Helping Your Friends Help You

You probably have friends who want to help, so you want to do everything you can to help them help you.

Use Them

Divorcing people are notorious for trying to go it alone. We don’t want to burden our friends, we’re embarrassed to tell them about our divorce, and sometimes we just can’t muster the energy to ask them.

You need your friends. You need all the resources you can call on right now. They can support you and help you keep your focus sharp. They can help you deal with the pain of divorce and help you think strategically. They can help you get on with your life after divorce. You need your friends.

At the same time, your friends are reluctant to step into your life, for several reasons. I think the reasons your friends have for avoiding your divorce fall into two groups:

The first group is made up of friends who care about you — sometimes care about you deeply — but who just can’t bring themselves to get in touch with you because your divorce is too painful for them to confront it and deal with it. As a result, they simply avoid you.

Please be gentle with these friends and give them space. They’ll come around. What you must realize, though, is that the person for whom your divorce is too painful to deal with really can’t help you right now.

The second group is made up of friends who want to help and are willing to help but need a gentle nudge from you. They don’t know whether they’re intruding. They don’t know whether you want them to take sides. They don’t want to make a bad situation worse. These are the friends who can help you, and you need to help them do it.

Clarify Their Role

I encourage people who are helping friends through divorce to ask a simple question early on: “What role do you want me to play in this? Do you want me to be on your side? Do you want me to be on your spouse’s side? Do you want me to be neutral and stay in touch with both of you?” And I encourage them to demand a straight answer.

So from your perspective, that means you need to be able to speak unambiguously about the role you want each of your friends to play. And if there’s any doubt which role a given person will play, allow that person to clarify his or her role with each of the spouses.

Can they change roles after the divorce is under way for a while? My answer here is “Maybe, but . . .”

The “but . . .” is out of fairness to your friends and respect for confidences. If one of your friends has already begun the process as your confidant, I would expect it to be difficult for that same person to later become neutral. And to look at it in another way, if I start the process attempting to be neutral between you and your spouse, you and your spouse may both confide in me in such a way that it would be unfair to both of you for me to attempt to change roles afterward. Not a good idea.

Coach Them On How To Do It

You need different things from different people, of course, including technical help with the issues you’re facing, help with money, advice about taxes, and lots of other stuff.

This is not about that kind of help. This is about emotional support and caring. To do a good job of caring, you don’t need technical skills or financial savvy. You don’t have to be a battle-scarred veteran of divorce. The skills you need here are 20% teachable today and 80% what your mama taught you.

With that in mind, though, here’s the 20%. My guess is that the best thing to do with your friends is just to print this and give it to them:

Keep Me Safe

I’ve listed this first because it’s crucial. Nothing else matters if I’m not safe. If I call and I’m genuinely concerned about my own safety or that of one of my children, I need you to get help immediately. Don’t try to rescue me yourself. Just call the police and let them intervene.

By the same token, I need you to react right away if I’m thinking about killing myself. I’m at risk for suicide because I’m going through divorce. If I start saying something like “I just can’t go on like this,” or “sometimes I just wish I could walk away from this whole life,” please don’t tell me I’m foolish, or I’m not serious, or I have so much to live for. Ask me if I’m thinking about killing myself, and if I say yes, ask me how. The more specific my plan is for doing it, the more decisively and quickly I need you to intervene.

Listen To Me

I have tons of friends and family telling me what I need to do. I’m grateful for the caring, but I really don’t need any more advice. Can you just listen to me? Can you just hear me bitch, and not feel like you have to tell me what to do? I don’t need you to tell me that I’m right and everybody else is wrong; I just need you to listen and tell me nothing. Can you do that?

Help Me Think Strategically

I’m going to be going through some really cruddy stuff emotionally. It will be easy for me to get wrapped up in the pain I’m feeling. On one hand, I may want to lash out at my spouse to hurt him or her back. On the other hand, I may want to give in just to get this whole bloody mess over with. Can you understand what thinking strategically is all about and remind me about it from time to time?

Help My Kids

I need you to read the Tough Words about parents going through divorce. Realize that I will tell you and others that I’m focusing only on my children but that, in reality, neither my spouse nor I can do that right now. Can you help me remember when I’m thinking about a decision in my divorce about the impact it might have on my children?


This is a therapist’s word. What I need you to do is to point out to me that what I’m going through is not a battle with Satan incarnate but actually pretty normal for couples going through divorce. I need you to help me know what to expect, if possible before it happens, so that when it happens I will take it in stride. I need you to help me understand where I am and where my spouse is in the three divorces, and help me understand the reasons my spouse is behaving this way.

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