So many I know have gone through a heart-breaking separation or divorce. As a friend, you want to be an encouragement, but how do you know what you should or shouldn’t say? Tracie Miles shares 10 of the do’s and don’ts of helping a friend through divorce.
I recently had another opportunity to chat with Tracie Miles on an episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast about finding hope through and after divorce. If you missed that episode, you can listen here: How To Find Joy When Life is Hard – Episode 137. You may remember Tracie’s first episode on the program when we talked about trusting God in difficult times. Listen to that episode here: Trusting God in Difficult Times – Episode 34.
Read all the way to the end for a book giveaway!
The Do’s and Don’ts of Helping a Friend Through Divorce
By Tracie Miles
Nearly six years ago, the emails I came across between my husband of twenty-five years and his mistress were the final straw. In a matter of moments and a heated conversation full of tears and questions, my entire life was turned upside down.
I suddenly became the woman in my friend group that nobody understands – the divorced friend. An ashamed, humiliated, heartbroken single woman and mom who was drowning in confusion about what the future held.
I leaned on my faith and God gave me the strength to keep pushing through day to day, and God had thankfully spent years bringing wonderful friends into my life who could walk me through this difficult time. Although everyone sympathized with my situation, nobody really understands what my heart did and didn’t need. There are things to do and not to do for a hurting friend going through divorce, and these are things that can make a world of difference on the divorced person’s path to healing and recovery.
Let’s start with the things not to do to help a friend going through a divorce:
• Don’t say “you’re better off without him (or her).” Albeit possibly true, the reality is that someone you loved has removed themselves from your life. Even if problems existed before the split and you will indeed be better off in the long run, that comment still hurts and is hard to wrap your mind around.
• Don’t tell your divorced friend about the photos you saw of their ex on social media, new partners they may be having, their appearance of being happy without you, they were seen out with another woman (or man), etc. These are facts that are hurtful and are better off left unsaid. If comments won’t help someone heal, avoid saying them.
• Don’t compare their situation to someone else’s story you know who got divorced. Every relationship is different, the circumstances are different, personalities are different, and stories are different. Stay focused on their needs and not what you think they need to do based on what other people did.
• Don’t judge. The confidence of a woman going through separation and divorce is already shattered, sometimes beyond repair, and the last thing that will help is judging them, making assumptions they did something wrong, or giving unsolicited advice which can inadvertently be very insensitive and hurtful. Unless you’ve walked in someone’s shoes, one can’t possibly know all that led up to the divorce, much of which the friend may be ashamed or hesitant to share for fear of being further humiliated or slandering the spouse. Be kind and look for the best in them and support your friend through words and quality time, accepting that if they want to tell you all the details at some point, they will.
• Don’t turn your back on them because it feels awkward, you’re not sure what to say or you don’t know whose side to take. Getting separated or divorced is a tragic life altering experience. The death of all you once knew has occurred and your biggest fears have come true. The last thing a woman needs is to be abandoned or excluded from their friends as well. I had many friends who were my rocks to lean on, but there were three long term friends who broke my heart in two, further shattering the little of self-confidence and worth I had left.
One long term best friend cut off all contact completely as well as cut off my children; one judged me because they didn’t think I should leave my husband and try to work it out while having no knowledge of the years of pain and infidelity preceding the final demise of our marriage; and the third friend said her husband wouldn’t let her hang out with ‘single people’ – that dreaded label I never wanted to wear now felt like a scarlet letter. Literally, every hurtful comment or exclusion were like daggers to an already wounded, bleeding heart. Kindness and compassion go a long way.
• Don’t just be there until the dust settles. The dust will never fully settle and even if they wear an “I’m fine” mask, remember they probably are not really fine and need continued support for months and years.
On the flip side, there are many supportive things you can do to help a hurting friend going through separation and divorce.
• Do invite and include them in plans, even couple’s events, even if you aren’t sure they will come. It’s hard to be a single woman all of the sudden in a culture of couples. And it’s also very lonely. Be willing to push past the awkwardness and secret judgment, and think about how you would feel if the situation were reversed. Would you need support and love despite your marital status? Would you still need to believe you were accepted, wanted and included in social happenings? I dare say yes.
Excluding the divorced woman for fear of them, or you, feeling uncomfortable, only exacerbates their feelings of isolation and loneliness. Invite her out for coffee, a walk around the neighborhood, or out to dinner. Prolonged solitary confinement takes a mental toll on someone already trying to manage their thoughts and emotions. Staying connected with others if crucial. Keep inviting them even if they decline, because one day they will say yes and the tides will begin turning.
• Do something encouraging and unexpected. Send flowers, write a sweet note or email, send a text with a bible verse and let them know you’re praying for them. Buy them a pretty journal to record their thoughts along the healing journey, print and frame a pretty picture of them and their children to hang in their home as a reminder they are still a happy family. Mow their yard, offer to babysit the kids, take them out to dinner or show up with a casserole or a bottle of wine at their home. Let them know they are loved and thought of and you’ll be amazed how high it will lift the spirits of someone who may be close to laying on the floor in the fetal position for days behind closed doors.
• Just listen, even when you grow weary of listening. The quantity of problems to deal with, hard realities to process and accept, the grieving period, the level of heartbreak, overwhelming fears and complexity of divorce itself can make a woman feel down right crazy. She needs a tender listening ear with loving support and understanding, not necessarily advice or someone to solve their problems. Listen more than you ask questions or give advice. When they’re ready to open up, they will. And they’ll trust you.
• Provide words of comfort as much as possible. When they confide in you, don’t jump to advice or trashing the spouse, simply say things like “I know it’s hard, but it will be okay”, “I’m so sorry things ended for you. I know you are hurting. What can I do to help?”, or “Let’s go to dinner or get coffee, not taking no for answer ”, “You’re a wonderful person, with beautiful traits such as (fill in the blank), and lastly “You are loved and treasured as a friend, despite your marital situation, and that will never change.” Be the friend you would want and need in a painful experience in your own life.
We know the Lord will never leave us or abandon us, even if our spouses did, and we are reminded of this in Psalm 34:18 which says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” That is a comforting verse to a wounded heart, but in the end, they still desperately need friendships and comradery. Be that friend.
Do you have a friend going through separation and divorce and this post has provided some insight as to how to help them? Would you like an inside perspective of what they’re really going through so you can be the supportive friend you want to be? Looking for a resource to give to your hurting friend to help them cope and heal?
Purchase Tracie’s book, Living Unbroken: Reclaiming Your Life and Your Heart After Divorce. Also consider signing up for Tracie’s blog where you can receive a Living Unbroken Battle Plan Workbook for free upon subscribing and also sign up for her free 5 Day Stress Detox.
If there are other insights you have about the do’s and don’ts for helping a friend through divorce, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.
About Tracie Miles
Tracie Miles is a national Speaker and Author with Proverbs 31 Ministries. She is the author of four best-selling books, Unsinkable Faith: God-Filled Strategies for Transforming the Way You Think, Feel and Live. (2017), Your Life Still Counts: How God Uses Your Past To Create A Beautiful Future (2014) and Stressed Less Living: Finding God’s Peace In Your Chaotic World (2012). Her book called Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life is Hard released in 2018. Tracie is a contributing author to the popular Zondervan NIV Women’s Devotional Bible, and the Proverbs 31 Encouragement for Today Daily Devotional Book, in addition to being a monthly contributing writer for the Proverbs 31 Ministries Encouragement for Today daily devotions which reach over one million people per day around the globe. In addition to her speaking and writing, Tracie is the Director of COMPEL Training at Proverbs 31 Ministries, has 3 adult children and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In conjunction with this post and the podcast interview How To Find Joy When Life is Hard – Episode 137, Tracie Miles is giving away a free copy of her book, Living Unbroken: Reclaiming Your Life and Your Heart After Divorce.
Leave a comment below sharing with us one thing you’ve learned about helping a friend through a divorce and you will be entered into the contest for your chance to win a copy of her book.
You could also share this blog post on Facebook or Twitter then comment here to tell us where you shared it and you’ll also be entered into the drawing.
The winner will be selected at random and announced next Monday, December 6, 2021. Continental United States only.