5 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Many men feel a sense of failure, shame, or inadequacy when going through divorce – regardless of who initiated the separation.
It’s also common for men to feel a strong sense of loss, isolation and loneliness – and even lose friendships during divorce. Make sure you don’t disappear on your friend.
There are simple, practical ways you can show your support for a friend who’s going through divorce.
Divorce sucks – for everyone involved. It doesn’t matter who initiated it or how amicable the separation is. Divorce can turn a guy’s world upside down in a flash.
So how can you support someone who’s going through divorce? What should you say and do? What should you not say to someone going through a divorce?
Here’s what you need to know about how divorce affects men, plus practical ways to show your support.
Anyone of any gender can experience a range of feelings while going through a divorce. Some emotions a man going through divorce will feel can include:
Feelings of inadequacy or failure, especially if he’s invested a lot of his identity into being a ‘provider’ or ‘protector’ to his family
Shame and worry, especially about what his friends will think or how he’ll be judged
Feelings of rejection and lower self-esteem, particularly if the divorce wasn’t his choice
Feelings of loss, isolation, and loneliness
Anxiety for his kids (if he’s a parent) and how the divorce will impact his relationship with them
Anger at the perceived loss of control over his life
Concern for the future, whether it’s finances, the unknowns of the legal process, or what his general future will look like
It’s really that simple. Many guys lose friends when they go through a divorce. It could be friends they shared with their ex. Or sometimes it’s because people don’t know what to say to someone going through divorce, so they just fade away.
The end result is many men experience loneliness and isolation on top of the divorce itself – at the exact moment when they need a support network to help them heal and move on with their lives.
Remember: your presence matters far more to your friend than anything you say or do. You don’t have to ‘fix’ their situation for them. You just need to be there for them.
So, you’ve chosen not to disappear (good job!). Besides simply showing up, what can you do to show your friend going through divorce that you have their back? Plenty.
Remember what we said about guys worrying what their friends think about them? That worry can cause some guys to freeze – and not ask for help when they need it. Which is why you shouldn’t wait for them to reach out to you.
Make that call. Send that text. Let them know you’re here for them. Better yet, suggest a time to get together.
Don’t assume you know what they’re dealing with – even if you’ve gone through divorce yourself. Every person is different.
Wondering what to say to someone going through divorce? Ask open-ended questions about how they’re coping with the divorce, but don’t pry for personal details. Above all, don’t tell them how they’re supposed to feel. All you need to do is listen – showing your support without trying to give ‘solutions’.
Their life is going to be full of disruption for the foreseeable future. Chances are, any practical help you can offer will be appreciated more than you know.
If they need to move out of their home, you could offer to help them pack. If they co-parent with their ex, you could offer to help them get the kids to/from school once a week so they don’t miss too much work (even better if it can be a standing arrangement, so the kids always know who’s picking them up or dropping them off.) Or you could simply bring a meal over to share with them.
It doesn’t always have to be some grand gesture. Even simple signs of support will go a long way.
Find fun things the two of you can do together to take their mind off the divorce, even if it’s only for a bit.
Keep in mind, money might be tight for them as divorce can be expensive. Be sure to look for inexpensive (or better yet, free) things you can do. For example, offer to take him fishing or go on a run together.
Divorce can be an all-consuming experience. It can take a toll on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health. All of which makes it easy to forget to practise some good old-fashioned self-care.
Gently remind your friend to look out for their wellbeing. For example, you could suggest joining a support group for men going through divorce, staying physically active or taking up a new hobby. You could even join them – some guys are more likely to look after themselves if they don’t have to go it alone.
When your friend starts talking down their former partner, it’s tempting to join in out of solidarity or because you’re genuinely mad at their ex too. Don’t.
Not only is this not a good way to support a friend going through divorce, it can actually hurt more than it helps. Trashing their ex may encourage them to stay in a negative or hostile frame of mind. You may also find yourself getting the wrong end of the stick. When going through divorce, a person’s feelings toward their ex can switch wildly back and forth before you even know it.
Some of the more common red flags for depression include:
Loss of interest in favourite activities
Significant change in weight (up or down)
Increased alcohol consumption or drug use
Increased irritability (some irritability is normal when going through divorce)
Ongoing fatigue or lack of energy
Difficulty making decisions they used to make with ease
If you’re worried your friend is experiencing depression, encourage them to talk to a therapist or counsellor. It’s also important to check in regularly – to let them know they’re not alone. If they start talking about suicide, notify their doctor or therapist immediately if you’re able. Most countries have suicide prevention services you can contact as well.
For more on what to do if your friend is showing signs of depression, read this next.
Divorce is one of the most painful experiences a man can experience, but by offering steady, judgement-free support, you can help your friend get through it stronger.