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How Do I Support My Friend Through Her Separation?

At some stage we all have a friend who needs support as she goes through a separation or divorce.

Not sure what the best way to support her is?

Don’t expect her to “be over it” – separation involves grieving and there is no prescribed timeline for when that should end. Your friend may still be processing and grieving long after you think she should. Even after the ink is dried on the divorce, new issues may arise as your friend adjusts to the new normal, new relationships and problems with their ex as they navigate co-parenting.

Let Her Talk – because separation involves grief and what can be huge pain, this can be difficult and uncomfortable to bear witness to. You may not know what to say or do to make her feel better. Just acknowledge the emotion you see and let her talk (or, if she can’t, just sit with her in her pain and hurt).

Let Her Talk Some More – Separation isn’t a clear linear process. It is more like a scrawling scribble with twists and turns everywhere, emotionally and practically. Your friend may need to talk to help her process her thinking and her emotions. Then, with another twist or turn in her situation, she will need to talk some more. She may say things that completely contradict what she said yesterday or last week and what she will say next week. Roll with it and let her talk.

Listen - just listen. You don’t need to fix this. You don’t need to provide advice (unless she asks for it). She certainly doesn’t need you to criticise or bag her ex. You never know – next week she could feel differently about him (see above) and about you (for having bagged him!).

Be Her Extra Pair of Ears -  offer to go with her to her any meetings with her lawyer or financial professionals to serve as her extra set of ears. A lot of information will be imparted at those meetings and you can then be there for her with the answer to the question “What did the lawyer say about that?”

Be Her Extra Pair of Hands -  and don’t wait to be asked. Don’t be one of those friends who says “sing out if you need anything”. Chances are she may not ask so take the initiative. Your friend will be juggling a whole lot, including tasks that her ex used to take responsibility for. Think about what those things will be and volunteer to do some of these. If you are unsure what she needs help with, again, don’t wait to be asked - ask her for the specific ways you can assist. Help her prepare a list of what she needs help with and come up with suggestions for how that assistance can be met.

Throw a Packing Party – if she needs to move, give her moral and practical support by helping to do so. Gather a few friends, boxes, bubble wrap (and bubbles) and make a packing party out of it. Support her to make the move a cleansing step, challenging her about whether she really needs to keep 4 lemon squeezers, 20 spatulas, her ex’s collection of old towels for cleaning the car and the collection of cards he has given her in happier times.

Keep her distracted – arrange to do something together or with other friends when her children are heading away for their first visits away to her ex’s.

Ask Her Out -  she may say no, she really may not feel like it but keep encouraging her to get out by continuing to ask her out.

Encourage Resolution – encourage her to find the processes and professionals that can help her and her ex find peace and resolution and support her in those processes. Looking for that shark lawyer who will take her ex “to the cleaners”, will only cost her financially and emotionally.

Be there after the storm has settled – when I was a child, our elderly neighbour’s husband died. A parade of people came and went from that house. I asked my mother when she was going to go over. I will never forget her reply: “in a couple of weeks when everyone else has come and gone but her need hasn’t”. Keep being there for her well after this time has passed.

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