By Jill Rudman
I have been married for 18 years and I have four children. Five years ago I started a matchmaking service from my home in Highland Park, Illinois. Since then, I have met hundreds of single men and women, and learned their stories about separation, divorce, custody, dating in your 40s and 50s, and starting over. I have very close friends and family members who have experienced the anguish of divorce. It can be challenging at times to know what your role as a friend is. Here are some helpful guidelines.
Listen, Listen, Listen
This is a really traumatic time for your friend. Whether he or she initiated the divorce or not — they are going through a major life change. They need to vent. Your job as their friend is to listen. There are so many unknowns -from where they will live to how often they will see their kids. Even in the most amicable divorces there are hundreds of decisions that need to be made. Your problems become secondary to theirs, because they are GOING THROUGH A DIVORCE!
Their divorce will most likely dominate every conversation the two of you have, but that’s okay.
They may call you after an argument with their spouse and want to replay every single word to you. You may have a million other things to do at that moment, but your friend NEEDS you to listen.
Let’s face it, many divorces are NOT amicable. There is usually a lot of anger and resentment involved. Your friend may have some unpleasant things to say about their soon-to-be Ex (who may also be YOUR friend.)
This is NOT the time to pass judgment. Your friend needs you to be on his or her side.
The best thing you can do as a friend is to acknowledge their feelings without questioning them. There are always two sides to every divorce. One nice thing about a really close friendship in your 40s and beyond is that you most likely know every facet of your friend’s personality and love them in spite of their imperfections. You may very well agree with their Ex on some of their arguments, but it is NOT your role to play the mediator.
Call and Check In
Assume your newly separated friend is sad and depressed, even if they are acting otherwise. Divorce is emotionally draining — especially when kids are involved. Even if your friend is the one asking for the divorce, it’s heart-wrenching for them to break their family apart. You need to call, text and leave messages for them to let them know you care. Invite them out. When a close friend of mine was newly separated, we organized monthly Girls Nights Out.
If your friend is sharing custody during the week — Remember: It can be incredibly lonely for them to be in an empty house on a Thursday night.
My friend was so grateful for those nights, especially at the beginning. Weekends are the hardest times. Don’t forget about your single friends. Most will gladly join married couples out for dinner – you simply have to ask. Keep in mind that your friend is suffering from the loss of a relationship. They are most likely feeling vulnerable and insecure. A phone call or text from a good friend can brighten their day.
Establish Clear Boundaries With Her/His Ex
Another difficult part of divorce is figuring out who gets to keep the friends. What do you do when you and your husband are close with another couple and they announce they are getting divorced? Your friend needs to know that he or she has your full support.
Most reasonable people will not expect you to completely end all contact with The Ex, especially if your kids are friends, but the reality is that you need to make a choice.
It’s never easy, but as a close friend it’s necessary. It is essential that you have a heart-to-heart with your friend about their expectations of you and your husband or wife. If your friend cannot stand to be in the same room as The Ex, then you need to be respectful of that. When you are all at a sporting event or school function the last thing you want to do is make your friend uncomfortable. If you establish boundaries such as “I’m not going to embrace your Ex, but I’m not comfortable ignoring him either” — then you will be able to avoid any future awkwardness.
If your husband is close with your girlfriend’s husband, what do you do? Again, you need to have clear communication with your friend about this. If she insists that her Ex NOT be included in your son’s bar-mitzvah, then you need to respect that. You may have to make that necessary, yet uncomfortable phone call explaining yourself to The Ex. This is not your battle. However, your friend will expect and appreciate you having her back.
When Your Friend is ALSO Your Relative
When my sister-in-law announced that she was asking my brother-in-law for a divorce, we were all surprised. We knew there were problems, but we never thought their marriage would end. There are four brothers in my husband’s family which makes four sisters-in-law as well — and now there would be three. I had known my sister-in-law my entire life – we were neighbors growing up and she used to babysit for me. The three of us thought that nothing would change in our relationships with her. We figured we could all remain close; after all we were not “divorcing” her, right? WRONG! We learned the hard way that family always comes first, even when it’s not your blood relative, but your husband’s. After many years of uncomfortable situations with birthdays, bar-mitzvahs, and holidays, and the addition of an awesome and compassionate new girlfriend, we have all reached a new “normal.”
When divorce happens within your family, you need to let the family member dictate the terms. After the dust settles, if you had a strong friendship with your brother-in-law or sister-in-law in the past, you CAN always pick up the pieces.
I love my ex- sister-in-law. We still text from time to time and check in on birthdays and holidays. It’s not the same, but we found a way to remain friends while being respectful to everyone involved.
Give Them a Free Pass:
Divorce clearly affects EVERYONE, not just the person going through it. Your friend is starting a whole new life. They may have to sell their home, they will make new friends, and start dating. They will suddenly find themselves with free time during the week and weekends.
My advice is to give them a free pass for a year. Give them time and space to figure out what they truly need to be happy.
You may disapprove of who they are dating … you may think they should be focusing more on their kids … you may be aggravated that they blow you off for a date … you may not be into their new tattoo … and you might be annoyed that all you ever talk about is their divorce. However, YOU ARE GOING TO LET IT SLIDE because that is what good friends do. You never know when you will end up on the receiving end of a great friendship, but for now, this is the time to just be there for your friend.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Jill Rudman is not only fabulous, she is also the founder of the Chicago Social Network. www.chicagosocialnetwork.net Meet Jill personally at our joint event — “Red Hot Bash: Couples, Singles & Vodka” on Thursday, Sept. 26 (6:30 – 8:30) at Midtown Athletic Club, 2211 Waukegan Road, Bannockburn, Illinois.< back