by Kathey Batey
I stood in the corner of the conference room with Karla as she asked and explained her question. “Jenny and John are our best friends. We did everything together as couples, we went on trips together, he was my husband’s best man. I love them both. Now they are getting a divorce and I’m stuck in the middle and don’t have a clue of what to do. This is hurting so many people. Those poor children!”
I felt for Karla. She was tormented as one of the many who are inadvertently affected by divorce of someone they love. And I hurt for the divorcing who see many family and friends disappear as they go through a divorce. It’s awkward for everyone, and people don’t know the perfect words to say, so they usually say nothing. Consequently, the person going though this divorce trauma feels even more alone. But Karla was someone who wanted to reach out and be a true friend.
For those in the middle, who don’t know what to do, here are some effective things you can do to assist those going through the trauma of divorce. Especially true if you find yourself in the middle between two friends.
Connect with them (individually).
Make contact. Respect their wishes for privacy and how much they want to talk. But it’s okay to reach out and let them know you are there. How did you find out? Did he tell you or did she tell you? If someone else told you, depending on the openness of your relationship, you may not want to mention the divorce, just reach out as a friend. If they know you know, send a card of love and support or resources to help guide him or her to process and manage what they are going through. You can be the neutral party by not bashing the other party. Respect their pain. They may be sensitive to your “taking sides.” If you plan to be friends with both parties, explain to each, “Just because I communicate with John does not mean I’m taking sides. And what you tell me will remain between you and I only. Unless you tell me otherwise.” Connecting with them even in the simplest of ways, like a card, a text or a phone call, can help them know they are not alone as they transition through their new life becoming a single person. Things will work themselves out as far as the relationships, and those going through the divorce will take the lead, let them take the lead. Eventually you will find how you should be dealing with them. If you can find a moment of levity for them do so, an appropriate lighthearted comment, a distraction from the pain.
They each need hope right now. And they need love from you, non-judgmental love. If you know she has left the marriage in sin, just be there and wait for the Lord to lead you for the right things to say. Chances are she will withdraw from you if you are a strong person who knows this is wrong. That’s her choice. Bashing the other spouse may be tempting, but it doesn’t help the situation. Spend your efforts being encouraging and present in their pain. Understanding it will be uncomfortable. Do not underestimate the value of silence. They may just need you to be there. From my many years of experience, I have found it works best for a woman to console a woman and a man to console a man.
Protect them from predators or those who want to date the divorcing individuals. They are not ready to even consider dating. They have their old business to deal with right now, and new relationships only complicate life right now.
Conceal their secrets.
Be that trusted friend. These life secrets are sacred. And anyone going through divorce needs to talk. It will help them process this trauma and release some of the pain they are experiencing. Because their need to talk is so huge, you may hear things that surprise and concern you, if they are beyond your scope of help. Find resources she can tap into. Listen not to hear the gory details but to allow them the opportunity to talk. They need to talk. Don’t support wrongful action. Stay strong in what is right, but speak softly of what is right. Don’t dishonor the covenant of marriage because it provides no benefit to anyone.
There are other simple but profound things you can do to support your friends. Support their children. The more stability you can help this family have during this chaos, the better the children will make it through. Be optimistic and realistic to the children, and send them invitations to go out to safe, non-stressful places. If you are close to the family, the children may open up to you. Listen to them, again uncomfortable for you. But know that you don’t have to solve their problems (you couldn’t anyway), but you can help them with being a strong stable person they can lean on while mom and dad struggle through their divorce. During my husband’s absence in my marriage, I was so fortunate to have healthy, stable men come alongside my teenage children, such as coaches, parents or leaders at church and others. Be one of those who allow the children to see normalcy at a time when nothing is normal. Don’t underestimate the value of going out for lunch or a casual get together for their children. This will also free up time for the parents to deal with the adult business of divorce.
Conversation & Continual Contact
Conversation, first in prayer matters. This is a spiritual battle, as much as a legal, financial or an emotional one. Spirits are hurting in many ways from the losses they are going through (including the person who left the relationship), decisions and actions they are taking have huge ramifications on their lives and the children’s lives. Several people in my support groups have stated the negative effects of their parents’ divorce on their marriages and their lives as they face their own divorce. Pray first for reconciliation if possible, then for wisdom, discernment, comfort and support around them.
What are some of the things I can say to them? Be open, honest and authentic. They will be ultra sensitive to forced or canned phrases. If you don’t know what to say, tell them that. Tell them how much you hurt for them and you will be there in what capacity you can (again, real ways, not a coined or trite phrase).
“I’m so sorry you are going through this.”
“What mundane things can I help you with so you can focus on what you need to do. And yes, I do windows!”
“I have Friday night free, would it be helpful for you to go out and sit and chat?”
“Are you talking to someone? A counselor or support group so you are not alone in this journey?”
And the greatest conversation is when you are simply allowing them to talk and you are listening.
Send a handwritten card with authentic verbiage (less is sometimes more). Make it encouraging and allow them to see they will be okay and make it through this difficult journey. Because honestly, they cannot see past the darkness of the situation.
Karla is one of the many friends and family who struggle in knowing what to do when friends divorce. Her presence to those friends is incredibly important, if they will allow her into their lives. But to do nothing when a friend goes through a divorce is hurtful to your friends and causes you to have guilt and frustration because you want to do something but don’t know what to do. Remember what you do doesn’t have to be something huge or profound. The truth is being a true friend during the bad times is something huge and profound.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17
Kathey Batey is the author of the Suddenly Single series and audiobook. She is the creator of Divorce Support Anonymous—support groups online and locally.