You probably don’t realise it, but if you have a close friend going through a divorce then you are going to play an incredibly important role in how that divorce turns out.
And not for the reason you think. In my experience, friends can be a huge help, but also a huge hindrance, to couples navigating divorce.
This blog is designed to help you support your friends in the right ways, and get them through divorce positively.
Don’t Play The Blame Game
When a friend is going through divorce, your instinctive reaction is to protect and support them. It is awful to see people who you love going through a hard time, and the instinctive reaction is often to find someone to blame. Sadly, in a divorce scenario, there’s an obvious culprit. But please try not to fall into that bear trap.
You may think that what your friend wants to hear is lots of ex-bashing. How you never liked her/ never thought she was good enough for him/ always mocked his jumpers. Your friend may encourage this, and may seem to find it hilarious over a glass or three of wine. But after you’ve all gone home, that conversation is actually just going to make your friend feel worse.
One of the most corrosive aspects of divorce is the feeling that you have wasted a huge chunk of your life with the wrong person. That this whole period represents a failure, and time that you will never get back.
But that’s not true. Just because you are getting divorced does not mean you made the wrong choice, or that you have bad judgement. You probably made the right choice at the time. Just because people change as they grow older and move apart does not mean they were never close, or never right for each other. By demonising the ex you are reinforcing the message that your friend made the wrong choice, which won’t help them process the relationship breakdown well or give them hope for the future- if they got it wrong once what is to say they won’t again?
Find The Positives
Which is why focussing on the positives (which feels counter-intuitive) is actually crucial. Yes your friend’s other half may have behaved like an idiot in the last 18 months but there were fun times too. Remember them, even just to yourself. It will help you remember you are dealing with a whole person, and not just a caricature.
This is, of course, all the more vitally important if your friend has children with the ex. Co-parenting is a life-long partnership, regardless of whether the marriage lasts. It is going to cause significant harm to your friend, and their children, if the other parent becomes the enemy. Give them permission to recognise the ex as a decent parent. Lead by example. Encourage compromise- if the ex wants to swap contact weekends for some reason, use that as an excuse to plan a fun night out, rather than making an administrative diary change into the personification of everything that is wrong with that person.
Normalise & Don’t Allow Your Friend’s Life To Become A Soap Opera
It’s awful to feel that you’re the failure in your friendship group- the one who couldn’t quite make things work. 42% of marriages end in divorce. We need to get over this idea that divorce is a failure. It isn’t! It’s a life change, of which we all go through several in our lifetimes. And it doesn’t mean that everything that went before was a mistake either. Reinforce this message. Tell other people’s horror stories. Make your friend realise that divorce is both normal and really not that bad. Put it in perspective.
Nobody wants their life to be the community soap opera. Take a step back and analyse how much time you spend as a friendship group talking about this divorce. If it’s most of the time, consider what you can do to change that. As much as your friend might appear to want to talk about it all the time, it’s not healthy, and won’t help them move on if it’s the single item on the agenda at every meet-up. Be sure to talk about everyone’s issues and problems, and help your friend realise that theirs is just one in many life hurdles which are being overcome.
Be The Wise One
You are in a unique position to help your friend navigate this well. You are not living the emotional roller-coaster, and can help your friend to see things objectively.
The best way to divorce well, by which I mean achieve a fair outcome on the division of finances and arrangements for children without breaking the bank or triggering huge amounts of conflict, is for your friend and her ex to work together on the divorce front. I know that sounds counterintuitive. But it’s really very straightforward. At the end of the process, your friend and ex will need a Court Order to finalise the division of their finances. And a Judge will only approve an agreement he/she thinks is objectively fair in the eyes of the law. Not what is best for one party, but for both of them and their children. So the sooner your friend and ex know what a Judge would consider fair in their situation, the sooner they can reach a fair deal knowing a Judge will endorse it. Encourage your friend and ex to look into joint legal advice, where they can find out together from an impartial lawyer they both instruct for a fixed fee what a Judge would consider fair for them. You can find out more about the One Couple One Lawyer service here.
When you’re in the middle of the emotional fallout from a relationship breakdown, it’s very tempting to think the only way through is a battle, with lawyers on each side. But I know, after many years as a family law barrister, that adversarial litigation breeds mistrust, is hugely expensive, takes months if not years and can leave families torn apart. Some couples will need the protection of a two-sided court process, but they are by far the minority, thankfully.
Look To The Future
Family Judges are forward looking. What are the needs of these two parties and their children going forwards? Encouraging your friend to look to the future is therefore a brilliant and very helpful strategy. Yes, the divorce may not have been their choice, but how can we make it work for them? They now have the opportunity to re-frame their lives and re-define themselves. This can be fun and exciting! And where a good, supportive friendship group can come into its own.