This week New Your Times best-selling Christian author, Lysa Terkeurst , announced that she is divorcing. I read many Facebook posts responding to her announcement stating, “I wish I could hug you. I wish there was something I could do.”
Let Lysa’s tragic situation nudge you toward looking at your own neighborhood, church, and circle of influence. I’ve been in divorce recovery ministry for over 25 years, trust me, right beside you there are men and women encountering the exact same circumstances as Lysa is facing. They are desperately lonely. They are ashamed, afraid, angry and feel hopeless. If they are Christians and fervently fought for their marriage like Lysa did–only to have it fail anyway–they feel they have failed God. They might even be receiving condemnation from a well meaning pastor or church member.
What can YOU do?
First, learn what you don’t know about divorce.
Divorce produces overwhelming layers of loss. Many people lose their home, finances, friends, relatives, pets, automobile, health insurance, time with the children, and even ministry/church. Therefore, when a friend is suffering through divorce it’s best to share words that are healing rather than hurtful. This might seem obvious, but I’ve never ceased to be amazed at the insensitive and cutting things people say to someone going through a divorce.
You may feel that it’s important to share an opinion with your friend, but weigh your words carefully and remember you don’t know all the details–even if you think you do.
It is VERY common for the woman to be the one filing for divorce. That does NOT mean she is the one who wants out of the marriage. A good manipulator, especially in the church, will intentionally place her in the position of filing the paperwork so that he can say, “You divorced me, I didn’t divorce you.” This helps them feel justified, and like a victim.
Here is a list of practical things that might help:
- Make time for your friend and discover the most difficult time of the week. Typically, that’s Sunday.
- Listen and don’t rush the conversation. People need to know that someone cares and hears their pain. Put your phone down and mute.
- Your loved one will be less likely to fall into the trap of a rebound relationship if he/she has a strong support system.
- Help the person to find a good Christian counselor who specializes in the issues contributing to the divorce. Examples: alcohol or drug abuse, domestic violence, pornography addiction, adultery and co-dependency.
- Research web sites or books to share that address the situation.
- Strongly encourage your loved one and the children to attend a support group. If he/she is intimidated offer to accompany your friend to the first session.
- Accompany the person to court dates or difficult events such as weddings or funerals.
- Remember your friend’s pain with small gifts that say, “I care.” Flowers, cards, music, coffee gift cards, or a book filled with God’s promises.
- Sit with your friend in church. Often the loneliest time during divorce is the weekend.
- Recognize that his/her social life has drastically changed: treat a friend to dinner or pizza and a movie.
- Surprise a female friend with new bed linens, a comfortable pillow, or a new nightgown. It will help her feel like a woman again.
- Ask a male friend to join you for a camping trip, sporting event, model train show, or something you know he enjoys.
- The death of a marriage takes a LONG time to overcome. There is an incorrect assumption that people get over divorce quickly.
- Love your friend unconditionally. This doesn’t mean you must approve of all of his/her choices.
- Listen for suicide threats and don’t ignore them.
- Give your friend a hug. The bed is empty, the house feels cold. This person needs human touch.
- You are not a professional therapist. Discern when to demonstrate tough love by stepping back and insisting he/she get counseling if necessary.
- Help him/her create a new financial budget and find affordable housing. Seek help from within the church if necessary.
- Review the immediate financial needs. The former spouse may be refusing to help with day-to-day things such as: attorney fees, utilities, childcare, counseling, car maintenance, groceries, and daily household expenses.
- Help the friend find a job. Many experiencing divorce are terrified to re-enter the work force and don’t know where to begin.
- Fill the freezer with casseroles or easy-to-fix meals. His/her concentration level is low. One less thing to think about is a blessing.
- Offer to store family photographs until the pain lessens.
- Lend money unless you are okay with never getting it back. Otherwise, it will strain the relationship.
- Act offended if your friend doesn’t seem grateful. It may take time for the person to recognize your sacrifice.
- Give advice unless asked. Exceptions include: if the kids are being neglected or the utilities are about to be terminated.
- Assume that offering help gives you the right to voice an opinion.
- Bash the former spouse, especially in front of the children.
- Lie to the kids or pump them for information. This creates tremendous stress for their wounded minds.
- Share the details of your friend’s situation with others.
- Assume you must pick sides. You can remain friends without turning against the other spouse.
- Pick movies that focus on divorce, romance, or hurting kids.
- Visit places that trigger painful memories.
- Fix your friend up with a date. Don’t even think about it.
- Recite religious clichés such as, “God hates divorces and will bring your spouse back.” God gives us all free will; this person’s spouse might not come back or change destructive behavior.
- Assume your friend still feels welcome at church. Often those ostracized by the church during divorce, leave forever.
Won’t you consider reaching out to someone who has lost a spouse through divorce?
Copyright © 2017 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.
Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on relationships, stepfamilies, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When ‘I Do’ Becomes ‘I Don’t’ Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series. www.The SmartStepmom.com