There’s a good chance that you have a friend or family member who is divorced. You may also know someone who is currently going through a divorce… or maybe you’re the one getting divorced. It’s a fairly safe assumption considering the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports that half of all marriages nationwide end in divorce. In this time of COVID-19, those numbers are on the rise. I discussed this in a recent blog about how a new report found they increased 34% in the past several months.
When my ex-husband and I separated and later divorced, I was in my mid-20s. During this time of my life, I had a large network of friends and acquaintances. As my ex and I knew our marriage was falling apart, we both spent a lot of time with our friends rather than each other. When we officially separated, many of my friends reached out to check on me. However, there were only a few who served as the support system I really needed. As a divorce attorney, I thought I knew how this would all play out. But, it was a surprise, even to me. I really thought that some of my close friends would still be close friends during my divorce. It took me awhile to realize that the reason they weren’t was because they didn’t know how to best approach the situation. I’m a child of divorce, divorcee, and divorce attorney so I’m more than familiar with this process. However, that’s not the case for everyone. Divorce might be an unfamiliar territory for some friends who don’t know how to react or help their recently separated or divorced friend.
Author, Coach, and Certified Divorce Specialist Michelle Dempsey-Multack (MDM) is well-known in the divorce industry when it comes to supporting divorcing moms and women. As a divorced mom who is remarried, Michelle helps women navigate divorce, co-parenting, and single motherhood. She is truly inspiring and is the definition of resilience. We recently had a conversation about the type of friend we both needed when we got divorced. I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions to share on my blog about how to be a real friend during a friend’s divorce and how a divorcing woman can be the best version of herself during this time. Since Michelle is known for not holding back we are thrilled to bring you this MDM reality check on friendship and divorce.
Advice for Friends of Divorcing Women
ANR: How should a friend react when finding out a friend is going through a divorce?
MDM: Grief and sadness needs to be accepted as part of the process. If you’re the friend of someone who is divorcing, let your friend have that space. Be the shoulder, without trying to be the cheerleader. Very often friends think they need this powerful cheerleader… but really, we just need someone who is going to listen to us and validate our feelings.
ANR: What are your tips on what to say and how to best be supportive?
MDM: I think the best thing you can do is say: “You don’t have to tell me anything you’re not comfortable telling me but just know if you need a safe space or you just need to vent or cry, I’m here. If you need someone to bring over wine on a Saturday night because you’re lonely and everyone else is out with their husbands, I’m here.”
ANR: How can a friend sensitively suggest professional advice and/or support?
MDM: I think it’s okay for a friend to say: “Have you spoken to a specialist about this? Because I don’t have the best advice for you because I’ve never been through it.”
ANR: Should a friend give advice when it comes to co-parenting?
MDM: I think it’s so personal. No. I think a friend should be able to help reign in your ‘crazy’ a little bit. Like if you’re freaking out over every little thing that your ex does with the kids, I think it’s perfectly okay for your friend to help you see things a little bit more clearly. But I think it’s so personal, it’s almost like if you wouldn’t tell another personal how to parent their kid, you wouldn’t tell a friend how to co-parent their kid.
ANR: Is there any type of friend that divorcing women should avoid?
MDM: Beware of the ‘misery loves company’ friends. Very often you’re going to have a friend who gravitates toward you during this time and you think they’re like your ride or die soldier. But very often, as you start to move out of your miserable post-divorce phase and you’re happy again, you’re thriving, you’re meeting new people, you’re dating, and you’re creating this new life for yourself… you’ll find that this friend gets very intimidated, jealous, angry. And you realize in hindsight that this person was only there to party in your pity. You have to beware of these ‘energy vampires’ because they want you down there with them. They don’t want you to move ahead. Some people feel really comfortable in other people’s misery so you have to beware of that.
Advice for Divorcing Women
ANR: How can those going through divorce cope with mental critter state and get off the hamster wheel of thoughts?
MDM: The best thing you can do is hire a therapist and coach. A therapist to help you uncover and unpack how you got here and a coach to help you move forward.
ANR: What is the best response pattern to develop with your ex during divorce?
MDM: The first thing would be getting yourself out of the mindset that you have to ask for permission. A lot of times it’s like, ‘oh, I want to take the kids to the zoo this weekend what do you think?’ or ‘I’m thinking of dating again where are you on that spectrum?’ I think for women you have to get out of asking and start declaring. It’s not an ask it’s a declaration. You have to realize that the more access you give this person to your personal life now, the more room there is for argument and criticism.
ANR: How does the Fayr app help families during this time?
MDM: This is almost like a safety blanket for them in terms of communicating because it takes the anger out of communication. On a personal note, for my ex and I, the app became helpful because we both knew it was court ordered. We couldn’t use it to fight so if we were going to communicate on there it was really clean. It was very business-like which is how co-parenting communication should be. And it helped keep us on our toes in terms of communication and calendaring too. We have a young child and her schedule is constantly filled with playdates and doctor’s appointments and after school activities. So, it helped us stay organized in that fashion too without me having to police or babysit.
ANR: What does the concept of “divorce, healthy” look like in real life?
MDM: I think what a healthy divorce looks like in real life is taking a look at your divorce very outside the scope of how society views divorce. Understanding that it is now your opportunity to reinvent, to heal, to shift your focus in life. As long as you maintain a child-focused approach to co-parenting, then you have a healthy divorce.
ANR: How can collaborative and meditation methods of divorce be utilized rather than litigation?
MDM: I think collaborative is ideal. Litigation is expensive and time consuming, but I also don’t think it’s the worst thing if you can’t agree on things. I think it depends on the couple. Everybody wants to have the easiest divorce process possible but you have to go into it knowing it may not be that and if it’s not then you have to do everything in your power to protect yourself and your kids.