congratulations? or condolences? by Jennifer Safian{3:30 minutes to read} A close friend tells you she/he is getting married. Your first words would probably be “Congratulations, I am so happy for you!”

A close friend tells you that a loved one just died. You would probably say, “I am so sorry for your loss.”

However, if that same friend  tells you he/she is getting a divorce, what do you offer?

“Congratulations” or “Condolences”?

The best answer is probably to say neither of those but to simply acknowledge their difficult time. A supportive smile, a hug, or a word or two — “I want to be there for you” — may be just the right thing.

Divorce can be a very lonely experience, and people going through that experience are often afraid of losing what they have been surrounded with all along: family, friends, and money. In addition during these stressful times, the little things that we automatically do in our daily lives may now feel overwhelming.

Here are some ways in which you may be able to help:

  • Let your friends know that you are there for them: being there for someone may be just listening, or helping with some of the daily smallest tasks. People may ask for an opinion, but often it’s just because they need a sounding board — not necessarily because they want to be told what to do.
  • Reassure them that you will give your support in any way you can. This does not mean that you have to be available 24/7, but that if needed, you will make time for them. Sometimes making a concrete offer of a time and day may be better than a “call if you need anything.”
  • Recognize that this is a hard situation; feeling that someone just understands how bad it is can be of great support.
  • Offer to help with the children, running errands, bringing food, or doing household tasks.
  • Remind them frequently that they are not alone, that you are there to help.

To the divorcing person: For many people, being confronted with a friend’s divorce can make them uncomfortable and think about their own marriage being less than perfect. This alone may keep them at a distance. And rather than simply saying, “How can I help you?” they retreat into silence, leaving you feeling rejected.

To the friends: When one is experiencing the pain of divorce, it is often difficult to analyze the feelings you as a friend may be having, and to understand that you don’t know what to say. They are probably wondering why you are not reaching out as they would expect you to.

Have you had close friends going through a divorce? Can you share with us some advice on how you have helped them or been there for them?

Jennifer Safian

jennifer safian. divorce and family mediator
divorce and family mediation
upper east side of manhattan (nyc)
new york, ny
(212) 472-8626
info@safianmediation.com
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