Continuing on last week’s list of do’s and don’ts to support someone going through a separation or divorce…
Don’t ask too many probing questions. Let them share what they want and ask supportive questions to show you’re interested and listening. When they have the energy or the time they will share what they are ready to share.
Don’t try and control how often they bring up their ex. For them, speaking about the situation is a part of the healing process. If you don’t feel comfortable listening you can always take breaks or let them know in a kind way that you’d like to talk about something else. You can try to listen and ask helpful questions like- “What is something you would like to do?” Or “Where do you want to go from here?”
Unless the person you are supporting has said otherwise, it’s ok to speak about and refer to their ex if you are still friends with them. Don’t feel like you have to avoid saying their name. Ask your friend if this bothers them don’t just make assumptions.
Don’t give them a time limit on when they should be ready to move on- it’s different for everyone. The conversations might be very dark before they get better. Avoid trying to shift to the brighter side and making trite comments like “It wasn’t meant to be” or “This will only make you stronger”.
Remind them of who they are by saying positive things about them or the things they enjoy. Encourage them.
Don’t expect them to justify their decision- trust that they made the decision because it’s best for them or their kids. I just want to reiterate how exhausting it is to have to tell your story and then have people list things you should do and or why they don’t agree with your decision. This is a weight for someone who is already grieving. The assumption here is that you have thought of something new. Chances are they have already thought of things you suggest. Another assumption is that your limited observation and opinion is needed. Although these conversations can sometimes be helpful in processing and healing they don’t usually help to restore a marriage.
Offer to watch or take their kids and babysit. Give them the ability to have the space to think things through and grieve. For those that might now primarily be parenting on their own, this is a huge help! A few friends can volunteer a few weekends of watching the kids so that your friend/family member has time to get things organized and process.
Don’t assume they want to get back together with their ex. It is possible to still love and care for someone that you do not want to be with. Unless they tell you that they want to get back together don’t assume that that is their end goal. In many situations, it doesn’t matter if they want to get back together if one spouse does not. Help them to focus on what is possible.
Along with this don’t assume that they don’t wish their ex well in their future endeavors. However, sensitivity in this is crucial.
Finally, my friends and I all agreed that listening and reminding the person you are there for them is one of the most important things you can do to show support. A friend said:
“Don’t ever assume that you understand their situation, how they feel, or what they have been through. Support and care can be felt by just being present to listen.”