Watching a friend go through a marriage breakdown is a heart-wrenching experience, but it happens all too often. In New Zealand, one in every three marriages will end in divorce. Author Bella Vendramini documented her own divorce in her latest book Naked in Public (Hachette). Here are Bella’s tips on how you can be a supportive friend when your friend’s family is breaking up.
1. Be her shoulder to cry on
A marriage break up is a difficult time and any little thing you can do to lessen your friend’s load or to help her through it will have 10 times the significance for her, than the effort you need to expend in order to do it. “Your job is to be there as a shoulder, a box of tissues, a team coach, a guide and a helper,” says Bella.
The most important thing is to be there for your friend, to let her cry and to let her talk. “I remember when I went through my own marriage break up, I was feeling so vulnerable and scared about the future. Dealing with regret, hurt, betrayal, love, loneliness and fear. A cacophony of emotions are generated during a break up. Having loving and supportive friends with open ears and kind words are balm for the soul. I truly don’t think I could have gotten through it without my friends.”
2. Give kind words and listen
Bella adds that a friend’s kind words or non-judgmental advice can make the difference between dealing healthily and eventually moving on with life or falling into despondency or depression. “Some kind words, some loving cuddles and sane advice goes a long, long way,” says Bella.
Listening is much more important than giving advice, says Bella. “She needs non-judgmental listening, more than she needs judgmental advice. Put yourself in her shoes and see how it feels and learn by asking yourself what you’d want to hear if you were in the same situation.”
3. Time heals all wounds, but …
Essentially time is going to be the great healer – so be sure to remind your friend of that. “Let her know that it will get better, that she’ll feel all sorts of emotions but as time goes by, those high salient emotions will ebb and they will eventually disappear,” says Bella. “Also, you can suggest professional counselling. You don’t need to be at death’s door to get counselling – in fact it is a great way to get effective tools to help with a relationship breakdown including help with mourning, grieving, anger and moving on.” Also let your friend know that you can get subsidised sessions with a counsellor or psychologist, through referral from your GP.
4. Help her get some ‘me time’
Part of your job is also helping your friend nurture herself, especially if she’s thinking about others rather than herself. “If she has children, it’ll be important to her to lessen the fallout for them so she may neglect her own needs – this is where you come in.” That means you might be there simply to listen, with a glass of wine, when she needs you – and even with your dancing shoes on, if she fancies heading out to a bar for a fun evening out.
Organising a day trip away is a great way to get your friend’s mind off her ex. “She may be despondent and may not want to do much, so perhaps surprise her with a day trip to the country,” says Bella. “Just to get her out of the house and breathing the fresh air. Those little steps all help win the race back to health and optimism.” So buy tickets to the races, book an evening at a day spa or just go and see a new film together at the cinema.
5. Lend a hand with her kids
Offer to take her children for the day or help her with some chores around the house. “If she’s been married a long time, it’ll be new and strange for her dealing with things on her own, so be prepared to be there for her, or at least offer a hand,” says Bella. That might mean offering to help her out with the ironing or cooking up some meals and freezing them for the weeks ahead.
6. Don’t knock her partner
One of the main things is to be non-judgmental – including about the partner she’s broken up with. “Just let her talk and sympathise with her instead of judging her decisions or the man she’s chosen,” says Bella. “Inevitably one moment she’ll miss him terribly and mourn the loss of him, the next moment she’ll think he’s the worst creature on earth and want to put a hit out on him. Let her go through that process, those ups and downs, it helps her to come to terms with an even view of him and their past relationship.”
As a friend, you’ll have to be patient even when you feel frustrated over her slow process, or constant need to talk about it – but just as it will pass for her, it’ll pass for you too and you’ll resume your friendship as it was. “Remember, men come and go – but friendships last a lifetime,” says Bella, adding that it’s OK to trash talk about her ex with friends, but it’s never OK to bad mouth a former partner in front of children.