How To Support A Loved One Going Through A Rough Divorce

If you have a loved one who's going through a divorce, you're probably seeing firsthand just how painful the divorce process can be. Aside from the pain of separating from someone they thought would be in their lives forever, there are countless logistics to figure out, especially if kids are in the mix or if the couple owns property together. Plus, they could even be deciding between one of a few different types of divorce, complicating things even further.

You want to help your friend get through this as smoothly as possible, but divorce is a personal and painful process, and we wouldn't be surprised if you're not sure how to best help them through this time. Because everyone deals with divorce differently, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to how to help your loved one through a divorce. However, there are some general guidelines that can make it easier to navigate your role as a friend during this time.

A helping hand is almost always welcome; they'll probably appreciate a listening ear and maybe a shoulder to cry on occasionally. This is where your support will mean the world to them. On the other hand, there are some things to avoid — for example, refrain from trashing their ex, and be very cautious when giving advice on the situation. Still, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Help them get their basic needs met

Remember that if your friend is going through a divorce, they're losing some built-in support they used to have daily. The switch from getting your needs met in a couple to meeting your needs on your own can be jarring for anybody. Add on top of that all of the logistical and emotional complications of going through a divorce, and meeting your own needs sometimes just becomes too much to handle.

This is where you can come in especially handy as a friend. Chances are your soon-to-be-divorced friend would love some help getting meals, cleaning the house, and taking care of some of the other practical day-to-day tasks we all deal with. Feel free to have a conversation with them and offer to take over some of the tasks their spouse would typically do for the short term.

Even if they're craving some solitude to rediscover themselves, taking over some groceries (or even better, a homemade meal) or offering to clean the house while they're away at work would probably mean the world to them. 

Offer childcare support

If your loved one is going through a divorce and there are kids in the picture, chances are that figuring out a custody agreement is a huge stressor for them right now. In the meantime, especially if the kids are young, figuring out childcare is probably similarly nightmarish. As your friend is navigating the divorce proceedings, it would likely be a huge relief to have someone step in and offer help with childcare.

Don't feel like you have to cover all your friend's childcare needs. In fact, this is a great opportunity to rally your community of friends together to offer childcare support — after all, it really does take a village to raise a child. You can help figure out the logistics (like who will help take the kids to school, who will help watch them after school, who can take them on a weekend day) without taking the entire burden on yourself.

Then, give a proposed childcare schedule to your friend to make sure they're comfortable with it. Alternatively, if the kids are younger, your friend may be looking for a daycare option. Daycares can be expensive, so this is another chance to get some friends together and pool the funds to cover daycare costs in the short term. 

Keep inviting them to things

A spouse is a friend and companion who you have around most of the time. When divorce happens and that companionship is suddenly absent, dealing with the emotions can be challenging for anyone. When you've been one half of a partnership, especially if the marriage has lasted a while, being on your own can be pretty disorienting. Often, especially because divorce proceedings and living alone can make your life busier, soon-to-be-divorcées can become pretty isolated after a separation. 

The truth is, your friend may really need some time alone to figure things out. Don't be surprised if they decline invites to go out — aside from being busy, they're also going through an extraordinarily rough period emotionally and likely don't want to bring that vibe to your outing. However, the last thing you want to do is stop inviting them. It probably means the world to them to know that you care and still want to spend time with them.

Instead, when you invite your friend to things, make sure to acknowledge their potential hesitations in coming and let them know that it's all okay. You could also ask your friend what type of activities they'd like to do during this time — it could be that getting a group of friends together for a relaxing night watching movies is just what they need. 

Remind them what's good about themselves

Divorce often brings with it a wealth of messy emotions. Your loved one may be feeling things across the emotional spectrum, from relief to anger to stress, sadness, and even guilt. Chances are that at least some of these feelings are directed toward themselves. Your friend may be wondering what they've done wrong or if they should have done things differently in their past. Especially if your friend's marriage was in any way abusive, they might also be living with feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness.

Take some time during your friend's divorce to remind them of all their positive qualities and characteristics. It may be very difficult for your friend to identify anything good about themselves at this time — let yourself be that voice for them. Tell them all the things you love about them, from how empathetic they are to what an amazing parent they are and even how much you love their homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Everyone loves to hear good things about themselves, but someone going through a divorce could probably use an extra dose of positive feedback right now. Be quick to offer words of encouragement and remind your friend what an amazing person they really are. 

Encourage them to see a therapist

There are lots of things you can do to help your loved one through a divorce. You can be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a voice of encouragement. However, according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale — a method of evaluating how much stress a person is under — divorce is the second most stressful life event you can face, topped only by the death of a spouse (via Mind Tools). It's likely that your friend could greatly benefit from professional help as they navigate their divorce. 

If they aren't already, you may want to gently nudge your loved one to try out therapy, especially one well-versed in the emotional aftermath of divorce. If your loved one is hesitant to try therapy, don't force it — they're already going through enough emotional distress, and you want to make sure they know that you're in their corner.

There may be some obstacles to them seeking therapy. Maybe the cost is too high, or they simply don't know how to find a therapist who's a good fit. If either of these is the case, you could ask some friends if they'd be willing to cover the cost of therapy in the short term. You can also help your friend by researching some therapy options and showing them your findings. 

Help them move

A divorce will almost always entail someone in the couple moving out of their home — and moving is another significant life stressor. Add that stress to the stress of getting divorced, and it's too much for anybody to handle on their own. This is another excellent opportunity to pull your community together in helping to care for your friend. Offer to help them pack boxes and move out.

In some cases, your friend may not even know where to move to. If so, you could help them find good housing options or, if you have the physical space and emotional capacity, offer to let them stay with you temporarily. Bonus points if you make a fun affair out of the whole moving ordeal (if your friend is up for it, of course). Gather all your friends together to help your loved one move their things into a new space. 

Then have an indoor picnic with some takeout and help them unpack their necessities, like cooking materials, toiletries, and their bed setup. Make sure they'll be as comfortable as possible before you leave for the night, or you can offer to stay for a sleepover and keep helping them unpack the next day. Take your friend's lead here, as they may want to do some of this on their own. As long as they know you're there to offer help, you've done your job well.

Do things without being asked

Are you waiting for your loved one going through a divorce to ask for help? Or maybe you often say something akin to "Let me know if you need anything." There's nothing wrong with saying that to your friend, but if they're going through a divorce, chances are their mind is in a million places all at once. They may not know how to ask for help or articulate their needs, or they may even be scared to.

This is where doing things for them without being asked can really go a long way in showing you care (and in helping them take care of themselves). The last thing you want to do is be invasive with your unsolicited help, but there are several ways you can show your friend support without worrying about crossing boundaries. One of the easiest ways to do this is by dropping meals off at your friend's house.

Tell them you're bringing some food by and don't need to stay. Or tell them you're going grocery shopping, and have them send you their grocery list. If you're spending time with them at their house, go ahead and offer to unload the dishwasher. Tell them you have a day off and are happy to take the kids to school or run some errands for them. Be as specific in your offers of help as possible, and offer as much practical support as you're able without being asked.

Encourage them to focus on themselves

If your friend has been married for a while, especially if there are kids in the mix, it's likely been a long time since they've gotten the chance to focus completely on themselves. Being in a couple can often lead someone to lose sight of themselves at least a little bit, and if they're a parent on top of that, we wouldn't be surprised if it's been ages since they've had a moment to themself.

Someone who's getting divorced may have much more time to themselves than they're used to, and that can be pretty jarring, even scary, for some. If your loved one is struggling with their newfound alone time, encourage them to use it as an opportunity to rediscover themselves. Maybe you remember them being particularly invested in a hobby before they got married — remind them of their old passion and suggest they take some time to rekindle it.

Encourage them to engage in activities that bring them joy, even things that may have made them feel selfish while they were married. Or if they're a quieter, more introspective soul, it could be a great idea to buy them a guided journal to work through during their alone time. Let your friend know they aren't selfish for taking time to rediscover themselves, and if time alone is scary to them, you could offer to be in the same room while you both do solo activities. 

Consider throwing a celebration when the divorce is final

Everybody moves through divorce differently. For some, working through the grieving process of divorce feels like a full-time job, and the last thing they'll want to do is celebrate something that's been incredibly traumatic for them. For others, though, divorce has been a long time coming, and they may be feeling significant relief to have it all done and dusted. If that's the case, it could be that a post-divorce party is just what your friend needs.

If a post-divorce celebration is in order, feel free to go all out and get all your friends on it. Splurge on a cake, food, and drinks. Take your loved one somewhere they've always wanted to go but have never been because their spouse didn't want to. Do all the things they felt unable to do when they were married. Ask them for their input as well — chances are, if your friend wants a divorce party, they're more than happy to help plan some activities.

They may want to ceremonially get rid of everything that reminds them of their ex, or they may not want the divorce to be mentioned at all. Facilitate whatever type of environment your friend wants for their post-divorce celebration, and get their friends in on it, too. If nothing else, the show of community support during the celebration will mean the world to your friend. 

Don't assume you know all the details

Especially if you've known your friend a while or were particularly close with them and their spouse, it can be easy to assume that you know the basic gist of what's been going on in their marriage. Sometimes this may even be true — maybe your loved one has confided to you about their marital problems for a while, and you genuinely do have a good picture of what's going on.

But at the end of the day, your friend's marriage has been between them and their spouse, and there's no way you've been privy to everything that's happened behind closed doors. The best thing you can do for your friend right now is listen, listen, listen. Try to be a listening ear, push your own preconceptions out of the way as much as possible, and let them tell you what's been happening in their marriage — as much or as little as they want.

Refrain from criticizing your friend's ex. They're probably having enough complicated feelings about their ex and their time being married to them, and the last thing they need is more criticism in the mix. Be quick to validate your friend's feelings and slow to insert your own opinion unless they ask for it. 

Don't offer unsolicited advice

Similarly, it's often not a good idea to offer unsolicited advice to a friend who's getting divorced. Their divorce is likely way more complicated than you know, and what you think is helpful advice may not be so helpful if you could take into account the full scope of their situation. 

Unless your friend specifically asks you for advice, it's probably a good idea to refrain from giving it unless you're gently advising a friend to seek therapy or something similar. Even when your friend does ask for advice, you may not want to answer right away, especially if they're asking for advice in navigating their divorce. Be quicker to ask questions than give answers, and again, be an active listener whenever you can.

For example, if your friend asks you for advice about legal proceedings, it's probably best to refrain from answering and advise them to consult with their lawyer — but you can ask them questions to help them land on a good answer to their questions on their own. Instead of giving advice, give them things to consider, and be willing to provide multiple viewpoints. Only give advice when asked, and even then, only do so when you know you have good or helpful insights. 

Don't take things personally

Most of all, your friend probably just needs you to be a friend during this time. They're probably feeling a bit chaotic. They may be unreliable and flaky about plans right now, and their whirlwind of emotions could even cause them to lash out at times. No matter what, as your friend walks through a divorce, your biggest job is to stay by their side and not take things personally during this time. Remember: It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the pain they're going through right now.

Be understanding if your loved one accidentally says something hurtful or forgets about plans. Gently remind them that you aren't going anywhere, that you know this is a rough time for them, and that you'll get through it together. Be slow to admonish and quick to forgive. Your friend is probably feeling guilty about a lot of things right now, so let them know they don't need to feel guilty about your friendship, too. Knowing you're there for them through the heartache and that you'll still be there when it's over could be just what your friend needs to get through their rough divorce intact.