What to do When Your Friends are Getting a Divorce (Part 1)

Jim and Ann are a couple in their 30’s with 3 small children. They have been part of a group of friends since college. Their social life, both individually and together has revolved around this close circle of married friends with whom they have shared support, childcare, and many important life events. Recently, Ann received a call from Mary, who, along with her husband Andy, have been an important part of this friendship circle. Mary told Ann that she and Andy were divorcing.

Ann’s world was rocked and she experienced intense feelings that ran the gamut: shock, anger, sadness, loss, fear, shame, curiosity, guilt, and resentment.

She had many questions about what to do.

This dilemma challenges us on many levels. Over the course of three articles, we will explore some of them. In this first article, we suggest steps to handle the initial shock. The following articles will look at the deeper issues Ann might experience, and, lastly, the issues that might emerge for the couple.

How to manage this difficult situation:

  • BE A COMPASSIONATE LISTENER Ann wondered what to say and how honest she could be with Mary about her feelings. We believe that Ann would best serve Mary and herself by being a compassionate and reflective listener who receives what Mary needs to share without trying to fix Mary or the situation. Even though all concerned will be experiencing the ‘trauma’ of the situation the compassionate listener has the responsibility to not over-react and become a burden to her friend. Ann’s feelings need to be processed on her own.
  • DO NOT TAKE SIDES Ann cared for both Mary and Jim and did not want to take sides. Have compassion for both of them even though you may not understand the underlying cause of their distress. Be sad for both of them. If we can stay with compassion it allows Andy and Mary to stay with their own process.
  • SUGGEST PROFESSIONAL HELP Ann wanted to be helpful and did not know how. If she believes it would be useful to Mary, she might suggest that she and Andy and the family seek professional help. She could also offer whatever practical help might lessen the impact and be helpful to the couple and especially to the children. As with any crisis, practical help is welcome. However, well-meaning friends often take on more responsibility than is healthy.
  • PROTECT CHILDREN FROM ADULT CONFUSION Ann wondered how to tell her children and how to protect them from being frightened by what might be happening to their friends and their parents. Young children need to be protected from grown-up conversations, behavior and emotions that are beyond their ability to understand. Simple, concrete answers are best, i.e., “Mr/Mrs. Smith is living in a different house and your friends are staying at home with Mr/Mrs. Smith. Your friends might be feeling sad about the changes in their life/family.” Dealing directly and simply is better for children than either saying too little or too much. What they need most is reassurance about their own situation.
  • KEEP YOUR OWN COUNSEL In the group it would be important to allow Mary to speak for herself. Because she’s a close friend of Mary’s people may come to Ann for information and it would be best for Ann to direct people to get their information from Mary directly.

Remember that it’s perfectly normal for you to be experiencing a range of emotions during this turbulent time for your friends. Take good care of yourself physically and emotionally.

Peggy Roth, MS Ed, LMFT is a Senior Staff Therapist at Council for Relationships’ University City and Paoli Offices. Request an appointment today.