SAN DIEGO — With the notorious statistic of half of American marriages ending in divorce, it shouldn’t be much of a shock when one of our relatives or close friends announces their divorce. Yet many of us are taken aback and unsure of how to respond. Our first responses immediately sound something similar to, “What should I say?” or “How do I support them through this?”
San Diego family attorney John Griffith helps clarify some key divorce etiquette points. These tips can help you avoid saying the wrong thing or creating an awkward tension in the midst of this sensitive time.
“Divorce doesn’t just affect the separating couple,” says Griffith, a divorce attorney in Oceanside. “Often, the family and friends of the couple are unsure of what to say to make things better or how to act around their recently divorced friends. There are some good rules of thumb that can help you prove support for your divorcing friend or family member.”
1. Do not give unrequested advice.
“If your recently divorced friend or relative wants advice from you, they’ll ask for it,” says Griffith. “Otherwise, it’s best to steer clear of offering your two cents.”
The majority of conflict and problems are private with divorces, not displayed in front of their close friends and family. When you only see the “tip of the iceberg” as a friend or relative, your attempt at helping typically ends up being irrelevant or insulting.
“The result of the Greek Chorus refrain that ‘you’re going to get hurt’ is that the divorcing person is panicked and encouraged to act aggressively against the spouse,” says Dr. Sam Margulies in his Psychology Today article. “So the very people who most need reassurance and calming end up frightened and alarmed.”
2. Offer support and encouragement.
“Divorcing people often feel isolated because some friends are so uncomfortable that they distance themselves,” says Margulies. “Divorcing people need reassurance you will not abandon them. They need you to stay close.”
Divorce is a sensitive and trying time. Emotions are running high for your friend; they’ve just finished signing all the papers and now are on their own again.
“In a way, supporting a divorcing friend is not unlike supporting a grieving friend, because divorce — even if she wanted it, even if it’s relatively amicable — evokes similar feelings of loss,” says Denise Schipani in an article for Woman’s Day.
Take this time to show your friend that you want to be there for them by spending time with them, inviting them out to dinner or for a movie night. The separated partners will handle the stress of divorce better if they are surrounded by positivity.
3. Do not bash your friend’s ex.
If your best friend or relative wants to talk about their ex-spouse, let them talk it out. Don’t be the first to bring up the topic.
“Their ex-husband or ex-wife could have been completely in the wrong,” says Griffith, a lawyer specializing in California divorce law and property division. “It doesn’t matter; talking poorly about their ex-spouse does not improve their situation. And worse, speaking poorly of their ex could just cause more pain for your friend.”
Constantly bringing up the past, such as an ex-spouse, can hinder your friend from moving forward and taking advantage of their new beginning.
“Please, don’t wallow in it [divorce], or let the person going through the split wallow in it.” says Tracey Gaughran-Perez in her Yahoo article. “It doesn’t need to be the topic of every conversation. It doesn’t need to be addressed every day, even. What this person needs is to start – in tiny baby steps — seeing themselves as a viable person after the marriage.”
Encouraging, supporting and motivating your recently divorced friend or relative to move forward and take on this new life is the best thing you can do as a friend, sibling or parent — whatever your role.
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