So you found out your friend is going through a divorce. She may have called you herself, or you may have heard through the grapevine that her marriage is ending, as half of all do.
As a friend, you want to be there, but you're unsure of what that means. Do you call? Do you ask how she is?
Just what is it she really needs?
My own divorce is now years old, but whenever I hear of another marriage crumbling, my heart is quickened to the needs I had back then, and my deepest desire is to give what is really needed. No, not every person facing divorce is the same, but I believe there are universal needs that most who are divorcing share. (I'm writing from the female perspective since it is my own.)
What She Needs:
She needs you. More than she has ever needed you before, she needs your presence in her life. Divorce often costs people friendships, for reasons understandable and varied. Sometimes friends are mutual between the two who are divorcing, and sometimes they are forced to choose sides. Sometimes people just don't know how to be a friend for a person whose life is suddenly different. A loss of other relationships is almost inevitable in a divorce, but it is devastating nonetheless. Be there for her. Half of her whole is gone, and losing anyone else in her life inflicts a pain she is unequipped to handle. Eliminate that pain and be there for her.
She needs you to treat her like a normal person. Yes, perhaps she is going through the greatest change of her life, but what she desperately wants is not to be different. What she desperately needs is what you normally do. Call her to go for coffee; email her funny jokes; invite her to meet at the park with the kids. She may turn you down or she may stare blankly while she's there, but give her the chance to be normal. Give her the option of feeling like everyone else.
She needs you not to ask, "How are you?". She's not well. She's exhausted from crying all night, and she's worn out from being a single mom. She's stressed out from juggling work and bills and emotions. She's struggling. Don't ask, "How are you?" but ask instead, "What are you struggling with today? How can I pray for you? What can I do to lift your load?" She needs you not to ask her a question to which she's obligated to answer, "I'm fine." Because she's not. She's not fine, and she probably won't be for a while. Even if the divorce were her idea or her desire, she's still not fine. The dissolution of a marriage never results in someone being fine immediately.
She needs you to let her know when you're thinking of her. In the simplest ways, you can let her know she's on your mind - because she might feel like she's on no one's. Years ago, a dear friend of mine sent me this little card in the midst of my divorce, and it's still in my car today.
She needs to treat herself. I can virtually guarantee that she is not splurging on manicures, new clothes, or trendy jewelry from Charming Charlie's. She is putting one foot in front of the other to make it through each day, and self-care isn't even on her list anymore. She needs you not to give her the option of taking care of herself. Make the appointment, secure the babysitter, and don't give her a reason to say no. For whatever amount of time you can manage, make her the priority in her own life. She sure won't do it herself.
She needs a safe place to share her fears. Many of her feelings right now make sense and are understandable, but many of them follow no logic. She might, in the deepest parts of herself, be convinced that her life will never be good again. She might believe she will never be loved again, and she might think the hurt will always be this fresh. She might be scared to sleep with the light off, and she might be afraid that her children will be scarred. She might be afraid of running into people who don't know what happened, and she might be afraid to eat alone in a restaurant. The world of divorce brings never thought-of-before fears, and when those fears don't see truth-illuminating daylight, they fester and grow more intense. Ask her directly, "What fears are you facing right now?" and don't be shocked at the answers. Satan is playing tricks in her mind, and you need to remind her of truth.
She needs you not to bash her ex. Regardless of the circumstances of the divorce, he was a man she loved, and she doesn't need to hear that she was a fool for ever loving him. She might be angry and upset with him, or she might still be on friendly terms with him, but regardless, you need to remain neutral if at all possible. Even if she needs to vent, you need to just listen. Being there for her doesn't necessarily mean being against him.
She needs help with the practicalities of life. Do her laundry. Go grocery shopping. Take the kids so she can nap. Vacuum her car. Buy her kids new shoes. If she's never changed the oil in her car, tell her where to go. Help her balance her checkbook. Take her house hunting if she needs it. Absolutely, she needs emotional help, but the simple ins and outs of life are sometimes more than she can handle. In the emotional fog she may be living in, she may not think to pay her water bill. Be her brain if her own fails to function.
She needs you to understand that the emotional roller-coaster she's riding has nothing to do with you, and she needs you to be patient until that roller-coaster levels out. Some days, your friend will seem fine - and in that moment, she really might be. A week later, though, she might be in a terrible place emotionally. The emotions divorce brings are unpredictable and often-changing, and she is at their mercy in many ways. She sometimes has to walk through what you will never understand. (And if you don't, don't act like or say you do. She needs to be able to trust your authenticity even if it means your saying, "I have no idea how you're feeling.") Give her time but not too much space. Let her go through the ups and downs without feeling like she needs to hide them.
She needs to laugh. Oh my goodness, does she ever. So much seriousness surrounds her - lawyers and court dates and custody arrangements and documents. Her capacity for it all is at full peak, and she desperately needs some levity to balance it all out. Provide the fun she feels guilty for having. Laughing will feel foreign to her at first, as if she's betraying the gravity of the divorce. Whatever you do, make that girl laugh. Help her release the emotions pent up inside, and remind her that fun isn't forever removed from her life.
In short, be for your friend what she cannot be for herself. Be her fun, her truth-teller, her hands and feet and brain. Just be there for her. When you think of her, let her know. When you feel like she needs help, give it. When she crosses your mind, pray for her. Divorce will change her, and she needs you to love her through it. She needs you to love her in spite of it. She just needs you.