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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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