Divorce EtiquetteBy Linda B. Elliott
When interacting with someone going through a divorce, the key for all parties involved is to keep your focus on exercising and maintaining healthy boundaries. Specifically, here are some things to consider:
1 Do not assume that you know or understand the circumstances surrounding the divorce. Every marriage is unique, and in most marriages, the “public face” of the marriage is only a part of the story. Assume that there are aspects of the relationship of which you are not aware, nor should you be.
2 Be supportive, but don’t ask intrusive questions. While you may want to know more about what happened, or is happening, divorce is a very private matter that has to be lived out in the public eye. Respect privacy.
3 Remember that support does not mean agreement, enabling, taking sides, or getting involved in trying to “fix” it. Individuals going through a divorce often benefit from professional counseling, but this is not the role of friends and family.
4 Divorce is a loss. In order to process it in a healthy way, that loss must be grieved. Even if the individual has made the decision to divorce and knows without a doubt that it is the right thing for them, it is a loss. And like any other loss, it is very individual. Refrain from thinking or speaking in “shoulds.” Again, professional counseling can be very helpful in this process.
5 Reach out and invite the person to socialize. Individuals going through the divorce may likely worry about being a “fifth wheel” or a “downer,” and so may be hesitant to reach out. And if they decline your invitation, don’t take it personally. Give it time and ask again.
6 And when you do socialize, try to keep the focus on other aspects of your relationship. Help the divorcing individual establish their individual identity, separate from their identity as part of a “couple.”
7 A word about listening. A good listener reflects back what the speaker says, as a signal that the speaker has been heard and understood. If the speaker expresses feelings such as anger or sadness, ask open-ended questions to follow-up and understand more fully. Do not ask “Why” they feel sad, for instance, or tell them what they should feel, as that will typically elicit defensiveness and shut down the conversation.
8 In most cases, blood is thicker than water. It is natural and common for families to take sides. One of the common “losses” in divorce is that of relationships. Please don’t take this personally.
9 Especially when kids are involved, family members have to set their own feelings aside — don’t speak negatively about the other parent — especially in the presence of the children. And certainly don’t pump the children for information regarding their parents. This is a time of great upheaval and adjustment for kids (at any age), and they need as much support as possible.
10 And, lastly, if you’re struggling with your role and how to be most helpful and supportive, ask. Ask the divorcing individual what they need, or ask a professional. Wisdom is, indeed, knowing when to ask for help.