While this site is mainly dedicated to self help for men going through divorce, all too often us guys do not go seeking advice and help out of a mistaken sense of trying to be “strong” and independent. It is often other people in their lives that try to find ways to reach out to them and find it very difficult, or simply do not even know how to approach such a raw and delicate topic. How to help a friend going through divorce is not just a unique skill for this particular situation – it can be applied to any situation where you are trying to help someone overcome grief and loss. However this post will delve into the more unique aspects of men and divorce as well, to help you tailor your approach.
Firstly I think it might be helpful to break it down into what you should NOT do. Common mistakes that people always make out of ignorance, or out of well meaning – but misplaced efforts.
- Do NOT Insult Their Ex Wife – It might seem tempting to begin to demonise the ex wife in an attempt to make your friend feel they are better off without them, or to try to convince them that it was all the ex wife’s fault and none of theirs. Even if they are doing it themselves in front of you, never join in because they might not really feel the same as what they – and you – are saying. A session of complaining against women and especially the ex might actually end up angering your friend because they still will leap to the defence of their ex at this stage. It is also just good practice not to bad mouth people even if they do deserve it.
- Do NOT Try To Fix Their Problems – I know the feeling of seeing a good friend or loved one dealing with a big problem badly. Sometimes you just want to jump in and tell them exactly how they should fix it. You might even know from experience, or have very good reason to believe you are correct. However at this stage you should not be offering advice to someone who is not yet ready to hear it. They might be angry at you, ignore you, or take the advice the wrong way. People will only change when they are in the right space to change and your role as a friend is to support not to force their hand.
- Do NOT Attempt To Get Them To Date – Some people believe the best way to get over a hard break-up or divorce is to hit the dating scene again to find a new lover. This is the absolute WORST mistake a friend can make when trying to help their friend. This could be disastrous to a mans self esteem if they do badly, and very bad even if they are successful because they are trying to boost their self esteem in the short term rather than trying to find a long term solution to their happiness and life goals. Trust me; do not encourage them to do this!!
- Do NOT Avoid The Topic – While it is a difficult topic to approach you should not shy away from talking about the divorce. This does not mean you should go headlong into it, but acknowledging that you know they are getting a divorce and that you are there to help them is a good start. If you do not acknowledge this, it becomes a strange unsaid void between you and your friend and they will not be certain if they should talk to you about it as you might be uncomfortable with the topic.
Now these are not the only mistakes that you can make when trying to help a friend going through divorce, but they are some of the most common ones. They also lead into how you should be approaching this delicate topic. Here are a few more tips on what you SHOULD be doing to support your divorced friend.
- Acknowledge The Divorce – As mentioned before, you need to broach the issue quite early so that there can be a dialogue about the divorce. You do not need to say you want to talk about it, or that they need to talk about it – you just need to let them know that you know and that you care. You might even tell them that you do NOT know what to say and how to feel about their divorce; that is ok too. It will mean a lot to them that you are just there for them – and it gives them the initiative to talk when they are ready without fear of being ignored, misunderstood, or preached at.
- Listen! – This is the most important skill to have when supporting a friend after their divorce. You do not need to even need to reply, as long as you are there for them to talk to when they are ready. One problem is that we often feel the need to interject and ask more questions, or offer advice. This will not help when what they need is someone for them to pour out their thoughts and feelings too. This will allow them to often find the right decisions without ever saying a word! One tactic that is very useful in this area is what is known as active listening where you reflect back what they say to them in your own words. This way you engage in a conversation but they drive the entire thing.
- Be Grounded – While you need to empathise, make sure to not get carried away if they begin to over react to things. You need to be grounded and realistic to help them avoid complicated situations and be able to more through the divorce well.
- Offer Help – Make sure you offer some practical help as well as your words and your ear. Simple things like doing small errands to help them save time, or doing small things that might be painful for them to deal with can make a big difference and shows a lot of support.
- Watch For Warning Signs – While it is natural for them to be anger, sad, scared and so forth – if you see a major serious decline into depression, drinking, or any other destructive behaviours do not turn a blind eye. Make sure to contact whoever you can to give them the help they need if things are becoming out of control.
- Laugh! – No matter how serious life is we all need to laugh. It is amazing how much this can help someone who is feeling low and lost. Simple humour and laughter can have a massive impact on their outlook and actually stimulates feel good chemicals in the brain that can boost their mood. It can also remind them that life can be fun and worth living even if times are dark.
This is by no means an all encompassing list, but I think it sums up what you need to be to help a friend going through divorce. You are not their psychologist, you are not their life fixer, and you are not their silent companion either. You are their metaphorical shoulder to cry on until they need you to be more. You are there to help when it is needed – and not before. You are there to enable and empower them to change their own life for the better.
If you feel they are ready to learn more about themselves and how to get over a divorce specifically related to men, perhaps direct them to this blog – or to the main page where they can download the Men After Divorce eBook which maybe be a good guide for them to move through this rough phase of their life.