When a friend or relative is going through a divorce, it can be difficult to know what to do or say as you wrestle with your own conflicted feelings about the situation. Thankfully, your role is not to offer professional counseling, but rather, to walk with them during this challenging time. Here are my divorce etiquette recommendations to show you care:
Be there. Regardless of the circumstances or who initiated the split, realize that your friend is in the midst of one of life's most stressful events. Verbalize your support and back it up with action. Invite them over for dinner or out for a walk. Listen with empathy (and without judgment) when they want to talk. Follow up regularly to see how things are going. Ask specifically how you can help.
Keep your opinions to yourself. You may think proceeding with the divorce is a terrible mistake. Or you may feel that this is the opportunity to fill your friend in on rumors about their soon to be ex-husband. Understand that no one truly knows the details of the marriage other than the two people directly involved, so refrain from weighing in with personal appraisals of your own.
Stay out of the gossip. Some people may be aware you have inside information that is not public knowledge. Do not share anything with anyone that your friend has confided in you. Refrain from rolling your eyes to infer guilt on either part or specifics that you cannot disclose. A good friend stays silent and neutral when anyone asks for facts that are not their business.
Avoid choosing sides. If you were close to both spouses, it is possible to remain friends even when they are no longer together. You may have to tread with care when in-laws become exes. For example, if you are close with your sister-in-law, you will need to balance your relationship with your loyalty to your brother. Continue to see each of them one-on-one, but excuse yourself from any exchanges involving the ex and keep your private dialogue confidential.
Let your friend lead. Maybe they want to talk about the divorce, but maybe not. Allow them to direct the conversation, and do not ask a multitude of questions. One day they may want to vent and on another day, not be in the mood to talk at all. Understand that there will be highs and lows. Listen with compassion and show concern.
Do not bad mouth the other parent in front of the children. Your kids may pass along information to your friends' kids that they do not need to hear. Avoid this predicament by keeping discussions with your spouse private. Children do not need to be privy to adult information.
Stay connected. You may be thinking, "If it happened to them, could it happen to us?" It can be difficult to process your feelings about the news. Fight the urge to back away when they need you most. Do not forget them when special holiday and anniversary events come around. Your kindness will be remembered.
Do not play matchmaker too soon (if at all). Urging your friend to jump hastily back into the dating scene before they are ready is not a sound approach. Time and space are necessary to heal; they will know when it is time to start dating. There are countless positive memories to be made without a significant other.
Encourage them to seek professional counsel. Either a pastor or counselor, preferably someone with a background in human behavior, can provide valuable support and resources regarding this life change. Speaking with a neutral (and qualified) party can be incredibly comforting.