To stay or walk away…
What do you do when someone you know has chosen to leave a marriage or is being left? You may have your own thoughts about it.
When those from outside the relationship try to support a person through separation or divorce they can mistake their good intentions and their defeated thoughts as sound marriage advice. With that, there’s also the desire to share a list of things you feel your friend or family member should do. Counseling is one of those things mentioned and usually as a last-ditch effort.
Counseling is something that shouldn’t be seen as a last resort in a marriage. I see the benefit of beginning and pairing your relationship with counseling to learn skills on how to deal with the conflict you’re sure to have within your marriage. For many couples on the verge of separation, by the time they get to counseling, it’s too late.
Although I love what marriage is and hold to the true promise of what it should be, I recognize the work expected. And sometimes marriages do have to end. Not just because of the simplistic reasons you might have heard somewhere like someone who was selfish, bossy, unromantic, or needy sometimes. It’s for deep and painful reasons and layers you will never understand because you are not the people involved and that’s ok because it’s not about what you think or know. When someone is going through separation or divorce they could be grieving and should be considered through that lens. The Five Stages of Grief apply here. That’s something you have to keep in mind no matter how they seem to be handling things. It will look and be different for each person.
I asked a few people I know who are separated or who have gone through a divorce to share a few things that would have been helpful to them. I also included my personal thoughts and experiences. Here are is a small list of things you can do and stop doing in order to support and show someone going through a divorce that they are loved. Keep in mind again that everyone is different.
Pray for them and let them know you are available to them if they need it.
Don’t avoid or ignore them. Don’t pretend nothing happened if you had a personal relationship with them before. Let them know you are thinking of them and or praying for them.
If they’ve reached out to you to let you know about this shift in their life it means they consider you a friend. Even if they haven’t told you anything they could still consider you a friend. A simple “I’m sorry you’re going through this” can mean a lot.
If you are not close friends but you still care you can reach out, but don’t expect too much back. For someone recently separated, speaking to many close family and friends all at once is draining. Trying to help others make sense out of something painful that they share in while simultaneously sorting out your own emotions is a lot. If you add everyone else that may just be curious about what is going on it can be overwhelming.
Don’t take sides.
Check-in occasionally -they may not have time to talk to you or want to talk but let them know you’re thinking of them.
Don’t try and suggest ways to fix the marriage and force them back together.
Unless you’ve been trained as a counselor, you’re not a trained counselor and you should act accordingly. It’s very frustrating for someone going through a separation to be told in three minutes or less how they can fix their marriage with a list of things to try to make things better. People will often say- Did you try counseling? Or other things that the couple has already tried. Don’t suggest what they should have done in the past, or a list of things that are possibly wrong with them that their ex is reacting to.
Don’t give shallow explanations as to what you think is wrong. Be objective but also acknowledge when things don’t sound right or are abusive in nature.
Speaking words of validation and empathy doesn’t mean that you’ve taken sides. It just means you are showing the person you are speaking to that you care and are listening. Even if you don’t agree with everything thing they say it’s not your job to convince them otherwise.
To be continued.
Thank you Nana for this insightful post. When I was going through my separation process and divorce I did not know what was going on inside my head, it took me years of in and out counselling to understand myself.
I felt understood and normal when I read “It’s very frustrating for someone going through a separation to be told in three minutes or less how they can fix their marriage with a list of things to try to make things better” because I think in my personal case made the process of understanding myself and what I needed to do more confusing and the pain longer.
Thanks for your comment Olivic! I think that is definitely one of the most frustrating things because then you find yourself defending yourself to someone who may not be capable of understanding the layers of what you’re dealing with.