I received a frantic call from a friend. She was blindsided by an impending divorce. Shock, disbelief and deep betrayal rocked her world. In my over twelve years of experience working in the divorce world, I have given direction more times than I can count. For anyone who finds a friend, coworker or family in a divorce situation. I offer these 4 points to help you, help them. Here are the most common statements and immediate advice I have given to men and women who find themselves in this trauma.
First: Are you and your children safe?
I have a list of resources I keep for people who are in physical danger. Safe Haven in Grand Rapids Michigan or the local YWCA are both sources that can shelter women and direct men to places of safety. It does happen to men as well.
It is not only physical safety, it may very well be emotional safety. If a parent is harming the other by damaging words, it may be necessary to leave the premises and find a place where the individual does not feel emotionally “beat up” or in danger of being so. Emotional abuse is as harmful as physical abuse. Many disregard this truth. I’ve seen too much evidence to deny it.
Second: What is your status now?
Where are you in the process of separation or divorce? This helps me to be able to direct their options. If they are in the middle of a legal battle, can mediation save them costs and stress of going through the court system? The Dispute Resolution Center in Grand Rapids is a place where I mediate and assist divorcing couples. Mediation is successful a majority of the times and cost is determined by income for each individual. An entire divorce can be mediated, with or without legal counsel. (I typically suggest people get legal opinion prior to final settlement).
Another consideration of status is, do they need to file for a separation to shield their assets? I present the options for them to consider as they navigate this treacherous path to minimize costly and damaging mistakes.
Third: Is there any hope for the marriage? Can your marriage be saved?
Many marriages have lasted through difficult times. Some survive after threats of divorce and even after an affair if both parties are willing to do the work necessary to restore the marriage. It takes work on both sides and a willingness to honestly look at the core issues that are destroying the marriage. Will you seek help? Will you be willing to work on some of the issues which require time, energy and commitment?
Before you proceed with a costly and damaging steps of dissolving the marriage, you must rule out that it cannot be saved. There may be a point of no return when too much damage is done. So, proceed with great caution, prayer and forethought.
Fourth: Get your network. Who do you need for support?
Do they need a lawyer, counselor, financial advisor (the teaching type not the selling type) or a therapist for the children? Each case is unique with unique needs. I always recommend Divorce Support Anonymous or DivorceCare. It is a 10-13 week, safe program that gives great support with others who are experiencing the same trauma. You cannot go through this life-changing event alone. You need people to surround you and get you through it. There are many competent professionals and guides who can smooth this rugged way for you. It is my privilege to be part of a network for hundreds of men and women who have gone through divorce.
Fifth: There is hope.
“You are going to be OK. You will get through this.”
If these words sound simplistic, I assure you to people in trauma they are profound. Hope comes one day at a time, if you look too far down the road you will become paralyzed. Some of us had to take an hour at a time.
There is hope, there is the other side of this. I have witnessed people survive and thrive beyond their wildest imaginations when they did the work toward their healing. This is a spiritual experience and it has the hope of new life, forgiveness, transformation and rebirth. It is as powerful as it is painful. I believe the spiritual healing is the most profound part of divorce. Hope needs to be given in small doses. People are not ready for the “positive spin” when they are first going through it.
I know many who have succeeded after divorce to have a life they never thought possible and more than they knew was possible. Hope is the greatest thing I can deliver to my friend on the phone or any of those I assist.