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Do you know someone who has recently separated? Or maybe their separation wasn’t recent, but the situation is clearly unresolved? As family lawyers, we regularly come into contact with the friends and family members of clients. When the support is positive, it makes such a difference for the separated person, and to the separation process itself!
Here are 5 tips, for those, who find themselves, supporting a separated friend or family member!
1. Recognize that separation and divorce evoke feelings, much like a death does. There are so many losses following a separation - the loss of a planned future, companionship, security, certainty, family etc. And while the grief cycle consists of a variety of feelings - denial, anger and bargaining, being just a few - the feeling of shame is often also prevalent during a separation. Imagine dealing with all of those feelings, while also having to discuss legal issues - children, finances, property, with the person you have separated from. The result is, the grief cycle after separation can be lengthy, and you won’t be able to fix it for them. What you can do, is be present, and listen; allow them a safe place, to just feel the bad stuff, so they can ultimately let it go.
2. Try not to compare situations. Every family and every separation is unique; so are the issues that result from the separation. Some people are able to work through their issues quickly and others need time to just process. Some people have financial help from third parties and others do not. Some couples are able to communicate effectively following a separation and others never have. What each person wants and needs, following a separation, will be based on his/her own unique history. So be very selective if you choose to give examples of others whom you know, who have gone through a separation - sometimes these examples are helpful and other times they can cause harm.
3. Avoid being put in the position of a “cheerleader”; establishing ground rules for communication can be helpful. For example, if your friend is expressing anger towards their “ex” and wants support in that anger from you, this can be problematic. You could be assisting in ramping up the conflict between the two spouses, which will not be helpful for resolution. And you could be left, in the future, holding on to your own anger towards the “ex”, while your friend has worked through his/her grief and has let it go. I often see Grandparents, for example, who have a tougher time seeing Grandchildren, because of the anger the Grandparents have taken on.
4. Call and ask if you can come over to help with some specific task. It can be difficult to ask for help for many, or even to know what you need help with. If it’s spring and the yard needs to be raked, perhaps you could make a day of it. If you see your friend needs a day out, perhaps you could suggest he/she takes a day to themselves, and offer to babysit. Perhaps they need to gather their financial documents for the legal process but they don’t know where to start. Again, everyone is unique and if you think about your friend or family member, and listen to learn, you will probably realize what you can do to lighten the load, if only for a short time.
5. Keep boundaries, when necessary. I encourage everyone, do not allow a separation to define you. Human beings have relationships and separation is often a part. But there is light in the grief, if you allow it, and there is certainly still life to live, albeit differently. We all have choices in how we move forward. Remember that you need to take care of yourself and your life, so that you can be of service to those you care about.