Q: How do you support a friend going through divorce?
Wandia Maina, Counseling Psychologist- Phoenix Training Solutions:
In the society we are currently living in, divorce is one of the things that we are faced with on a daily. Divorce has become so prevalent that we no longer get shocked when a friend tells us that their marriage or relationship has ended. As a psychologist I see cases of separation and divorce every so often. No one ever wants their relationship to come to an end. When you walk down the aisle, divorce is nothing anyone ever thinks will be part of their life. What this means therefore is that the person who is going through a divorce will go through various emotions like denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They will basically go through the stages of loss and grief.
These stages are not set in stone and do not follow a straight line and one will tend to oscillate back and forth until the point where they finally get to resolution and are at peace with the divorce. How can you support your friend or family member going through a separation or divorce?
1. Once the person has shared with you that their marriage is in ICU you need to listen to them with no judgement. You are not a part of the relationship and cannot weigh in heavily on either side as you do not know what exactly happened. You need to simply listen empathetically and allow them to vent. One thing I have learnt over my sessions of interaction both with clients and friends is that, even a relationship that looks like it is on its deathbed can still be resurrected. You never know what is going on between two people who sleep in the same bed. Do not take sides lest they make up and you are left out in the cold.
2. Do not talk about their stories to other people out there. No matter how juicy the story maybe, it is not your story and you should not tell it to anyone else. Keep their confidence. This will assure them that they have a safe space to come and vent as they go through this journey.
3. Allow them to go through the process with no judgement. Most times they will act out of character for example going out too much, increased drinking or secluding themselves. Allow the person to go through the motions without judgement. However this stage is very sensitive and a person can tend to tip over and get stuck in this dark phase. Your role as a friend is to be supportive of them and set some rules with them. If you believe that they are tipping over the edge then you need to call them out and ask them to talk to a professional. If you are the one going through the divorce and you have children, then you need to tell the children that the marriage has broken down but it does not mean that you and your (ex) spouse do not love them anymore.
Assure them that this breakdown is not because of them. It would be ideal if you could have this conversation with your (ex) spouse present so that the kids can ask any questions that they may have and feel confident in your response. It is important to talk in a language that the children can understand. Allow them room to feel and express any emotions they have, then safely lead them back to safe ground with your words and actions. It is important to keep a schedule with the kids in this new season because without one, the kids get lost and feel insecure. Words must be supported by actions. Breaking of trust in this season will cause your child to doubt your authenticity about the breakdown of the relationship. Above all, gently direct your friend or family member to see a qualified psychologist where they can vent and get the healing that they need. If they have to turn to you constantly it will eventually put a strain on your relationship.