Aug. 7, 2013 at 12:56 PM ET
When a couple decides to end their marriage before "death do us part," the decision can cause a ripple effect among friends and family. You may be tempted to step in to prevent what you consider to be a mistake or maybe you want to exclaim “it’s about time!” Then there are worries about how your friend is holding up or how she’ll manage in the future. But the truth is your soon-to-be-single friend doesn't need to hear any of that.
“What someone in this situation needs is a nonjudgmental listener,” says Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D., author ofBefriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex. Rabinor speaks from experience—she split from her husband after 15 years of marriage. “People are often unsure of what to say, but words aren’t as important as the act of simply being there,” she says.
With half of all first marriages expected to end in divorce, you may have a brokenhearted pal who needs your support. Here are the best ways to help:
When a friend needs you to lend an ear, be there when she calls. When Clara Johnson, 41, of Lafayette, Colo., needed to talk, vent or cry about the demise of her six-year marriage, she turned to one of four friends who were always on call. “I knew that I could call these ladies any time of the day or night and they would be there for me,” she says.
After Amy Buttell’s marriage of 20 years started to unravel, the 51-year-old Erie, Penn., resident got the most comfort from friends who offered support, not advice. “They let it be known that they loved me and believed in my ability to do what was right for me and the kids,” she says. Resist the urge to play marriage counselor or divorce lawyer—encourage your friend to seek professional advice instead.
It’s tempting to share divorce war stories in an attempt to make your friend feel better or maybe as a covert way of offering relationship or legal advice (“I wished I’d asked for more alimony”). But even if you have walked in the same shoes, your friend’s divorce is not yours—and hers is happening now. Hearing about your trials and tribulations may only make her feel worse.
If there are kids involved, they'll likely spend a few nights a week at their dad's house, and it may be hard for your pal to adjust to being without them for a few days at a time. While you can't soothe that pain, you can take her mind off of it. “My girlfriends made sure my social calendar was full, so I didn’t have time to feel sad or lonely when the girls were gone,” says 44-year-old Tanzy Wilson of Dallas, Tex.
Even if she asks, now is not the time to tell your friend what a loser her soon-to-be ex-husband is. “You’ll be in a very uncomfortable spot if the couple reconciles,” says Rabinor. Nor should you judge her if she had an affair or did something else that brought about the divorce—now is the time for compassion.
If you’re still worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, you might think of your friend’s divorce as the death of a marriage. “Divorce evokes similar feelings of loss and mourning, even if the marriage was not a good one,” Rabinor says. Simply being there for your friend as she sorts out the answers to her new and changing life lets her know that she isn’t now—nor will she be—alone.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.