How to Help a Friend or Family Member Going Through Separation or Divorce

We all know someone who has been through a separation, many of us have experienced it ourselves. Separation from a significant partner can be lifechanging. It is an incredibly challenging period and comes with strong emotions, grief and loss, fear, worry, never ending questions and, often, conflict with the ex-partner.

This is further complicated if the couple are parents or own property together and now must work together to find a resolution.

As support people, it is natural to want to care and protect our loved ones and there are many ways in which we can do this effectively and a few ways in which we can inadvertently take on roles that do not empower our loved one and have us feeling burdened with the responsibility of fixing the problem or saving them.

6 tips that may help you be a super support person to someone going through a separation or divorce.

  • Look after yourself – Firstly, you should be proud of yourself for being such a great friend and putting up your hand to be a support person for your loved one in their time of need. You should be even prouder of yourself for researching “How to be a good support person”! I commend you for doing so. Being a support person can add extra stress onto your plate and your plate may already be quite full! It is okay to set kind, consistent boundaries for yourself in this dynamic. In fact, it is quite helpful to both you and your loved one, to ensure expectations are clear. During this time, it is important for you to increase your focus on your own self-care and prioritising the needs of your family.
  • Be a great listener – Listening is an invaluable skill. It takes out the guess work. It allows us to deeply understand a persons experience and what is important for them. Focussing on this task makes our role less complicated as we are not invited into any other role such as the rescuer, the problem solver, the advisor or the Judge. It also ensures our loved one feels heard and understood. They will feel less alone and more connected just from your undivided attention.
  • Offer empathy and constructive feedback – A separating person may not show up as their best self during this process; to be fair, it is extremely difficult to do so under such trying circumstances. Be empathetic to how your loved one is feeling. Be explicit in sharing your positive view of who they are. Highlight all the constructive ways you notice in the way they are navigating the separation and their feelings, emotions and behaviours. Champion their strength and efforts to get through this chapter. Of equal importance is that you are honest with them if you see them going down a path you think will be detrimental for them or their children. It’s ok to say “I see your intentions, I don’t think (your actions) demonstrate these intentions”, or “I know you are hurting, I don’t think (action) will serve you or the current situation well”.
  • Stay neutral in the fight – Watching their story unfold, it is likely you will form opinions about what is happening for your loved one and even form an opinion about their ex-partner. It will be tempting to offer such opinions. Prior to doing so, ask yourself a few questions “Have they asked for my opinion? Is my opinion objective? Are they in a place to receive it? Will my opinion be useful for them focus on? Could this opinion affect our relationship now or in the future?”
  • Avoid offering advice – Even the most well intended advice can be tricky for your loved one to receive. It is likely they will be receiving advice from many places, invited or otherwise and it can lead to them feeling very confused about which way is the right way forward for them. Unless you are an expert in the field and believe you can be objective with your loved one, a helpful and practical way of supporting them is to research relevant services that may be able to assist – including counsellors, accountants, mediation services – all of these professionals are offered by Farrar Gesini Dunn.
  • Connect and promote self-care – Practical support is always so beneficial for a person going through separation. Ask your loved one how you can best support them and be guided by them. If you loved one is not able to articulate their needs, seek permission to help them to arrange professional appointments, drop over nutritious meals, offer to babysit their kids while they take some time out for themselves. Invite them to meet with you regularly over coffee or to go for a walk together. Send a text letting them know you are thinking of them. Ask them what helps them to feel calm and find peace and encourage they practice this self-care as much as possible throughout this time.

While separation is certainly challenging, it also brings new opportunities, reflection and learning and a chance to align with one’s own values and create a preferred life. Hold space for your loved to explore what this means for them. Keep an eye out for my upcoming blog on the Upsides of Separation and if you or your loved one, needs professional guidance, please reach out to our Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne team. 







Kristal Simson

Article By: Kristal Simson

Child And Family Specialist

Kristal’s vision is that children and their families can and must remain in good shape even after separation and she is here to support you do just that! Kristal brings 15 years of experience working with children and families at the interface of Family Law. She is a separation and divorce Coach, a qualified Mediator, a registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and a Child Consultant.

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