Every 42 seconds, there is one divorce in America. That equates to 86 divorces per hour, 2,046 divorces per day, 14,364 divorces per week, and 746,971 divorces per year. There are nearly 3 divorces in the time it takes for a couple to recite their wedding vows (2 minutes).
In a large-scale Canadian survey, 19% of men reported a significant drop in social support post-divorce. Almost 50% of the parents with children that are going through a divorce move into poverty after the divorce. 27% of recently divorced women had less that $25,000 in annual household income compared with 17% of recently divorced men.
In 2022 the divorce rate is expected to be at 44.2%. This is based on a marriage rate of 6.1 people per 1,000 total population and a divorce rate of 2.7 people per 1,000 total population. So for every 6.1 people who get married, 2.7 will be divorced.
These statistics prove that even if you have no personal experience with divorce, you most likely know someone is currently going through the harrowing experience of a dissolving marriage.
I spoke with three people at varying stages of the divorce process.
“People just don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. They avoid it at all costs. That was my experience.” — Angela
In another conversation with a divorced friend, it was their experience that the people who were the closest friends before the divorce suddenly “vanished” as she was in the middle of it all. In a related conversation, it was also noted that not only did people vanish, but there were also people who either took sides or disappeared from one or both parties.
What is the reason people seem to vanish?
Some could say they simply don’t realize they’ve disappeared. Or, they could say they don’t know how to love someone through divorce, similar to the way people vanish when a loved one dies.
The ending of a marriage is a death. It’s the ending of a planned future, it’s a goodbye to memories and firsts, and it’s a loss of one’s identity which can be extremely disorienting. It’s the death of self-esteem. It’s the temporary death of one’s mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial health.
At a young age we are taught that having a friend means being a friend so how can you be a friend to someone you love in this situation?
1. Acknowledge it is happening.
Sometimes, a simple acknowledgment of their difficult phase of life can be extremely helpful. Divorce is incredibly destabilizing. Show you recognize their pain by mentioning the elephant in the room that no one wants to bring up.
“I received text messages from my sister about advancements in her career. She knew what I was going through, but never mentioned a word. That really hurt.”
What you can say: “I’m sure this must be a really difficult time for you. I want you to know I am thinking about you. I recognize it may be difficult to discuss, but I’m here to listen.”
2. Don’t seek ways to get the latest information.
If you have to say “catch me up” to your close friend in the middle of a divorce, you most likely haven’t been there for them. That’s not to discount the busy lives of human beings, but it does speak to quality of the connection you have with them. You could say something like “I know we haven’t spoken in a minute. I want you to know I’m thinking about you and I really miss you!” Of course, only say this if you meant it. One person I spoke with told me her relative called the other spouse for information. You read that correctly. She didn’t call her own sister. When confronted, she fully admitted all she wanted was “intel”. This should be obvious, but it does need repeating. If your family member is hurting through this process, the last thing you do is call the other spouse. Recognize and decide where your loyalty lies.
3. Show up.
You know how it goes. When someone says “if you need anything, I’m here. Call me, let me know” and all the other niceties. Someone going through this process is already aware of the possibility of exhausting their friendships with the challenges in their life and they wholeheartedly want to avoid that. They aren’t going to call you and ask you for support. When people say “let me know if you need anything” it is a way for them to let themselves off the hook for offering support. That’s not to question the motives. It is mostly said from a good place but if you really wanted to be there for the person, you will be the one to reach out. Be a doer. Offer concrete support.
What you can say: “I’m stopping by on Saturday to drop off my latest chili creation! You’ll love it!
“I created an Amazon wish list for you! You’re going to need new stuff, so start adding to it!
“I’ll be by on Sunday morning to take you to brunch. Be ready and look like your cute self! Mimosas on me!”
4. Love their children.
Yes, divorce affects everyone. It can impact an entire community. When children are involved, it’s astonishing how many friends of a family distance themselves when their presence really matters the most.
“I just wish they would include my child in their family events sometimes. It feels like I’m the one asking for my child to be included. I often wonder if they’re keeping their child away from us just because we decided to divorce.”
This is especially important if you were close with the children prior to the divorce. Children experience loss differently and one reason for that is that their brains aren’t developed enough to process what’s happening. Therapy is important to combat this, but so is being surrounded by loved ones. Can you love their children in the midst of family tragedy? It’s temporary.
What you can say: “I am stopping by to borrow your son/daughter. I really value their opinion on ____!”
“I’ll be in the area on Monday! I’d like to pick up your son/daughter to hang out with mine for the day! Be sure to have them packed for fun!”
5. Make use of technology.
If COVID taught us anything, it’s that our lives can continue when under house arrest…or even if we are just really busy. With the meal delivery apps, you can have a meal sent to a loved one within a half-hour. In the time it takes to send an email, you can have a warm meal delivered. The beautiful thing about this gesture is that you don’t have to be visible or even present. Financial struggles are a byproduct of divorce. Offering to help in this way is extremely moving.
What you can say: “Dinner is on me this Thursday! Expect a special delivery around 5pm!”
6. Invite them out, even if they say no.
They just went from coupledom to “nothingdom.” They may feel they lost their sex appeal, they may feel uninteresting and exhausted — not to mention that their self-esteem is shattered.
“People were used to me having a significant other to rely on, and when I no longer had that, it was the loneliness that really got to me. I felt lonely everywhere I went.”
“It’s awkward, you know? I wanted to be invited out but I had no childcare. Babysitters are expensive. Sometimes I just wanted a friend to show up to my messy house with a bottle of wine or a colossal Hershey bar and just talk with me.”
“All I saw on social media was what looked like my friends moving forward with their lives. As much as I loved that for them, it hurt to see that I wasn’t included in the events that I was ordinarily included in. I had to mute them or unfollow entirely.”
You were in their life long before this happened, so you quite possibly have the power to remind them of who they are.
7. Recognize the wedding anniversary.
It’s a difficult day for many who are fresh off the heels of a impending final decree. The first year after separating is extremely challenging and emotionally draining. It’s even worse when people ignore how hard that day can be. It’s similar to feeling forgotten on your birthday.
What you can say: “Today might be a tough day for you and if you’re alone we’d love for you to come over, we have a place at our table and on our couch for you, always!”
My parents were divorced in 1983. I was three years old. I have no recollection of their anniversaries but I do know what June 23rd meant to both of them. You know why? It’s because both my mom and my dad were grieving for years on that day. Just because the marriage ends doesn’t mean the grieving does. Simple acknowledgment can really help someone feel seen.
“I sat alone in my house on our first anniversary. I cried all day. I am glad I had the opportunity to cry it out and feel what I needed to feel. It really did hurt that not one person recognized how painful the day was for me.”
8. It’s not exactly about you, for now.
While a divorce does impact everyone in a community in various ways, it’s not always easy to not make it about you and your grief. Maybe you’ve been through a divorce and now this person’s situation is triggering you and you just can’t handle it. Maybe you really did love the other spouse and now you’re grieving the loss of two people you love very much. While your feelings are valid, it is not the best time to disclose how you personally feel about the decision to divorce.
It’s very similar to someone comparing notes when a loved one dies. “Sorry for the loss of your mom, when my mom died I…..”
Leave your opinions at the door and resist the urge to make it about you. This includes your disdain for the other spouse. This also includes pushing them to date and/or have sex long before they feel they are ready to.
“My mother cries every single time I talk about my divorce. She has herself convinced that we are getting back together. I find myself consoling and reassuring the very people that I need it from.”
“My brother and his wife were very close with my soon-to-be-ex (STBX) wife. I didn’t want them to feel like they were in the middle, so I refrained from discussing it with them. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I don’t understand why my brother wouldn’t simply ask me out for a beer just to talk. He disappeared and I only saw him at random family engagements.”
According to Psychology Today, the only trauma worse than divorce is the death of a child. It is quite possible your friend feels powerless to the event. Show up as the friend you’d want if you were going through it.
When they are back on their feet, they will remember who was there for them. Keep your name on that list.