A good friend of mine is going through the painful and complicated process of separating from her spouse.
She has the pain of dreams disintegrating but she is also trying to make an enormous amount of BIG decisions for her children and herself whilst feeling emotional and as she describes it “a stranger in her own life”.
I have struggled to know how to help her and actually googled ‘helping a friend who is separating’ looking for practical tips and ideas. To be honest, I felt unqualified to help and kind of wished someone else who had been through it would come along with all the good ideas and the words of wisdom she needed to hear.
But the truth is, my friend wasn’t looking for any advice from me, she just wanted a friend, someone who would listen and offer some practical help. So although I couldn’t empathise, I could certainly sympathise and help her anyway I could.
So here’s a few things I have learnt over the last 6 months:
Make yourself available to your friend to just listen and then listen some more. My friend just needs to talk things through. She is dismayed at what is going on and needs to talk things through as she works out her new life expectations. She talks to me, she tells me things that have happened or things that have been said. She is earnestly trying to make wise decisions for her kids and herself all the time. My friend needs time. She needs to know that it is okay not to be okay. She needs to work through the grief at her own pace. All I need to do is be there for her when she needs to talk. I have had more coffee dates with this friend in the last 6 months than my husband but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Looking after the kids
I offered to look after the kids for her but soon realised that time away from her kids was not what she was wanting right now, given she now had restricted times with them. Instead I invited them to come over and hang out at our place. My friend still wants to be included. She doesn’t want to feel like ‘the family in crisis’. It is really important to still invite your friend and the kids to things. So if you’re going to the park or having a bbq invite them also. It will not only distract them but make them feel included and loved.
This is a practical way I can help my friend by making her a meal every couple of weeks. It just takes the pressure off for a night so she can be with her kids, help them with homework etc. They are probably well and truly sick of my lasagne by now but hey … haha
Often your friend has enough going on without having to organise something to do on the days she doesn’t have the kids – so organise something for them. This can be an extremely lonely time for them. My friend is used to being busy 24/7 with the kids and now finds herself with whole days alone. So don’t wait for your friend to call you instead say “I’ve organised for a few of us to go out to dinner on Friday night – I’ll pick you up at 7:30pm.” Take the initiative for them.
Contain the negativity
Given the circumstances it is entirely understandable for my friend to feel angry and betrayed by her spouse. However, us talking about that all the time only exacerbates the negativity. My friend needs to be able to acknowledge those feelings but it doesn’t help her to heal by us dwelling on it all the time. It can actually be quite toxic and doesn’t help her move on.
In an attempt to focus on positives, one thing I have said to my friend is “I know this hurts unbelievably right now and it is hard to plan ahead BUT where would you like to be this time next year, or in 2 years, 5 years? Lets take a tiny step today towards that goal.” Focusing on this tiny step seems to help because it is manageable and something positive.
Here is a short poem I found for my friend that sums up everything I want to tell her and more and it might help your friend too.
It's okay to be upset.It's okay to be angry.It's okay to be disappointed.It's okay to feel stuck.It's okay to feel confused.It's okay to feel lonely.It's okay to feel hurt.It's okay to cry.It's okay to not be okay.Above all, be kind to yourself and refuse to let negative feelings trigger you into waging war on yourself.You are wonderful, relevant and loved.
Time does heal. I wish only renewed happiness, security & contentment for my friend and her beautiful children and intend on helping her as much as possible during the process.