Reactions to Divorce

Fountain pen writing a letter 'Dear...'

The friends and family of a divorcing couple will need endless reserves of tolerance and patience as they help them to weather the maelstrom of emotions unleashed by the end of the marriage. They will also have to master the diplomat's finesse and delicacy of touch.

The first priority is to accept the inevitability of the divorce. The decision to divorce is the couple's prerogative, and no amount of disbelief or persuasion will make them change their minds.

The next priority is to master the art of being non-committal. In the messy aftermath of a marriage it is all too easy to take sides and to allow long-suppressed resentments and dislikes to bubble to the surface. In most cases you will find that your loyalties naturally incline to one partner, and you need to be able to offer them your full support without entirely bad-mouthing the ex-partner. This is vital insurance against a future reunion, when old insults are remembered with terrifying clarity and may be disinterred.

In socially compromising situations when, for example, you find yourself invited to an event by one of the ex-partners and you feel that attending would be an act of disloyalty to the other partner, confront the problem directly. Talk to the people involved; explain your difficulties, and ask them what they would prefer you to do. Frequently, when an opinion is openly solicited, people will adopt a stoical stance; feelings of rage and betrayal are greatly exacerbated by secrecy.

If you are issuing invitations to a big occasion and want both ex-partners to attend, it would be wise to enclose a note with the invitation explaining that the other partner has also been invited. Obviously when drawing up seating plans for a formal occasion you should respect the estrangement, and ensure that divorced couples are not seated together or in close proximity.

Accept that you may have to endure outpourings of rage and bitterness from the newly divorced. Be aware of your limitations - you can probably only be truly useful as a shoulder to cry on, and counselling is probably best left to the professionals - but also be aware of how much you are needed.

Offer practical support wherever possible: loans, childcare, accommodation, company (on dates, holidays etc.).

Never make the assumption that the newly-divorced are desperate to throw themselves back into the sexual arena. They may well be feeling vulnerable and diminished, and find the whole prospect impossibly daunting. If you have matchmaking aspirations, don't inflict them on divorced friends until you have openly discussed the future, and established that they're ready to try again…

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