isn’t up to going out, respect your friend’s space. Especially when the divorce is still fresh and new, your friend has to grieve.
11. Ok, sometimes you have to push.
While you don’t want to push your newly divorcing friend to socialize before they're ready, if their divorce was over 5 years ago and your friend still doesn’t want to face the world, there’s a problem.
Sometimes friends have to help each other break through the barriers and do the thing they are afraid of — like go out to lunch or grab a drink together.
12. Don’t be a gossip.
It's not your job to report to the world on your friend’s divorce. If there's someone who you think should know, or needs to know, about your friend’s divorce, ask your friend whether it’s okay to share the news with that person.
Ask what details you can share, and what your friend would prefer to keep private. Then, respect your friend’s wishes and don’t overshare!
Getting divorced is like having a second full-time job. It’s exhausting! Since few people have an abundance of extra cash on hand to pay babysitters while they’re getting a divorce, watching your friend’s kids so they can go grocery shopping, or work out, or just have a little alone time can be a Godsend.
14. Help around the house.
Moving out of the home you thought you would spend your life in can be devastating. Help your friend pack boxes and move. If it’s your friend’s spouse who moved out, stop by your friends’ house once they're alone and offer to help rearrange the furniture or shop for replacements for the household items that are now gone.
15. Accept the mood swings.
Divorcing people have never been known for their emotional stability. One day your friend might be hopping mad. The following day, they may want to take their ex back. The next day they might be so depressed that they can’t get out of bed. Then the next day they may be fine.
It all goes with the territory. Let your friend express whatever emotions they have, and just go with the flow.
16. Be a Court Buddy.
Going to divorce court can be terrifying. Even if your friend’s lawyer says that nothing big will happen in court that day, your friend is going to be nervous. Just going to court with your friend and sitting quietly on the bench next to her can help calm your friend down.
17. Don’t support unhealthy behavior.
Taking your friend out for a drink once in a while is awesome. But, if your friend is getting trashed every night, then going drinking with her is no longer supportive. It is destructive. If you see your friend doing stupid things, or hurting themselves, do your best to gently try to steer them in a better direction.
18. Don't tear down their ex.
If your friend wants to spend endless hours ragging about her horrible ex, you can listen. But, avoid jumping on the ex-bashing bandwagon. Not only does it needlessly fire up your friend’s anger, but, if your friend and their spouse get back together (which happens more often than you might think!), you’re going to be the ex-friend.
19. Get physical.
It’s so obvious that you might not think about it. But, divorcing spouses don’t normally touch each other anymore. Yet, when you’re going through emotional devastation, you need physical contact more than ever. If you want to be a friend, give your divorcing pal a hug!
20. Bring food.
A divorcing friend once told me that the difference between divorce and the death of a spouse is that when you get divorced, no one brings you casseroles. Your divorcing friend needs to eat. She may not feel like cooking for one person. Stop by every now and then at dinner time, and bring food. It's that simple.
Some people think that the best way to get over a heartbreak is to jump right into another relationship to push out the pain. Whether you feel that way or not, don’t push! Unless your friend asks, don’t try to set them up on blind dates, tell them about singles events, or sign them up for Match.com without their permission.
Your friend will date when your friend is ready. Really. Don’t be that person!
Just be a friend.
Divorce is never easy. Being a friend to someone going through a divorce is also not easy.
The biggest key to helping your friend, or any loved one, through a difficult divorce is to just to be there for your friend. Put your own emotions and your own judgments aside and just be a friend.
In the end, that’s the best thing you can do.
This article was originally published at karencovy.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.