How To Support A Friend Going Through Divorce Beyond Picking Up The Phone

Divorce is often sighted as the second most stressful event of a person's life, right after the death of a loved one. In addition to mourning the death of a marriage, you must also deal with legal fees, custody issues, and possibly alimony. It is a seismic change by any measure, and watching someone you care about end their relationship can be a difficult thing for a friend. So how can you support someone going through a divorce?

The good news is, as a friend, you can help your pal in immeasurable ways during this trying time. Experts note that being surrounded by loved ones can be one of the most healing things during a divorce. "Build a selective support group of people who love you and accept you for who you are," Michelle Crosby, CEO of the app Wevorce, advised those going through a separation during a conversation with Redbook. "Choose to be around those who can offer positive nurturing to help you heal and be happy." That's where you come in (and it involves a bit more than picking up the phone). You likely instinctively understand the basics of someone going through a bad breakup. Listen, don't judge, show up when they need you, etc. — but divorce is a different beast.

Below, we break down the most important ways you can show up for the people you care about as they face one of the most challenging situations of their lives.

Support your friend by having fun

The best thing you can do as a friend trying to support a loved one through the trauma of a divorce is to help them feel better. "People who were used to spending time with their ex or with their family on a regular basis can find it unsettling when they're suddenly alone instead," David Klow, a family therapist, told Oprah Daily. A great way to do that is to get them out of the house and try something new.

Therapists have long recommended trying something new after a bad breakup. "One way to counteract that stress is to get involved not with someone else, but with something else," Dr. Pete Sulack told Redbook. "Pursue your passion because it will give you joy and hope. You will find hope in the abundance of wonderful opportunities out there." 

Is there something your friend always wanted to try but never got the chance to do during their marriage? If so, plan a day around it. It could be a ceramics class, it could be going to more art museums, or it could be just enjoying restaurants their ex didn't like. Either way, getting your pal out of the house and getting their ex off their mind is an A+ post-divorce move.

Lend a hand during the divorce process

The legal details and organizational problems accompanying a divorce can be very emotionally and financially draining. On average, you can expect to spend anywhere between $15,000 to $20,000 during a contested divorce. While not all separations escalate to that point, this will be a highly stressful time for your friend as they work out issues of custody, property, spousal support, and marital assets. It is your friend's responsibility to work out the nitty-gritty of the divorce, but it's your job as a supportive friend to offer whatever help you can. This doesn't necessarily mean showing up to the courthouse. Support can take the form of helping out with child care or helping them sort through their ex's things. 

"Tasks like packing for a move can be hot-button triggers for many difficult emotions," Joseph Cilona, PsyD, told Oprah Daily. Similarly, if your friend finds themselves engulfed in legal fees, something as simple as taking care of dinner can go a long way. "It can take years to get back to a stable financial situation," Alex Beattie, a divorce expert, advised The New York Times. "Dropping off a few meals or a few movie tickets can lighten someone's spirits without costing much." 

Be Switzerland: don't bad-mouth the ex

Just as your friend may need help sorting through a separation's nitty-gritty financial and legal details, they might also need help dealing with an ex. While not all divorces are contentious, some can get outright nasty. If your friend finds themselves having trouble moving past the ways an ex wronged them, it's your job as their support system to help them put the past behind them.

As much as you may want to, try not to openly criticize the ex — even if has become your bestie's favorite pastime. At best, it will only perpetuate your friend's negative emotions, and at worst, it will make things extremely uncomfortable if they end up being amicable again one day. "Rather than forcing myself to feel a particular way, I allow conflicting feelings to exist at the same time," dating expert Jayda Shuavarnnasri told Mind Body Green of moving on after divorce. "This doesn't mean that I justify their feelings or even have to forgive them. It also doesn't mean something is wrong with me for continuing to love them. It just means we're all human." 

Take a page out of Shuavarnnasri's book and allow your friend to experience their emotions without judgment. It can get frustrating listening to your friend complain about the crappy ex, but remember, anger is just one step in a multistep process of moving on. With time and support, everyone (including your very angry friend) will find the strength to leave their hurt in the past.

Play wing woman — when your friend is ready

Finally, one of the easiest ways to support a recently divorced friend is to play wing woman. Everyone's healing time is different, so don't push your friend to start dating before they're ready — the grieving process after a divorce can be complicated. "What many people don't understand about divorce is that it can feel like a death, or many — of a person, an identity, a life, and a future," Lori Gottlieb advised in The Atlantic. "And just as each of us grieves a death in our own unique way, the same is true for how a person might grieve a marriage."

A key step for your friend moving on from a divorce is self-reflection and growth. "The most important thing regarding dating either during or after a divorce," Margaret Paul, Ph.D. told Mind Body Green, "is to be doing your own inner work to fully understand your participation in the relationship system that led to a failed relationship." 

When your friend has done the inner work, and the time eventually comes for them to get back out there, though, it can be scary, and that's where you come in. Dating after a divorce is no joke. Depending on how long they were married, they are likely navigating a completely different landscape. So, you need to be prepared for anything. You may find yourself wing-woman-ing at bars with your friend or dragging your own significant other along on awkward double dates. It might not be the most fun, but it will likely provide your loved one with a tremendous sense of comfort.