It’s never easy to know exactly what to say to a friend going through a divorce. You want to be there in any way you can, but every conversation can feel like walking on egg shells. "Don’t say the wrong thing. Don’t say the wrong thing,” is the refrain running through your head as you nod with concern and empathy over a few too many glasses of wine.
According to Katie Connell, a partner at Boyd Collar Nolen & Tuggle, “It’s not always about what you say, but being a good listener.” Because she’ll definitely want to vent. So let your friend chew your ear off! It sure beats her over-sharing with co-workers or acquaintances, who may not be as discreet about respecting her privacy.
Wendy Brown Clinical Member of the Ontario Society of Psychotherapists recommends leaving it up to your friend to determine your role in her recovery. “She may want you to just listen, give advice, be understanding or provide tough love.”
Tough love, yes. Criticism, is a big N-O, even if you think she could be handling her divorce differently. “Someone who is going through a divorce is under enormous stress for countless reasons. She doesn't need to be brought down any further,” Wendy says.
Along the same lines, although you may be oh-so-tempted, don’t bash the ex! Even if he’s a giant jerk! It doesn’t help her move forward. She may even resent you for making jokes about him if she’s not ready.
Wendy also cautions against making assumptions about how your friend is feeling, or thinking. “Even if you've known your friend forever and feel you can predict everything about her, bear in mind that divorce is something that can elicit uncharacteristic responses.”
Above all, it’s a bad idea to straight out tell your suffering sister what she should do know-it-all style. “Helping her do what she wants is very different from telling her what she should want,” says Wendy.
If you think the situation is more than she can deal with, Katie recommends encouraging your gal pal to seek professional help. “You may want to ask, ‘Have you considered talking to a counselor?’" Remember you’re the friend and sounding board, not her therapist, and not her lawyer.
So be her friend! And have patience. Divorce can feel like a death, and therefore, it’s a grieving process.“For many people, divorce is the most significant loss they will ever go through in their life. Being sensitive to that is definitely what a good friend should do,” says Katie.
It may take time for your fun-loving friend to get the bounce back in her step, but that’s where you come in! “Remind her that this too shall pass. As painful as divorce is, it won’t always be like that.”