Certainly, divorce is one of the most painful experiences a father can endure. Many fathers going through divorce feel loneliness, anxiety, failure, and despair. No matter how they feel about their soon to be ex-spouse, they miss being in a family, and they more often than not miss living with their children.
If you are this dad's friend, what can you do to be supportive? How can you help him through the process positively?
How can you avoid taking sides or becoming co-dependent and at the same time be there for your friend?
- Be a good listener. More than anything, your friend will likely need to do a lot of talking. Even though men aren't "wired" to share their feelings, going through a divorce is an intensely emotional time. So just plan on spending time in a listening mode.
- Avoid giving advice or opinions. Men are "wired" to try to solve things, but you will not be able to solve the breakup of your friend's marriage. So consciously avoid giving direct advice. Remember, you are neither his attorney nor his therapist. If you are ever tempted to say something that starts with, "Well, if I were you…" think again.
- Help him see it realistically. Often men in this position will have a tendency to either over-react to what is happening or to under-react. Listen to his concerns and offer perspective. Typically, a soon to be ex-wife is not really trying to poison all of his friends or trying to ruin his reputation at work, church or in other circles. But the likelihood of a reconciliation is also not very high. It is important to stay real.
- Be aware of critical moments. Understand that your friend may have times when he is more troubled than at other times. There are milestones in the legal process that may cause regret or pain. Birthdays of the kids or other anniversaries and holidays are particularly tough. Be aware of these dates and make a call or a visit on those days.
- Don't be their therapist. If the issues in your conversation get a little heavy, remember that you are not a trained therapist or psychoanalyst. Don't try to prescribe answers to emotional problems. Instead, point to resources including perhaps your friend's employee assistance program if one is available or community mental health resources.
- Recommend good books for help. Finding some good reading about surviving divorce can he helpful. About Divorce Support Guide Cathy Meyer has put together a good list of books for people going through a divorce.
- Find activities to get him out of the house. Men going through a divorce will often try to withdraw into a cocoon of self-protection. They often don't feel like being with others. So try to find ways to get him out of his cocoon by getting him out of the house. Find a favorite activity of his and enjoy it with him. Golf, camping, fishing, bowling are all good ideas. Even a walk or a drive can help.
- Point to resources. Some men will not know where to turn for help if they are not able to cope on their own. Pointing to a good family law attorney, helping him find the courthouse, getting him to church, or seeking competent psychological help when needed can be important at a time of crisis.
- Don't hurry the coping process. Realize that the process of coping with a major change takes time. Telling him to "get on with his life" too early can be damaging. Let him work through the process of grieving and coping with his loss.
- Avoid crutches. Healthy coping does not involve chemical crutches like excessive drinking, drug use or prescription drug abuse. Watch for signs that your friend may be turning to unhealthy crutches.
- Don't push into new relationships. Often well-meaning friends will introduce their friend in the process of divorce to a single female in the name of helping him get over his lost love. Again, men need time to react to the changes in their lives. Moving headlong into a new relationship can damage that process of reaction. And if the divorcing friend has children, a new relationship too soon can really cause problems for the kids.
- Delay major changes. Sometimes divorcing friends will try to make a significant change like changing jobs or careers or starting a whole new lifestyle. Help your friend see that there is some security in consistency at least for a while. Going out and buying a new sports car should be delayed if possible.
- Remember you have a life, too. Supporting your friend through this process is important, but you have your obligations as well. Don't let family or work suffer too long as you help him deal with divorce. Keep your life in balance, and you will be better able to help him and others who rely on you.
- Focus on physical health and wellness. Endorphins are great things, particularly when a person is going through a crisis. Try to help your friend exercise, eat right and get enough sleep. When his body is running on all four cylinders, so to speak, he can cope better with the issues around him.
Friends going through a divorce often find their traditional support systems unavailable. Friends and family may (and often do) choose sides when a couple is breaking up. Your support through positive interventions can make a real difference in how your friend copes successfully with a very painful process.