18 Ways to Help a Friend Going Through a Divorce

Advice on what kind of help to offer through this difficult time

Article from nextavenue

Statistically speaking, you will at some point have a friend or friends going through a divorce. You’ll sense their pain and the disruption to their family, but it’s hard to know what kind of help to offer or even whether to get involved at all, particularly if you are close to both members of the couple.

And yet hardly anyone feels more vulnerable and in need of companionship as people do when a marriage implodes. Problem is, your divorcing friend will be so busy scaling the steps of each day, she’ll have no idea what to ask for, let alone how to ask for it. The end result is a cooling off of friendships at the precise moment when she’s in desperate need of warmth.

I knew that separating from a two-decade marriage would be heartbreaking for my kids, cataclysmic for my finances and emotionally wrenching, just for starters. But I never considered, until I went through it, how radically the fabric of my social life would be altered as well.

Friends disappeared, especially the married ones, particularly those whom I met through my ex. Dinner party invitations, which used to be plentiful, practically ceased. When I did get the rare invite, showing up as a recently uncoupled woman at a table full of married friends felt not unlike walking into a bathhouse as a leper.

Going out for a quick drink with a friend after work, at the exact hour my children expect dinner, became challenging if not impossible, particularly with my ex living in a different state. Dating, even when I met someone I actually liked, felt nearly futile. You’re reduced to sneaking around like teenagers whenever your actual teenagers are elsewhere.

And yet, of course, good friends don’t want to disappear. They want to help. Many of mine emailed in the wake of my separation, asking, “What can I do?” Though I had no idea how to answer this at the time, now that I’m nearly a year and a half into my separation, I can tell you what things friends have done, of their own accord, that have made a huge difference (which you could do, too):

1. Invite your friend and her young children for a cozy family sleepover, especially on weekend worknights.

First of all, sleepovers are just fun, no matter the excuse, but they can also be a necessity. Work obligations on the weekend are becoming the norm rather than the exception, with the expectation being that your spouse can watch the kids while you’re working: a logistical nightmare for single parents.

My Brooklyn-based friends Tad and Amanda let me sleep over at their home one Friday night before the Brooklyn Book Festival, where I was scheduled to opine, early the next morning and far from my home in Harlem, on the topic of gender discrimination and publishing. They then watched my little one while I was busy speaking. Tad and Amanda also still invite me to dinner. Often. They actually deserve their own essay, but we have ground to cover here, people.

2. Help pack moving boxes, and keep the jokes flowing.

Never underestimate the power of your presence and humor to diffuse a difficult moment. Abigail showed up at my apartment as I was packing it up to move and just sat there for three hours, cracking jokes, sharing stories, creating piles for Goodwill and keeping my mind from sinking too deeply into the maw of what it means to permanently wrap family portraits in bubble wrap and to dismantle the home where one’s marriage has unraveled.

3. Sunday brunches are the perfect antidote to the Sunday blues.

Sundays can sometimes feel like the loneliest days of all during a divorce, especially if a languorous brunch with your spouse and kids had been a longstanding tradition. My friends Jesse and Sarah invited me, in the immediate wake of my separation, to a series of convivial Sunday brunches they threw after the birth of their third child, when they, too, couldn’t get out much. It was a potluck kind of thing, but Jesse always had soup on the stove, whose ambrosial odor, when I close my eyes, I can still smell.

4. Invite your friend out for breakfast/coffee/whatever.

A person going through a divorce sometimes just needs an empathic, non-judgmental ear. Provide that to your friend, and you’ve given them everything they actually need. I promise. My friend Abby invited me to breakfast, just the two of us, to talk. Or rather, to be more accurate, she invited me to breakfast not really to talk herself so much as to listen, intently and with presence.

5. Help with medical appointments and creating pockets of calm.

If your friend works full-time and is going through a medical ordeal at the time of her divorce (as I was), finding time to deal with appointments, let alone creating pockets of medically-mandated calm, can be a challenge. Ariel — whom I bumped into at a film screening, after having not seen her in years — invited my young son to sleep at her apartment the night before my early morning M.R.I. at Sloan Kettering, so I could show up at the appointment without dragging the kid along and also so I could spend a quiet, healing night cozying up by the fire at another friend’s home elsewhere.

6. Offer to take the kids when your friend has to travel for work or family obligations.

Don’t underestimate the importance and kindness of taking a young child off the hands of a single working parent going through a divorce. Babysitters are expensive. Plus the kid learns something and feels more connected to a diverse web of support being in a new home with a new, loving caretaker.

Meg and Richard offered to watch my 8-year-old for an entire weekend when my writing partner and I had to hole up in a hotel to work on a script we’d been hired to write. Meg planned playdates for him. She took him to a shadow-puppet class. She was, in short, a better and more patient mother than I, meaning both my son and I benefited. Kipp and Anne housed and figured out a way to get my kid to school, far from their own neighborhood and their own kids’ schools, when I had to drop my eldest at college.

7. Keep longstanding holiday traditions, but be willing to adapt as necessary.

Rituals and holidays are important, but they often get lost in the wake of a divorce. Friends and their invitations are crucial to keeping them going.

Robin and Eddie invited our truncated family for Yom Kippur breakfast. Adam and Martha let me take over my ex’s role as the yearly reader of the Passover story. They hosted and cooked the holiday dinner at their home. They allowed me to screw up the order of the service, shorten bits of it and add in new traditions. They also kept inviting me to the regular celebrations we’ve always done with them as a family, like Christmas Eve dessert and charades.

8. Show up for dinner, whether you’re invited or not.

Dinner can be a painful reminder of who’s missing from the table. Friends who show up and bring their presence and joy are welcome anytime, even when we haven’t planned on their arrival. Feeding an extra mouth, particularly when you’re already cooking for three or four anyway, is not only easy, it’s appreciated and cherished.

My friend Soman showed up at my home for dinner often after my separation. Sometimes he brought his own food, not wanting to impose. But truly that is not necessary. Just know this: you’re not imposing. At all.

9. Help out with household chores.

Household chores can feel overwhelming when you’re the only one doing them, particularly if you’ve had to downsize to what I call a “divorced lady apartment,” which may lack some of the amenities of the former family home.

My new divorced lady apartment, for example, does not have a dishwasher, so one night Randy, stealthily and without having been asked, left the table where I was hosting my first formal dinner party in the new place and washed every single dirty dish in the sink. I can’t stress enough how thoughtful and moving this gesture was.

10. Play matchmaker. 

If you have two middle-aged friends who are both single and in the same age range with even passingly similar interests, by all means, give it a whirl! Alchemy is impossible to predict, but what a gift it is to help ignite.

My friend Amanda (a different Amanda) set me up on a date. It didn’t work out, but it was a valiant try, and I truly appreciated the thought and effort. She also set up another divorced friend of ours on a date, and now those two are inseparable.

11. Help with pick-ups and playdates.

A working parent on a budget will have to rely on group after-school care instead of babysitters. Babysitters are often happy to do overtime, but after-school caregivers are not. My friends Cris, Margaret, Helena, Tiffany and Brian — all parents in my son’s school — have helped out innumerable times with after-school pick-ups and playdates when I couldn’t get out of work on time.

12. Take your friend on a date.

As wonderful as friends of the same gender can be, sometimes it’s nice, every once in awhile, to have the company of someone of the opposite sex, particularly if that someone is an old, dear friend.

Dan was my “date” to a concert when I needed one. Peter took me out to dinner. Eric invited me to see Buster Poindexter at the Carlyle. Donal took me on a sunset walk on Venice Beach. Michael took me to a guitar shop in downtown L.A., where we jammed on the most expensive acoustics we could find.

13. Pick up the phone.

Even if you don’t live in the same state as a friend going through a divorce, that doesn’t mean you can’t be present in his or her life. We’re all so busy texting and emailing, we forget how soothing it can be to hear the sound of a friend’s voice on the other end of the line, saying, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing?”

My friend Ayelet, who lives across the country, checks in on the phone, often, as well as whenever she comes into town. My Aunt Marilyn calls to say she loves me and is proud of me, even if I’ve done nothing worthy of her praise. My London-based friend Josh and I used to speak every Saturday, whenever I was out walking the dog.

14. Accept new partners, even short-term ones, without judgment or prejudice.

Often friends who knew both people in the couple are hesitant to go out as a foursome with the interloper, particularly if the budding relationship is new and strictly casual. And yet there is joy to be found in the simple act of introducing a new beau, however impermanent, to old friends.

My friends Kammi and Brad invited the man I was seeing out for dinner with us, and not once did either of them pull me aside to say, “You do realize he’s a decade younger than you, right?” They just said, “Way to go,” and kept pouring the wine.

15. Offer your empty home when the ex visits.

If one spouse has moved away, it can get tricky figuring out what to do when he comes back into town for the holidays. Boundaries during the early stages must be tightly drawn, so the kids understand that Mom and Dad will not be getting back together.

My friends Soman, Donal and Sasha all offered their empty homes when my ex visited during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was good for the kids to be in their own home, good for their father to get a glimpse into their daily lives and good for me to get away on a mini-vacation in my own city while still being geographically close enough to spend time with the kids, too, during their break.

16. Join that class your friend’s been dying to take.

Your divorcing friend might be trying to spread his or her wings, post-separation, in ways you might find odd or amusing. Instead of judging, try joining.

Julie agreed to take a Level 1 improv class with me a month after my separation. It was something I’d been wanting to do: to learn how to say “Yes, and…” after so many years of “No.” Though improv wasn’t really on Julie’s bucket list, she gamely agreed to join me every Monday night, from 7 to 10 p.m., for eight weeks straight. The best part of the class? The dinner we would grab at a noodle shop beforehand. It was my weekly cry. And what a gift that was.

17. Hire your friend to do odd jobs, particularly if he or she is having trouble making ends meet.

Finances, post-separation, can be particularly brutal, especially if one parent has taken time off from work to care for children or if she is shouldering, as I was, the majority of the financial and logistical burden. Money between friends can get dicey, but people often have hidden talents you might find valuable. Hire them.

I’m an ex war photographer, so my friend Diana, who knew I was in particular trouble one week, hired me to take a series of headshots she needed for work, paying me in full prior to the shoot. Jon and Marjorie hired me to shoot their daughter’s bat mitzvah. Holly hired me to shoot her family Christmas card.

18. Start a new tradition in an old way.

One of the rare joys of starting life over from scratch is rediscovering who you were before you got married. Equally reinvigorating is starting new traditions. These two can be combined, and you can help your divorcing friends combine them.

Katie and Larissa, two old friends from college, suggested we get together once a month after work to catch up. We meet at one of our old haunts from the early ’90s that’s miraculously still standing and we drink cheap wine and share stories of our loves and lives. The time warp back to our early days, pre-kids, is the one time, every month, when I momentarily forget I’m getting divorced.

Deborah Copaken is The New York Times bestselling author of The Red Book, Between Here and April, Shutterbabe and Hell Is Other Parents. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, Slate and The Financial Times, among others.

Healthy divorce: How to make your split as smooth as possible

An article by the American Psychological Association.

No one enters into a marriage expecting it to fail. Still, more than 20 percent of first marriages end in divorce within five years, and 48 percent of marriages dissolve by the 20-year mark, according to 2006-2010 data from the government’s National Survey of Family Growth.1 Separation and divorce are emotionally difficult events, but it is possible to have a healthy breakup.

Cooperation, communication and mediation

The end of a marriage typically unleashes a flood of emotions including anger, grief, anxiety and fear. Sometimes these feelings can rise up when you least expect them, catching you off guard. Such a response is normal, and over time the intensity of these feelings will subside. In the meantime, be kind to yourself. Researchers have found that people who are kind and compassionate to themselves have an easier time managing the day-to-day difficulties of divorce.2

Try not to think of the breakup as a battle. Divorce mediation is often a good alternative to courtroom proceedings. Trying to work things out yourself can be frustrating and self-defeating as the problems that contributed to your divorce are likely to re-emerge during divorce negotiations. Research shows that mediation can be beneficial for emotional satisfaction, spousal relationships and children’s needs.3

Sitting down and speaking with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse may be the last thing you want to do, but cooperation and communication make divorce healthier for everyone involved. Talking things through with a psychologist may help you reach coordinated decisions with a minimum of conflict.

It can be difficult to remember important details when emotions are running high. Pick a time when you’re feeling calm to write down all the points you want to discuss. When you do sit down with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse, use the list as your guide. Having a “script” to work from can take some of the emotion out of face-to-face communication. If in-person discussions are still too difficult, consider handling some of the details over email.

When kids are involved

Divorce can be a traumatic experience for children, but research suggests that most children adjust well within two years following the divorce; on the other hand, children often experience more problems when parents remain in high-conflict marriages instead of splitting up.4 During a divorce, parents can do a lot to ease the child’s transition. Do your best to keep any conflict away from the kids. Ongoing parental conflict increases kids’ risk of psychological and social problems.5

It’s often helpful for divorcing parents to come up with a plan and present it to their children together. And, keep the lines of communication open. Kids benefit from having honest conversations about the changes their family is experiencing.

In many cases, sudden change can be hard on children. If appropriate, give them a few weeks’ notice before moving them to a new home, or before one spouse moves out. It can be helpful to minimize changes as much as possible in the months and years following a divorce.

Kids do better when they maintain close contact with both parents. Research suggests that kids who have a poor relationship with one or both parents may have a harder time dealing with family upheaval. Parent education programs that focus on improving the relationship between parents and their kids have been shown to help children cope better in the months and years following the divorce.6

Taking care of yourself

The changes brought on by separation and divorce can be overwhelming. But now more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself. Tap into your support network, turning to family and friends for assistance and comfort. Formal support groups can also help you cope with the many emotions of a marriage ending.

To stay positive as you start a new chapter, try getting involved in activities you used to love but haven’t done in a while. Or try new hobbies and activities. Stay physically healthy by eating right and getting exercise.

How psychologists can help

Divorce is a difficult time for the entire family. Divorcing spouses and their children can benefit from speaking to a psychologist to help them deal with their emotions and adjust to the changes. Psychologists can also help you think carefully about what went wrong in your marriage so you can avoid repeating any negative patterns in your next relationship.

To find a professional psychologist in your area, visit APA’s Psychologist Locator.

Additional Resources

References

  1. Key Statistics from the National Survey of Family Growth
  2. Sbarra, D. A., Smith, H. L., and Matthias, R. M. (2012). When leaving your ex, love yourself: Observational ratings of self-compassion predict the course of emotional recovery following marital separation. Psychological Science,23(3): 261-269.
  3. Shaw, L.A. (2010). Divorce mediation outcome research: A meta-analysis. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 27(4): 447-467.
  4. Kelly, J.B. (2012). Risk and Protective Factors Associated with Child and Adolescent Adjustment Following Separation and Divorce. In K. Kuehnle and L. Drozd (Eds.), Parenting Plan Evaluations: Applied Research for the Family Court (49-84). New York, Oxford University Press.
  5. Kelly, J. B. (2005). “Developing beneficial parenting models for children following divorce.” Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 19: 237-254.
  6. Velez, C.E., Wolchick, S.A., Tein, J.Y., and Sandler, I. (2011).  “Protecting children from the consequences of divorce: A longitudinal study of the effects of parenting on children’s coping processes.” Child Development, 82 (1):244-257.
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Tips to Survive the Holidays for Divorced Parents

Tips to Survive the Holidays for Divorced Parents

Co-authored by Alan Plevy, Co-founding Principal at SmolenPlevy

Divorce is difficult for children and their parents at any time of the year, but it can be particularly challenging during the holidays. There are a number of issues that can arise, including:

  • coordinating when and where the children are supposed to be,
  • the gift giving tug-of-war, where the parents try to outdo each other by giving the most expensive present, or try to make life difficult for the other parent by giving particularly annoying gifts, and
  • the termination or modification of established family holiday traditions.

The uncertainty and stress of being in a separated family or a divorced family can cause disagreements to quickly escalate into arguments, making this an overwhelming and stressful period for both parents and children. However, there are some things that you can do as a parent to make things easier during the holiday season.

Put your children first: Holidays when the parents aren’t together can be difficult for children, especially right after the initial separation. There is often a mixture of negative emotions: sadness, anger and disappointment. Make sure you listen to your children’s concerns and let them know that it is okay to have this mixture of emotions. Don’t forget that the holidays are supposed to be a fun, festive time for your children, so consider how constant tension and repeated arguments will impact them and try to lessen their exposure.

Plan ahead: To avoid confusion, uncertainty and arguments, parents need to create a logistical plan ahead of time that specifies when and where the children will be. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to decide where the children will be and for how long the children will be with which parent. Make sure you confirm plans in writing, whether via email or otherwise so that both parents have a record of your agreements. Having written plans helps avoid misunderstandings. Also, don’t forget to keep your children updated on where they will go and when. It helps alleviate anxiety for children when they know that together their parents have come up with a plan for them during the holidays.

Avoid a gifting competition: Unfortunately, parents, particularly newly separated parents, can get into a gift giving war. It is not uncommon for one parent to give gifts that they know the children want without consulting the other parent or knowing that the other parent explicitly disagrees with the gift. This includes electronics like iPhones and iPads that one parent thinks is not age appropriate for the child. In other circumstances, parents try to compensate for any stress and anxiety children may be feeling as a result of the recent separation of the family by showering them with presents, well in excess of what they would have otherwise given if the family were intact. The best gift for your children is to avoid these competitions, because they not only cause strain between the parents, but also cause anxiety to the children. While the child might be initially thrilled to receive a pet, if they can’t take that pet to the other parent’s house then the gift ultimately causes them to feel stress, anxiety and disappointment. Sometimes, the gifts cause children to feel like a pawn in their parents’ battle – this is especially true for electronics, where one parent uses the child and the electronic device to “spy” on the other parent’s home. If it is at all possible, coordinate with the other parent so that the gifts are given from the parents jointly – despite the parents living in different households – this will give the children a sense of comfort that is a gift beyond a typical present.

Create new traditions: The holidays are usually a time for family traditions, but for divorced or recently separated parents, it might be time to start new ones. Holiday traditions can make the season special for children and establishing traditions where they focus on the needs of those less fortunate than themselves can ease the disappointment and anxiety that accompanies the breakup of their family. Also, creating new traditions gives the children something to look forward to in the years to come, and eases the loss of other established traditions.

Give yourself a gift: It is common for a divorced or newly separated parent to feel sad, alone and stressed during the holidays. Occasionally, because of the established visitation schedule, a parent might find themselves having more free time than in previous years or not having their child with them on the day of the holiday. While the children are learning to adapt to the established structure, you should as well. Therefore, use this time to do something special or to create a new tradition for yourself. By taking action to alleviate stress, you will give yourself the time to recharge and be at your best during the time that you have your children for the holidays.

Divorce is difficult for children and their parents at any time of the year, but it can be particularly challenging during the holidays. There are a number of issues that can arise, including:

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