January 6, 2021
1. “I know you’ve been struggling in your marriage for a long time. If you’re ready to do this, I’ve got your back. Be brave.”
The decision to divorce may arrive after many months or years of consideration and internal suffering. When your friend finally commits to the divorce process, the best thing you can do is offer your support. Divorce is not for the faint of heart and your friend will need lots of encouragement along the way. You may be tempted to urge your friend to reconcile. If that’s the case, consider saying something like, “Maybe you and your spouse should try mediation. That may leave you a space to work things out if you have a change of heart down the line.”
2. “I’m hearing your worry about breaking the news to your kids. Maybe it’ll help to treat the topic of divorce like you’d treat any scary topic. Only be as honest as you have to be. Answer questions plainly, but avoid the nasty details.”
One of the most soul crushing moments of a divorce is breaking it to the kids. Experts offer varying best practices on delivering the news, and those are great resources, but ultimately, this conversation will be dependent on things like timing, logistics, and personal readiness. What’s most important is that the children see their parents’ divorce as a mutual decision that has nothing to do with them. Kids need lots of gentle, unsolicited reminders that they are not to blame for their parents’ break up.
3. “I heard that divorcing couples with kids have to take participate in a parent education program. Maybe take it early and get some advice. You might even meet some nice people in the class.”
Suggest that your friend take the court-mandated parent education class early. Not all of the advice will apply to their situation, but there are good opportunities to ask questions early on in the process, get some professional advice, and even meet people who are in the same situation.
4. “Hey, just checking in. Please know that if you need to talk through anything, I’m here for you.”
Divorce is lonely—especially for men. Women tend to rally around each other during hard times, talking through problems and asking big questions. Men are typically less comfortable being vulnerable and are more likely to see divorce as a public failure. Armoring oneself with emotional or physical isolation amplifies suffering through loneliness. Checking in on your friend every week or two will remind them that they’re not alone and may even encourage them to open up. If your friend seems depressed or anxious, encourage them to talk to a therapist.
5. “I know you’re really mad at your ex. And rightfully so. Let’s vent when little ears aren’t so close by.”
One has to be really careful not to trash talk an ex in front of an audience—no matter how pressing the violation or tempting the urge. This can be hard for parents of young children who unwind with friends over the phone or during playdates, but even toddlers understand parent bashing, so it’s important to encourage safe, private space for emotional unloading.
6. “Sounds like you’re really worried about how much this divorce will cost you. There are professionals who can help you.”
I’m a mediator, so I may be biased. That said, I became a mediator after going through a divorce. Handing over power to a divorce attorney will likely cost your friend financially and emotionally. Mediating a divorce keeps outcomes and expenses in the complete control of the couple. Another professional resource available to your friend is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA). This person provides financial counseling. They may charge a service fee, or they may waive a service fee if your friend invests with their firm. A good mediator will likely have talented advisors to recommend.
7. “Sometimes when I lose control of my finances, I stop and take inventory of my expenses. Let’s sit down and figure out your budget together. Come on. We’ll do it over a glass of wine and have some fun with it.”
People typically freak out about money during a divorce. The most painful part for many is budgeting. Your friend must get to know their finances—figure out what they typically spend on food, shelter, clothing, medical expenses, and entertainment. Homes, cars, and entertainment are usually where people overspend. They might have to consider moving or making some major lifestyle adjustments.
8. “Time for some tough love. I’m worried about the way you’re spending. Running up your credit card isn’t going to make life easier for you in the long run.”
Suggest that your friend starts paying for everyday expenses in cash to help them acclimate to their new budget and spend within their means. A cash allowance gives new perspective on impulse purchases and expensive dinners. Invite them to withdraw the same amount of cash every week to pay for groceries, gas, clothing, etc. When the cash is gone, they’re done spending. If there’s cash leftover, put it in a savings account.
9. “I bought you this book. My friend who went through a divorce said it was super helpful.”
Urge your friend to empower themselves by getting educated, reading books, studying the child support guidelines in their state, and becoming a short-term expert in divorce. This effort will serve them tenfold. By gaining a decent understanding of their rights and divorce norms, your friend will have an easier time negotiating a separation agreement. Using widely available tools like the child support and alimony calculators will also take some of the emotion out of the process; calculations are based on reported income and numbers speak for themselves. Need a good book to recommend? Click here.
10. “You are such a strong advocate for the things you feel should be yours. Why not avoid some battles by letting go of some lower priority things?”
Invite your friend to be flexible. Not everything will go their way. They can be firm with those things they care deeply about, and be generous with things their spouse cares deeply about. For the things they both prioritize, they’ll have to collaborate for their own sanity, but especially for the sake of the kids. When couples feel entrenched in anger, focusing on what’s best for the kids can help them recalibrate.
11. “This anger and resentment is really weighing you down. Do you see a way through it? Have you ever considered forgiving your ex?”
Nothing takes up space in a person’s head like a grudge. Forgiveness, while by no means easy, is the only surefire way to “win” in a divorce. Your friend’s forgiveness benefits everyone—the ex, the kids, the in-laws, the friends… but most of all themselves. Through forgiveness, they create much needed headspace for moving forward, setting new goals, meeting new people, and feeling strong.
12. “Hey, what do you say we take a night off from thinking and talking about your crazy ex. Let’s go dancing or catch a movie. I’ll pay for the babysitter, you get the popcorn.”
A divorce is like ongoing trauma. It’s all-consuming and sometimes feels endless. Nudge your buddy out the door—no excuses. A change of scenery, a new experience, a good belly laugh—all necessary parts of finding cracks in the pain for healing to break through.
About the Author
Vanessa Linsey is a staff member and divorce & family mediator with MWI. She sees divorce as an opportunity for growth and transformation through reimagined relationships. She believes peaceful outcomes are possible no matter how complicated the situation.
Vanessa mediates a variety of cases for Massachusetts District, Municipal, and Probate and Family Courts, including: divorce, parenting plans, never-married parents, small claims, and harassment prevention orders. Vanessa is also a certified mindfulness teacher with a decade of experience teaching insight practices and mindful communication. In 2019, she published a prescriptive memoir on mindful parenting in a modern family.
Vanessa can be reached at 617-895-4027 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact her with questions about divorce mediation or a Massachusetts divorce.