By Petro Thamm, owner and founder of Good Night Child Sleep Consultancy.
Part Three of Petro Thamm’s Divorce Survival Guide helps family and friends to understand what a divorcee is going through.
- Don’t ever think that you know what your loved one is going through. If you haven’t lived it, it is incredibly difficult to explain the trauma of a divorce to someone. The worst thing you can ask is “Are you sure you want a divorce?”. I wish I could have a R100 note for every time someone asked me that question! It’s like they expect you to answer: “No. I’m not really sure. I’m just having an off day”. Silent support, a nod, a hug, a squeeze of the hand … anything is better than that question.
- There is no such thing as “not choosing sides”. As much as you’d like to be impartial, you are going to have to decide which side of the fence you choose. There’s no neutrality in divorce. Be kind, be honest and realise that for the divorced couple every friend, place, item and emotion is part of the “war”.
- As much as you think your divorced friends wants to know about what their exes are posting on social media and doing with their lives, they really don’t. Resist the urge to be the gossip.
- Refrain from saying, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do” because few people call out in times of hardship. Stop being a mediocre friend – your friend/family member needs you. These are ways that you can show your love (practically):
- They won’t be cooking. Show up with healthy dinners.
- Help with packing/moving/hanging things on the wall.
- Don’t always talk about the divorce. Distraction is good. Sport, politics, baking, new activities, fashion, anything is better than talking about “it” all the time.
- Offer to take the kids for a while and take them to a play area to give your divorced friend some space.
- Show up during suicide hour with a new toy for the kids’ bath time or offer to make dinner. The hustle and bustle of the children’s routine (between 4pm and 7pm) is the loneliest time in.
- Loneliness is real. Text them. Phone them. Often.
- Take them to gym, invite them to dance class, help them move on by filling time with them. It’s a great idea to go to church with them.
- Help financially, even if it’s a packet of groceries once a month.
- Keep them busy. Period. Introduce them to new people. Involve them in activities and outings.
- Allow them to rant about their ex and know this will pass, but step in with kind, soft words and help them gain perspective.
- Forgive them. For a while, they are going to be a bad friend and be very self-consumed. They will get through this morbid phase and hopefully be a happier version of themselves in time.
- Show up. If they phone and ask for help, this is the time to drop what you are doing and show up!
- Tell them how amazing they are. Talk about their good qualities. Don’t try and fix them/their relationship/their situation. You can’t. Going through a divorce is a very vulnerable time for people. Divorced people question their value and often feel like failures.
“Nobody gets married with the intention of getting divorced.”
- Blood is thicker than water. Family should stick together. Love your family unconditionally and be on their side but treat the ex with grace. In all fairness, this was your adopted family for a while and is probably the mother of your grandchildren or your nieces/nephews. It is not your job to determine what is right or wrong, but it is cowardly to abandon the son or daughter that was your son and daughter for a time without a goodbye or explanation. In my (humble) opinion, over time, you should say goodbye to this adopted family and break ties with old relations to be fully present and supportive of your blood family member. I understand that all situations are different but there are a few basic principles to live by. Grace. Forgiveness. Empathy. Kindness. Just accept the fact that you have (and had) no idea about what goes on in people’s lives and marriage. Closure is a good thing. Say goodbye. Say thank you. No wife or husband has ever been “only bad”.
- Have a voice. It is very difficult for divorced people to always keep perspective. If your friend/family member is using her children to get back at her ex, have the guts to call her out on it. If she is playing the victim game too long, give some perspective by telling her to stop feeling sorry for herself. Keep the divorcees accountable. If your son is spending too much energy blaming his ex-wife for all his misery, tell him to move on. It takes a village to raise a divorcee back to being a “whole” person. They will thank you for it later.
- Mourn. You have also lost a friend. A son. A neighbour. It’s a loss for you too and it is important that you also mourn your losses.
- Forgive. I can’t say this enough. If there is one thing lacking most with all parties involved in divorce, it’s forgiveness. Let’s sing kumbaya people! Life is too short!
- Don’t forget about your friends and family. It takes a great deal of time for people to process trauma, divorce and pain. Sometimes in the thick of things we remember to be there for our friends but know that the divorce will be a wound your divorcee friend or family member will carry with them for the rest of their lives. It might not define them, but don’t forget to remember to ask: “How are you doing?”
- Do your best not to judge. Honestly. You might think you have a perfect marriage, perfect life and a perfect relationship but if there is one thing I’ve learned it is that we all fall short of perfection, and we all need grace and forgiveness. We all make mistakes. We all have stories to tell. Nobody gets married with the intention of getting divorced. Yours is not purer than mine. Yours is not worse than mine. We are human and with that comes a whole lot of mistakes.