Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Healing Slowly and How You Can Help A Divorcing Friend

My life is returning to a new normal. Things are stabilizing. Kids are sleeping. I am working. The pain is less and less.

But the pain still comes up.

What pain? Guess what? Breakups are painful! Did you know that? Did you know that divorce is a breakup? Not just any breakup either. A brutal one. The decision to end a marriage hurts. A lot. And I can't even imagine what it's like on the other end.

Some things that happen to a person who is getting divorced (on either end, but primarily from the view point of the person who initiated it):

  • Stress
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble eating - either you literally cannot eat because you have horrible indigestion constantly you have no appetite, or you have an appetite so huge you can't stop eating. 
  • Pain - physical, emotional, mental
  • Trouble performing daily tasks
  • Job performance goes down
  • Social skills reduce
  • Trouble driving - accident prone
Yes. Really. You suffer physical symptoms from heartbreak.

Here's are more things that can and do happen, adding in more stress and pain:
  • Losing your home
  • Losing your job/finances/source of income
  • Sharing your kids (and you may feel like you are losing them)
  • Legal fees, legal issues, etc.
  • Continued trauma (because if you see the person over and over for legal paperwork or children, it is painful and can re-activate trauma). In a less-than-amicable divorce, this can go on for years
  • Managing your kids emotions and transitions between or from the other parent
  • Losing friends
  • Questioning yourself
  • Questioning everything you ever knew to be real or healthy
  • Questioning your own mental health
  • Questioning your spirituality
  • Depression/anxiety/etc.
  • Drug/alcohol dependence/abuse or other risky behaviors (I've seen this one a lot lately from some friends and I certainly had a bit of a phase myself that is now thankfully over)
  • Sadness mourning the loss of what you thought you had or wanted to have or thought you could have
  • Continued pain and sadness at random times for no apparent reason
To get to the point where you want to divorce, especially with kids and a background in faith that values marriage over the people in the marriage, it is incredibly traumatic. Sure, there is some relief and excitement about a new life. But you were faced with 2 very terrible choices: stay and experience pain or leave and experience pain. Either way, you are screwed. If you leave, you have endured pain for a long time before you made that choice. So you have lived in pain and pain and pain and now have more to deal with.

Here's what you can do if you ever have a friend or family member who is getting divorced:
  • Cook for them
  • Bring them food or groceries
  • Offer to stop by
  • Offer to watch their kids for them during the day/night/evening/weekend for a couple hours or arrange and pay for a babysitter
  • Come over and clean their house or arrange and pay for a cleaner
  • Give them a gift (some that I've gotten and was so grateful for include flowers and banana bread)
  • Stay in touch with them - reach out every couple days in text or email or call them to let them know you love them and are there for them. Commit to doing this all the way through to the end. This could be months or even years. 
  • Listen to them. Support them without taking a side. That is, empathize by letting them know that this sounds really hard and you love them. If you are close, ask reflective questions, like "How do you feel about that?" or "How did you respond?" 
  • If your friend asks you for something and there is ANY chance you can do it, do it. If you can't be kind and empathetic. As in, "I'm so sorry you are experiencing this and I can't do that right now, but I'd like to help. Can I do it another day/time/find someone else to do it?"
  • Be encouraging: "You will get through this!" "It's temporary." "You are strong, even if you don't feel that way," etc.
  • Tell them you are so sorry and give them a hug and ask what you can do for them
  • Arrange and pay for a therapist and babysit their kids for free while they go
Do not do these things:
  • Ask them if they went to marriage counseling
  • Try to talk them out of divorce or help "fix" them
  • Accuse them of not seeing the other side or try to get them to see the other side. In most cases, they have tried VERY hard to do this already and the result is still the same
  • Offer advice unless asked or unless you intend to help your friend follow through (as in, "Don't react to that text message! It can only hurt you! Text me when you feel like reacting instead!") and don't be offended if they don't take your advice, no matter how sound. Let it go and understand that they need to learn to make their own choices, however terrible
  • Talk about the former spouse (about how happy/sad they look/seem/are, information about them and how they are doing--drinking too much, happy with their new person, etc.)
  • Ask about the former spouse (as in, "How's so and so?" You don't know. You are trying to avoid knowing until you can heal)
  • Tell them their children are badly behaved
  • Ask them why they don't just get a babysitter or pray or talk to someone in church if they are overwhelmed--they are overwhelmed! When you are that overwhelmed you can barely function, much less reach out!
  • Tell them to get their act together in any manner (as in, kids are precious! Don't complain!)
  • Tell them they could have it worse and tell stories about a friend or relative who had or is having a harder time than them
  • Avoid them because you don't know what to do or it's awkward
  • Stop communicating with them because you don't know what to do or it's awkward
  • Tell them they are wrong/sinful/etc. for getting a divorce--the reasons are super personal and you may not always know what trauma in their past it may have brought up
  • Unfriend them on Facebook
  • Show retribution of some kind because you are on the "other person's side"
In general, be sensitive and take action to help. They lack the mental, emotional, and physical resources to reach out or even function. If this is on top of mental illness or trauma already, you exacerbate the issue by making "helpful" suggestions. The best thing you can do is listen and support. The divorce process can take years and recovery is slow. The person will often miss their former partner, but that doesn't mean that being with them is good or even safe for them. 

Try not to demonize the former partner. It IS possible to empathize without being one-sided. For example, a friend of mine going through this tells me what she is experiencing. When she asks for advice I try to ask her questions, such as, "do you think that was a good response?" "What are you going to do next?" If she doesn't know, I tell her that's ok. She will, in time. Maybe her former husband texted her something nasty. I can say, "Wow! That sucks! That was not very nice of him!" and then I can see him and he can show me a nasty text she sent and I can say, "wow! That sucks! That was not very nice of her!" And in neither case did I say, "Well, I think what he/she meant was blah blah blah." no. That's taking sides and it WILL come back to bite you.

Love your divorcing friends. They need you now more than ever.