How to support someone going through a divorce or break up

Divorce or a really bad break up can be classed as a trauma regardless of how much notice one is given. If we consider the things that help us feel secure in life, our jobs/homes/relationships/family and health are our core foundations.

Going through a divorce or break up, for whatever reason, can come as a shock – even if you knew it was coming. It’s a massive change and as human beings, we don’t take changes very well. Yes, there are opportunities which arise out of the change but first you need to process the feelings of rejection, grief, anxiety, panic, worry, loss of self esteem (as sometimes the rejection experienced is taken personally) and loss of ‘self’ as you probably linked your self-worth to your relationship.

In this blog, I am not going to handle divorce from the point of view of the person going through the divorce but from the point of view of the person who is supporting a partner or loved one through a divorce.

It may be that your partner, parent or close family friend has just told you they are getting divorced and you are watching them spiral slightly out of control.

Many feelings will arise including moodiness, upsetness, depression, anxiety, panic and insomnia. It is very hard to know how best to support someone through the roller coaster of emotions and if they are your close partner, you will almost feel like you are on the roller coaster with them.

It’s tempting to want to make them happy, distract them or tell them to stop being gloomy and feel different/ look on the bright side of life. A common human trait is to try to intellectualise the emotion:

“think of the opportunities”

“you never liked your ex anyway”

“there are lots of fish in the sea”

“God will never give you something you cannot handle”

“don’t be sad, this is a chance to really examine everything from a fresh perspective”

Although all these statements are probably true – it’s ALL about timing. Delivering these messages in the first few weeks is not going to go down well.

In the first few weeks, it’s critical for the ‘soon-to-be-divorced person’ to just feel their emotions. Emotions, when fully experienced, naturally evolve along the path of healing but its often the people supporting the person being made redundant that interrupt this healing pattern.

The initial state before the cycle begins is often quite stable, at least in terms of the
subsequent reaction to hearing the bad news (compared with the ups and downs to
come, even if there is some variation, this is indeed a fairly stable state).
And then, in the calm of this relative paradise, a bombshell bursts…

The naked divorce grieving cycle

1 Denial stage: trying to avoid the inevitable.
2 Anger and betrayal stage: frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
3 Panic and negotiation stage: seeking a way out. Making deals with your
ex.
4 Humiliation, fear of failure or looking bad stage: gradually sinking into
a spiral, feeling embarrassed and avoiding seeing people.
5 Despair stage: realization that something awful is coming your way and
you’re strapped into the rollercoaster and helpless.
6 Loss, grief and depression stage: a final realization of the inevitable,
surrendering to the grief.
7 Space and nothingness stage: once you have grieved and grieved, experiencing
loss and pain, you’re left with a feeling of nothingness. It’s different
to numbness because you feel very present and can notice things around you.
Your senses are heightened. You may also find that you cannot cry anymore.
You experience an emotional vacuum.
8 Acceptance stage: seeking realistic solutions and finally finding the way
forward, it’s not a feeling of resignation. It’s a feeling of profound understanding
of the way things are and the way things are not.
9 Responsibility and forgiveness stage: taking responsibility for where you
may have caused cracks in the relationship and contributed to its subsequent
breakdown and divorce. Forgiving your ex and yourself for any failings during
the relationship is a critical part of true and real healing.
10 Gratitude stage: transformational experience. Learning from your divorce
and seeing positives and negatives from the experience. This stage completes
the healing.

If your loved one wants to know where they are within the divorce healing cycle, take them to this test: FIND OUT HOW HUNG UP YOU ARE

What you don’t realise, in offering intellectual platitudes is that you are only doing this so YOU can feel happy again. It’s your own discomfort with their emotional state being so linked to your own emotional state that upsets you. If you resist their emotional state, it will persist because it has no avenue to be expressed.

So to survive and be happy in the first few weeks of supporting your partner, it helps to stop linking your own happiness to the happiness of this person – move to your own orbit and allow them to simply ‘BE’ where they are. Break your dependence on them and instead of fretting, go play tennis, go for a walk on your own or go shopping and allow them to be.

Here are a few tips of what to do and what not to do in supporting someone through this change.

Don’ts

  • Don’t give pep talks. Its not your job to pump them up and ensure they are happy again. Understand their need to express their emotions and use the BUCKET exercise below to give them an avenue to express these emotions Don’t intellectualise their emotions or offer any ‘sage’ advice – telling them to look on the bright side of life or telling them that ‘everything happens for a reason’ just invalidates the pit of despair they are looking into. Allow THEM to come to this conclusion on their own – this way, they will own the conclusion on a deeper level Don’t orbit around them or link your own happiness to their happiness – they are entitled to their process and way of dealing with things.
  • Don’t tell them to snap out of it
  • Don’t tell them they are being ridiculous, self indulgent or dramatic – use the BUCKET exercise to hear them – sometimes people just need to vent their emotions – its not necessarily about you.
    They will want to indulge in what I call STEATs (short term emotion avoidance tactics) so they can feel better and run from their emotions. They will want to avoid dealing with their emotions by focusing on decorating, shopping, partying, drinking or being super ‘busy’ with something or other. Rather than rejoice in these activities with them, encourage them to stop and feel their emotions. Validate their right to their emotions. If they engage in STEATs for too Long, they may end up depressed due to repressing their emotions

STEATs EXPLAINED

One thing to guard against is that your partner does not avoiding dealing with their emotions by burying themselves in things which either numb the pain or distract them. Don’t get me wrong, in the early days of divorce, the S.T.E.A.T.s are probably the things which help your partner feel better in each moment. BUT the thing to be aware of is that it’s not feeling better for real – it’s a false sense of security – a false feeling of recovering. It fits into the false healing category.

Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics include but are not limited to:

Excessive eating
Alcohol and drugs
Excessive anger towards others
Excessive socialising
Over-exercising
Fantasy or escapism activities (books, TV, movies)
Isolation
Random sexual encounters
Shopping/retail therapy
Spending countless hours with your children under the guise of being a good parent but the actual agenda is using your children to help you feel better

The problem with Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics is that they are short term. They do not last, and they do not deal with the true emotional issue. S.T.E.A.T.s are distractions that either damage or delay the recovery process.

Do’s

Once 45 days have passed, if they are still moping around – get them to see someone to process their feelings so that they can move on

BUCKET YOUR FRUSTRATIONS

    • Go fetch a bucket (a real one) and sit together with no TV or chaos in the background with the bucket between you both You start by encouraging your loved one to express their frustrations, feelings and emotions into the bucket – you not allowed to respond except to acknowledge that you hear what they are saying and ask if there is anything else to go into the bucket – encourage your partner to ‘put all their frustrations into the bucket’ and vent everything that is pissing them off about life and how life should be.
    • Your job is – JUST LISTEN
    • Keep asking if there is anything else and keep going until the bucket is full and they can think of nothing else
    • When done, you both pick up the bucket and throw out these frustrations out of the window or door
    • Now it’s your turn It’s good to say how you feel but I recommend not sharing your worries about their divorce – focus on other things that annoy you or frustrate you — this way, your loved one will feel they are not alone in being frustrated but they will feel that you are not pressuring them to snap out of their emotions
    • When done, you both pick up the bucket and throw out these frustrations out of the window or door

GRATITUDE

Now you both take turns to say what you are grateful for about your life. Your lives are actually very rich and amazing BUT because you dont focus on that, you dont see this. I want you to come up with at least 5 things you are grateful for

CREATE TOMORROW

Now you both take turns to say what you will accomplish tomorrow. This is important because at the moment, life is happening and things are not being created. Creation has a beauty to it

So, I hope that helps a bit. It is very challenging to go through a divorce, but even more challenging if you are the partner or close person of someone in that situation. If you have a specific situation you would like reviewed, contact the naked divorce team http://www.nakeddivorce.com/contact-us.

Till next time!

4 Responses to “How to support someone going through a divorce or break up”

  1. Hi,
    I’ve just bought the book naked divorce- but can i download without buying the package? Thanks
    marianne

    • admin says:

      Yes, the link to download your free gifts is within the book! Just look under the section called GAME PLAN and you will find the unique link.

      Call us if stuck!

      x

  2. Kalpna Manek says:

    What a great article!

    I have someone in my life that I am very close to and watching her going through the pain of divorce was very painful for me and for all her family.

    I just wanted her pain to end, for her to be happy and her heart to be healed. I felt so incredibly helpless at the time.

    I felt discomfort at the way she expressed her upset.I became even more worried. I realise now how so much of that was about me and not about her. That for her it was just a natural way for her to express and process her pain. I wish that I could have done the bucket exercise with her.

    Reading this has made me realise that though I may want to ‘help’ and ‘do’ something, that just giving someone the space ‘to feel’ is helping.

  3. This post is really very helpful. Most divorces or separations are not easy. Parties involved will somehow go through difficult adjustments and others may not be able to recuperate. I do think that in such situations, support from family and friends is most helpful. Simply letting the person know that you will be there no matter what happens is very helpful. Anyway, thank you for these tips. Keep sharing such posts!

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