Friends making a heart shape with their hands.
Friends making a heart shape with their hands.
Photo by ATC Comm Photo from Pexels

Throw a Housewarming Party For Your Divorcing Friend

Starting over shouldn’t have to be a solitary struggle. Be there.

A divorce is its own kind of catastrophe. Like the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage can trigger a cascade of grief, feelings of guilt, helplessness, and despair. It can also blindside you financially.

The main difference between death and divorce, of course, is that you live on. No one has died. “Only” your marriage has.

And that means your grieving and recovery is expected to be straightforward. You don’t get a lot of time off work. You don’t get a lot of sympathy cards or baskets of flowers. And hardly anyone thinks to offer their condolences and ask if there’s anything they can do.

You don’t get a lot of sympathy cards or baskets of flowers. And hardly anyone thinks to offer their condolences and ask if there’s anything they can do.

In fact, it tends to be the opposite. I learned a lot about life and relationships the hard way from my divorce, so let me tell you what I saw:

Your friends scatter. The social group you shared with your spouse evaporates. Your family may shun you. They may express anger at the instability they think you have caused.

And no one thinks to ask if you need some help.

Offer Your Support for a Divorcing Friend

If you are friends with someone going through a divorce, consider approaching it as if they are dealing with the death of a loved one.

I know this may sound over the top. But here’s what you can do for anyone who is grieving:

  • Be there. Tell them you are there for them, and actually be there. Let them know you care about them.
  • Don’t judge what you don’t know. You haven’t heard all the details, and it’s not your place to either demand or expect that they will tell you. You can go on loving an imperfect person, and you can show you aren’t going to take sides. People make mistakes. Don’t lock them out of your life.
  • Ask if there’s anything they need. This might be emotional, or it might be material. They may need both a hug and a can opener. Divorced people don’t always divvy up their belongings equally — and even when they do, that can mean neither one has enough to start over on their own.

On the outside, a person going through a divorce may look like they’re keeping their shit together — and maybe they are, for the sake of their children and everyone else — but on the inside, they may be reeling from the collapse of their marriage.

After all, that marriage didn’t just represent their current living situation, it represented their future. It was the rest of their lives.

That marriage didn’t just represent their current living situation, it represented their future. It was the rest of their lives.

Throw a Divorce Housewarming Party

One of the best ways you can offer emotional support to a friend or family member going through a divorce is to treat it like other major life events. When a baby is on the way, you throw a baby shower. Couples getting married have bridal showers and receive gifts and money.

Although a divorce is not a happy life event, it is another turning point that can leave an individual in need of material, financial support.

What does a newly divorced person need?

Let me start by saying they probably don’t need a gag gift. They probably don’t need a voodoo doll of their ex.

From my own experience, here are a few material items I really wish my friends and family could have helped me secure:

  • Money.
  • Gift cards for stores that carry housewares are also nice.
  • Tools. All women, married or single, should have their own set of tools. But I never owned a toolset until I was divorced and needed to fix a chair on my own.
  • Kitchen supplies. Pots, plates, silverware, potholders and towels — the works. You can’t feel settled in a new place until you’ve got your kitchen in working order.
  • Bookshelves and storage supplies. Shelves and containers can help get a new place in order. Coat hangers help get the bags of clothes unpacked. Laundry baskets.
  • Bathroom supplies. Do they need towels? Shower curtain? It sounds so simple, but sometimes it’s the simple things that you miss the most.
  • Bedding. Sometimes you just need new stuff. Maybe you need to replace the sheets you shared with your ex.
  • Food. Bring a dish of food, or some grocery items. These are welcome any time, not just during a housewarming party.
Woman in wedding gown walking through abandoned building.
Woman in wedding gown walking through abandoned building.
Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

When You Go Through Divorce Alone

Here’s another thing I learned when my husband left me: A person who wants to stay married is unprepared for divorce. You are never prepared.

I was blindsided by my divorce.

No, it wasn’t that I didn’t see the split coming in romantic terms. That was wrenching enough, though it had unfolded secretly over the course of two years. I had already been grieving over the death of our marriage — long before a police officer served me divorce papers and made me feel like a stranger in my own home. It was over. It had been over.

But it was the financially crippling — and emotionally lonely — aftermath that truly left me in shock.

My husband of eight years filed for divorce, led the charge in a perfunctory court hearing, and we separated on “amicable” terms. We shared custody of our two young children, though they lived with me and he had them over to his house one night every two weeks. He paid no child support — in exchange for generously offering to not try to push part of his student loan debt obligations onto me. I had no idea how the law worked, and he rolled over me.

But I was determined to pick up the pieces. I secured an apartment of my own and the kids and I moved in across town from their father. I landed a job working remotely as a graphic designer for a magazine publisher, so thankfully I had a modest income.

But the first few months were a trial. I had no car. I had no savings. I had no furniture. I didn’t even take any dishes with me. We were starting over.

There was a crest of independent euphoria. This was my place. This was my life. All the weight of his infidelities on my mental health began to lift. I wanted to love my children and build something wonderful for us without the emotional turmoil to which they had been subjected. I wanted to protect them, nurture them, and provide for them.

We were alone. At night, I slept in the middle of a full-sized mattress on the floor of an otherwise empty room. On one side was my four-year-old. On the other, my two-year-old, still rolling up like a baby to kick me in his sleep. We cuddled under one blanket — a quilt my grandmother had made for me when I was a child. On cold nights, we left the piles of clean laundry on the bed for a little extra warmth.

After six weeks, I had saved enough money to buy a bunkbed set and have it delivered to the apartment. Putting it together by myself, hoisting the new mattresses into the frames — and seeing the absolute delight in my little boys’ faces — was one of the proudest moments of my life. We were going to be all right.

Throughout this time, I had no friends or family calling to check on me. Not one.

It was hard, and it was so unnecessary. If you think you have a friend struggling to start over, offer them some help.

A person who wants to stay married is unprepared for divorce. You are never prepared.

What Else Does a Newly Divorced Person Need?

A newly single person may need a lot more than money or household items.

To help a divorcing friend, offer:

  • Transportation. Do they have a vehicle? If not, they urgently need assistance getting out to the grocery or running other errands.
  • Help navigating paperwork. After divorce, things like taxes and insurance plans change. You may need some assistance from social services. Phone plans, utilities, and a hundred other things can be overwhelming to navigate on your own.
  • Babysitting. A single parent needs a break, even when they don’t tell you. Sometimes they just need someone to come to the house and be present in the room with small children while they take a shower and a little nap. They won’t ask for these things, so volunteer like you mean it.
  • Your ear. And shoulder. Just show up and let them open up to you. Too many people in this world have no one to confide in. That isolation makes the grieving process more agonizing and prolonged.

Divorce is never easy. In fact, it can feel like the world collapsing around you.

But it shouldn’t be a taboo to talk about it as the beginning of a new life stage, containing new possibilities.

Do what you can to ease the pain of a divorcing loved one, and they’ll be better able to rewrite the rest of their life story — complete with happy ending.

A compassionate and opinionated human being. | Fiction author and visual artist in Central Appalachia. | Give my newsletter a try: https://bit.ly/2sZGM6n

Get the Medium app