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When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t” — Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce
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Helping a Friend Through a Divorce

By Laura Petherbridge
Guest Columnist“My mother said if I had been a better housekeeper my husband wouldn’t have left me for another woman,” the young woman said, weeping uncontrollably. Overnight she discovered that everything she believed about her marriage and husband was a lie. He had a secret life complete with a private bank account and lover. 

As life spun out of control, she sought reassurance from her mother’s arms. But instead of receiving consolation, her mother’s piercing words plunged a knife more deeply into her already battered heart. Better spaghetti sauce or a cleaner toilet was not going to repair this marriage. Her mom was wrong.

If this lady’s husband had died, a squadron of women would have marched into her home with tuna casseroles, and bouquets of flowers to support her. But the death of a marriage doesn’t end with a funeral. Therefore, most people don’t know how to respond.

Divorce produces overwhelming layers of loss. Many people lose their home, finances, friends, relatives, health insurance, time with the children, and even church. Therefore, when a friend is suffering through divorce, it’s best to share words that are healing channels rather than hurtful ones. 

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.

Although some people say hurtful things, others desire to reach out during divorce but don’t know how. Here is a list of things that might help:


  • Make time for your friend and discover the most difficult time of the week.
  • Listen and don’t rush the conversation. What people need to know is that someone cares and hears their pain.
  • 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 gifts of flowers, cards, music, and comforting Bible verses filled with hope.
  • 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 same sex 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, basketball game, model train show, or woodworking exhibit. 


  • Grief takes 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.
  • Discern when to demonstrate “tough love.” Seek counsel from a divorce recovery facilitator or counselor 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 a female friend find a job. Many women experiencing divorce are terrified to re-enter the work force and don’t know where to begin. And your male friends may need earn extra income also.
  • 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 OK with never getting it back. Otherwise, it will strain the relationship.
  • Act offended if your friend doesn’t seem grateful for your help. 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 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 cliché’s such as, “God hates divorces and will bring your spouse back.” Those words may be hurtful. 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.

“It takes two. You must have done something to drive him to another woman,” were the sniping words I received during my own divorce. I didn’t defend myself, but I wanted to scream, “It takes two to get married, but only one to get divorced.” It’s been 26 years since a woman inflicted that stab to my tortured heart. I still remember the pain.

Fortunately, the weeping woman in the beginning of this article found an excellent Christian divorce recovery support group. New friendships provided a safe haven where she discovered her identity and worth in Christ, not a spouse. Healed from the sorrow, she now works in full-time Christian ministry.

Both male and female friends can find the support and comfort they need from a healthy group designed for healing the wounds of divorce.  

Won’t you consider reaching out to someone who has lost a spouse through divorce?

Laura Petherbridge

Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on relationships, 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. Her newest book, The Smart Stepmom, will be released in September of 2009. For more info, go to

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