Last week we discussed the struggle and biblical significance of separation and divorce. I received feedback from you in response - from questions, to gratitude for “going there.”
A friend's comment stayed with me throughout the week. “Oh good,” she'd said. “I’m glad you’re talking about that because I never know what to say when somebody tells me they’re having problems.”
It’s a common struggle, and none of us enjoy foot-in-the-mouth moments. So here are seven easy, helpful (and fairly safe) things to say or do as a friend or family member confronts divorce.
1. SAY: "I'm bringing you dinner Thursday night."
Mow the lawn, watch the kids for a while, or deliver a meal or restaurant gift card. Some friends don’t want to talk in the midst of heartbreak, or they can't find the right words to explain their situation. Others don't want our advice. We're all different and need space to work through crises in our own way. Sometimes it's best just to embrace the well-known phrase, "Actions speak louder than words."
2. ASK: "How can I pray with (and for) you, specifically?"
Oftentimes what we think a person needs, and what a person actually needs, are two different things. It's easy to assume that we know how to cover a couple when we’re asked to “pray for marriage.”
Get specific. Is there a spirit of resentment suffocating the house? Does depression linger? Do they need to find the right counselor or the energy to drag themselves back to church?
There's a scripture for that! It never hurts to ask for specific direction, tactfully of course, and with pure intentions.
3. DO: Follow-up with scripture and check in every now and again.
Separation is exhausting and lonely. While praying, we can also send meaningful scriptures to let our friends know exactly what we're saying to God on their behalf. Regardless of whether they remember the verses in the future, two things will happen:
4. SAY: "I’m sorry you’re going through this."
Divorce is the death of a marriage, and the loss of the most intimate relationship a person can have results in symptoms of grief. Mourning, both for dreams about the future, and for the joy and regret of the past, is inevitable.
Our friends and family members will experience typical stages of grief. It's normal and expected. Divorce is painfully ambiguous because the partner isn't gone forever, but chooses to begin a new life instead. Though we'll be tempted to give unsolicited advice, we have an incredible opportunity to be a listening ear and a healing hand.
5. BE: Knowledgeable about the resources available in our communities.
Does the divorcing couple have children? Are they employed outside of the home? Do they have stable housing or childcare as they seek new job opportunities?
The physical needs of separating individuals are extremely important. It's common that one or both partners can't afford to live without the other's supplemental income right way. Though the court systems intervene in some of these matters, it takes a village of support. Even if we're not the "talk about feelings" types of friends, we can be connectors within our communities.
6. ASK: "Are you having doubts?"
This question is largely dependent on the types of relationships we have with the people going through the separation. Are we close to them? Have they asked us for advice in the past? If they can trust our hearts and motives, then we ask the tough questions.
Although it’s natural to want to spare our loved ones additional pain, our fear of saying the wrong thing results in the appearance of complacency. Unfortunately, we’re all biased. We're prone to taking the side of our closest half of the couple as they part ways.
The danger is that there are always three sides to every conflict: his side, her side, and the truth.
We're not the judges or jury in the saga of “he said, she said," so we need to tread lightly. But it's also a miserable experience to live with the fact that we never challenged a couple's decision to part ways. We all need friends who are willing to risk making us angry to ensure that we're making the most thoughtful, God-led decisions in life.
7. SAY: "The most important gifts you can give your kids are Jesus, a childhood, and the health of their parents."
One of the worst fears in the world is hurting our kids. We avoid a single scraped knee, let alone our being responsible for their tears. It's true, couples live in contemptuous homes long past healthy because of our fears of hurting them.
If our loved ones insist that divorce is the only option, encourage him or her to model mercy and grace throughout the transition. Adult conversations need to happen in private, and preferably, in mediated environments. Encourage them to seek a counselor’s help to learn how to co-parent consistently throughout the dissolution of the marriage. Kids should never be involved in arguments, spouse-bashing, or become the “middle-men” for parent communication.
We'd love to read your comments below so that we can learn from one another. I hope you've been encouraged, also that you feel more comfortable ministering to hurting couples than you were before. As usual, please let us know if you have any questions, thoughts, or prayer requests!
With you and for you,
Like apples of gold in settings of silver, is a word spoken at the right time.
Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez
M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy. Earns Crossfit participation trophies. Disaster cook. Enthusiastic wife. #Boymom. Clutches her faith, not her pearls.