How to help a friend through a divorce


It feels awful seeing a good friend in pain but how can you help a friend through a divorce or a bad breakup? In this blog, we look at some simple tips you can use to support anyone going through a relationship breakdown.

1. Help a friend through divorce by checking in regularly.

Ask them how they are and make it ok for them to speak about their situation if they want to. People going through a breakup often feel like they don’t want to burden their friends and can easily end up feeling isolated or lonely even if they have lots of friends. There isn’t a set timetable for getting over a relationship and often the after-effects can last for years. Having good friends you can talk to beyond the first few days or weeks is so valuable.

2. Listen

It sounds so simple but being listened to and feeling heard is incredibly empowering. In general, we are all really bad listeners so finding a friend who will really listen is such a gift. Put your phone away and set aside time to really listen to your friend. Don’t interrupt them, intellectualise what they are saying or tell them about something similar you experienced. Just listen.  Focus on what they are saying and reflect back what you have heard them say. Ask them what is the most important part of what they have said and ask them what they would like to do about it. Being listened to often helps people realise solutions to their problems and it makes them feel valued.

2. Offer specific help.

Separation and divorce turn your life upsidedown it can feel completely overwhelming. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. Many friends said “let me know if there is anything you need” it was lovely but put the onus on me to reach out which I didn’t always feel able to do and sometimes I didn’t even know what would help. The most helpful friends were those who offered something specific. Specific offers of help like “How about I come over tonight, I’ll make a big pot of tea and we can just hang out” were much more helpful.

3. Help them take the heat out of communications with their ex

At the end of a relationship, especially where a couple has been living together or have children there will almost certainly be practical things that have to be discussed. These discussions about straightforward things can quickly escalate into unrelated arguments that open up the hurt all over again. Although you may be angry with your friend’s ex the best thing you can do to help a friend through divorce is to encourage them to deal with the logistical matters with as little conflict as possible. Help them to word messages, texts or emails they plan to send their ex so that they are polite and unemotional.

4. Show empathy rather than sympathy

Brilliantly described in this animated RSA Short narrated by Brene Brown empathy is incredibly powerful way to support your friend. Empathy means seeing a situation from your friend’s perspective, without judging, recognising how they are feeling and communicating that you recognise their feelings. It is about coming alongside your friend in their pain without trying to say something you imagine will make things magically better. Don’t minimise their pain, or quote platitudes and avoid statements that start with “at least”. Simply coming alongside someone and letting them know you recognise their pain.

5. Focus on the next right thing

The end of a marriage or significant relationship can be utterly bewildering. Suddenly your whole life changes at once – perhaps where you live, who your friends are, how you relate to your family, your finances or access to your children. On top of all the change is a deluge of difficult emotions. It can leave even the strongest person feeling overwhelmed. Help your friend avoid being totally overwhelmed by helping them just to focus on the next right choice they need to make.

What next?
If you are going through a difficult breakup, separation or divorce and would like to find support. Check out our Find a Course page to see if there is a course near you.

Here are some other blogs you may be interested in reading

Should I forgive my ex?

Does talking help?