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The Do’s & Don’ts Of Helping A Friend Who’s Recently Separated Or Divorced

If you've got a friend who is ending her marriage, here's how you can give her the support that she needs.

What About Your Friends?

Monica. Solange. Niecy Nash. Kenya Moore. Wendy Williams. For better or for worse (no pun intended), if there's one thing that all of these women have in common, it's the fact that they've recently experienced a separation or divorce from their spouse. And you know what? I don't have to know any of these women personally to know that this means it's been one hell of a year for them. The reason why I say that is because, no matter what causes two people who once committed their lives to one another to eventually call it quits, there is pain…there is grieving…there is adjusting in pretty much every facet of life. "Breaking up is hard to do" isn't just a line in a song (shout out to the Beverly Hills 90210 version) or a random cliché, when a marriage comes to an end, no greater words have ever been spoken.

Because this is so true, I actually believe that, if there is ever a time when true friends (and foes) reveal themselves, it's when someone is ending their marriage. Based on the conversations that I've had with women who've gone through this kind of relational transition, there are things that we, as their friends, can do right and things that we can get oh so very wrong. The statistics surrounding the divorce rate in this country is all of the evidence that you need to know that at some point or another, a friend of yours is going to end her marriage. When that happens, she's going to need your support in some very specific—and sometimes even mentally challenging—ways.

If you want to know what the proper friendship etiquette is for a time like this, here is a good place to start.

DO Make Yourself Both Physically and Emotionally Available

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I've got a friend who recently took on a new job. As she was explaining just how much it was going to switch up her schedule and make it more difficult to connect during our usual chatting hours, I said to her, "We're in a good place and have been for a while. You don't need to 'babysit' our friendship." The more you settle into any kind of relationship, the more you realize this to be true. I am fine giving her as much space as she needs because, back when I experienced a devastating heartbreak, she left her phone on at all times and was prepared to meet me whenever, wherever, because she knew that I was broken, I was vulnerable and I was going through immense feelings of rejection. The last thing that I needed was to reach out to someone who said, "I got you", only to realize that they didn't.

When someone is going through a separation or divorce, they are fragile, whether they tell you they are or not. This means that they need support, in the form of availability. It might be for a midnight phone call or a matinee where the movie watches them more than they are able to watch it back. The shock and pain tend to come in waves, so you can't really have "regular friendship business hours". It really is best to prepare yourself to be on-call, both physically and emotionally, for…a while.

DON’T Pry for Information or Offer Unsolicited Advice

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The amount of thoughts that are constantly running through the mind of a newly separated individual is countless. And, for a season, endless. Even when they believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is absolutely the best decision for them, they've still got to figure out what their new normal is going to look like. In the midst of making peace with their decision and planning for somewhat of an uncertain future, unfortunately a lot of people are not going to be very thoughtful. Plenty will want to know the details of what led to the break-up. Others will offer up advice that your friend never asked for. Some of what she'll hear will be rude, condescending and totally insensitive, even if the person meant well. This means that she's going to need places she can go to that won't be "extra voices" in her head that, I promise you, she doesn't need.

As her friend, it's normal to have questions and even an opinion. But do your best to hold up on those for a while. What she wants to share, listen to. What she doesn't, try and put yourself in her shoes. How mentally overwhelmed would you feel if you were in her shoes right about now?

DO Prepare for Her to Be a Bit of an Emotional Roller Coaster

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I've got a male friend who is currently going through a divorce. In our two-decade-plus friendship, we've only had one disagreement. But boy, did I almost get triggered in a conversation we had a few weeks ago. In the midst of us talking, he started yelling and saying things that were pretty toxic. After about 30 minutes of tolerating his rant, I tried to talk him down; he only became more inflammatory. I was so used to him being calm, almost to the point of being nonchalant, including when it came to the end of his marriage, that how he was acting caught me way off guard.

Since then, he has good days and bad days. Shoot, sometimes he has good minutes and bad minutes. He's a bit of an emotional roller coaster, to tell you the truth. But what I have learned is to let him ride it all out; to not get on the ride with him (because what good would it do for us both to be out here unstable and unsettled?), but to be there for him as he gets off—to not expect him to be "normal" for a while. Life, as he's known it for years now, is totally changing. He needs a minute to figure it all out. Until he does, there will be extreme peaks and valleys. Separation and divorce tend to affect people in that way. By accepting that, our own interaction has been a lot smoother.

DON’T Initially Take Things Too Personally

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Although no one should tolerate abuse, when your friend is going through a separation or a divorce, try and cut them a bit of slack. They are upset and humans tend to say some interesting things during emotional upheavals. She might be sarcastic, cynical or snarky. There might be moments when she implies that something was your fault or that you didn't do something "right" during her marriage. Some days when you call, she might be short and passive aggressive. Other days, she might be so rude that you wonder why you are friends with her at all.

When we're hurting, it's normal to look for answers. Sometimes that means that we're angry or we put blame on people who don't deserve it. It's not right. It's just the way that it is. It's kind of like the difference between touching someone's arm when it has a wound on it vs. when it doesn't; the reactions are going to be completely different. It's going to be challenging for your friendship with your friend to survive if you are thin-skinned right now.

If you have a non-toxic relationship with her—and sometimes, situations like this will reveal whether or not you do—while she may be lashing out a bit now, things will settle in time. Don't be her punching bag, but do be her sounding board. And whatever she says—and to an extent, whatever she does—try and not take it too personal. She's in a storm. Eventually the storm will pass.

DO Be Responsible When It Comes to Your Help and Support

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It's not uncommon for recently separated or divorced people to not always make the wisest decisions during the first year or so if their break-up. They might rebound with an ex. They might spend money like it's going out of style. They may engage in casual sex hook-ups, just to make sure that they've still "got it". They might quit a job or move away with no real pain in place. While stuff like this is going on, although some people think that being a true friend is all about supporting their friend in doing whatever it is that they want to do, I don't agree with that at all. While a true friend loves and does not abandon their friend in times of transition (and sometimes even purely reckless behavior), it's not a good idea to co-sign on them doing what is proving to be unhealthy or destructive.

Something that your newly separated or divorced friend is going to need is to be surrounded around those who are balanced, responsible and can be a true sense of reason for them. When you see them doing things that are dangerous or even counterproductive, bring those to their attention. Not in a forceful or nagging kind of way, but out of love. If they are determined to ignore your warnings, try and help where you can. If they are parents, offer to watch the kids on some weekends so that the little ones aren't in the crossfire. Maybe set aside a couple of bucks to help out with a bill. Be the kind of friend that you would want her to be to you if you were going through the same thing. When a friend is going through a separation or divorce, empathy—not apathy—is key.

DON’T Pressure Her to Make Any (More) Major Decisions

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Ask any separated or divorced person to go back in their minds to the first six months of their break-up and, one of the things that they'll tell you is the last thing that they need is anymore pressure. Pressure to figure out what's next. Pressure to figure out what they are going to do about their kids (if they have any). Pressure to handle all of the whisperings and gossiping that is going on. Pressure to do anything, really. Pressure triggers stress and stress oftentimes only leads to more problems. If anything, be intentional about being a source of peace and calm. Be the one who invites her to binge-watch Netflix or take a weekend road trip. Remind her that there is no rush to change her life any more than her initial decision already has. The benefit in this is, the more settled she is, the more capable she will be to do what needs to be done…in time.

DO Prepare for a New Normal. Even When It Comes to You.

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When someone goes through a separation (especially if it ultimately ends in divorce), it doesn't only change their lives; it causes everyone and everything around them to shift too. For instance, if you were close to your friend's spouse, you now have to figure out what will make everyone comfortable. If your friend has a child, it's important to decide how to be a kind of support system for them too. Plus, if your friend's marriage was one that you actually looked up to, you need your own time to grieve the loss of what once was.

Again, separation and divorce are never easy—on anybody. Some days will be easier than others, including when it comes to your relationship with your friend. Through the highs and lows, try and keep in mind that, no matter how uncomfortable the season may be, in time, it will change. Also keep in the forefront of your mind that, no matter how hard things are for your friend right now, with your prayers, help and even space (as she needs it) things will get better. Things may not get "back to normal", but there will be a new normal. Although she might now see it right now, with your support, a new normal can be just as good. Maybe not immediately but eventually. Hang in there. She needs you more than you know.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

How To Support Your Loved One Through A Dark Time

6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Ending Your Marriage

5 Things You Can Do Today To Be A Better Friend

How "Grief-cations" Can Help Us Cope With Loss

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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