How To Support A Friend Going Through A Divorce

Tempting though it may be, try to refrain from slagging off their ex.

09/08/2016 12:26 PM AEST | Updated 09/08/2016 10:09 PM AEST
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After this coffee, I'm taking you for a wine as big as your head.

During the course of any good friendship, there are going to be times where one friend will need the other for emotional support. Obviously the circumstances will vary, but a common theme is a serious break-down in a romantic relationship; notably, a divorce.

Being a supportive friend during this time can be all sorts of tricky, especially if you or your partner (or both) have a relationship with the soon-to-be-ex.

So how do you effectively support a friend who is going through the biggest break-up of their lives? The Huffington Post Australia spoke to psychologist and relationship expert Melanie Schilling to find out.


Be objective

"The big thing to do -- and it's hard, it's really hard --- is to be an objective sounding board," Schilling told HuffPost Australia. "I think as a friend, the first thing to do is ask yourself, 'can I be objective here?' If you are friends with both parties it can be particularly difficult.

"If you believe you can be an objective person for them, then your job is to try and help your friend to step away from the emotion and look at it logically, if possible.

"Your emotional support is a given, so in addition to that, you want to be saying things like, 'if you stay together, 10 years down the track it's going to look like this. If you don't, it's going to look like this.' That's if they are still deciding on whether or not to pursue a divorce or not. Things like forward projecting can really help with that decision."

Being objective also means avoiding ex-bashing, as tempting as that may be at the time.

"Allow them to vent and empathise with them but you don't have to agree," Schilling advised. "You are there as support, and that doesn't have to involve slamming the soon-to-be-ex."

Don't tell them what to do

While the answer to the situation may seem crystal clear to you, it's important to refrain from telling your friend what action you think they should take.

"I would steer clear of telling them to stay or go," Schilling said. "I would say your job as friend is more to help them make sure they have all the information they need to make a decision, but not to tell them what decision to make.

"I know it's so tempting to do that. But it's really good if you can step back and try not to.

"In fact, I'd say don't be afraid to suggest to talk to a psychologist. It can be extremely helpful to have a professional person as that decision sounding board. Remind them you don't have to be mentally ill to see a psychologist -- there's not something wrong with them. Rather, they can use that visit to help as a strategy session."

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Sometimes there's only so much mates can do before you need to hand over to a professional.

Offer practical support as well as personal

If the decision has been made and the divorce is going ahead, Schilling says it's time to ramp up your support offering from emotional to practical.

"The personal support just needs to be ongoing," Schilling said. "You need to be a soft place for them to land. They are going through ups and downs and they need to know you are going to be there for them the whole way through.

"On a practical level, there is so much really helpful stuff you can help to get done. For example, if they need to go and get clothes from their house or moral support going to speak to a lawyer."

Remember it's about them, not you

Psyched to get your single girlfriend back? Schilling says now is not the time or the place.

"Don't encourage them to move on before they are ready," Schilling advised. "While you might want to say, 'great, now you're divorced, let's go out and meet men!' that might not be what she needs.

"As a friend, you need to be turned into their needs, not your own. Your actions cannot be driven by your excitement to have your single friend back. It's not about you."

On the other end of the scale, Schilling said there might come a time when your friend has been hibernating for too long, and could need your assistance getting out in the social world again.

"If they are avoiding taking the next step in their life, you might have to assist with that. But once again, that's everything to do with them and where they're at, and not what you would personally like to happen."

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You might think it's the perfect time to hit the town. They might not.

Know what your limitations are

You can be the best and most supportive friend in the whole wide world, but at the end of the day, if your friend needs professional help, that's what they need to get.

"The thing is to be really tuned into what you can help with and what you can't," Schilling said. "Be aware of your own limitations.

"If you think your friend might need professional advice, don't be afraid to say that. You are there for support, not to help them psychologically move through the process. That's a professional's job.

"In actual fact, it can be a real burden for a friend trying to take that role on. I would say you actually need to protect your friendship from that."

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