Dear Therapist: I don’t know how to help my best friend get through her divorce.

dear therapist,

My lifelong best friend just finalized her divorce after 17 years of marriage. I’ve been doing everything I can to support her: listening to her, giving her advice and encouragement, sending her gifts, talking on the phone at all hours, and taking a trip across the country to see her. She is separated from her own family, so I feel like my role as a friend is overloaded and I act as her mother, sister, friend, and cousin all in one. The most important thing I’ve done is lower my expectations of our friendship, knowing that she’s probably incapable of taking care of me during this time. That has been a remarkable and sad loss for me. I feel emotionally drained from the whole ordeal.

Recently, my friend has been making what I believe to be poor decisions in the wake of her breakup. She drinks heavily, dates and sleeps with multiple men, and completely avoids therapeutic activities that could help her work through the trauma and establish a stable future for her and her children. This is so difficult to witness, and I’m not sure what my role is here. I’m disappointed and even a little angry at her for continuing like this. It’s especially hard for me to reconcile that she may not have the energy to give me, but she obviously makes room for these unhealthy activities in her life.

Am I by her side and support her no matter what? Do I express concern for their health and well-being (even though I have and am ignored)? Shall I tell him I need a break from our relationship? Is this a terrible time to let him know that I too have needs within our friendship?

I want to be a good friend during her terrible time without it being so emotionally terrible for me too. it’s possible?


Dear Anonymous,

I understand why you are struggling with your role in this friendship, because when someone you love is going through a difficult time, you are also in a difficult situation. It’s painful to see someone you care about suffer and act in ways that don’t seem healthy, and it’s hard not to feel abandoned when your friend can’t be there for you.

Both you and your friend are experiencing losses right now: for you, it is the loss of reciprocity and closeness with your best friend; for her, it is the loss of the very foundation on which her stability had rested.

In time, you’ll both likely recover, which means your friendship will normalize and she’ll heal, but how you handle this period now has the potential to leave unspoken resentment between you or deepen your bond significantly.

If you keep wanting support from your friend that she can’t give you, you’ll resent it, and if she can feel you judging her choices, she’ll resent you. But if she can find other ways to meet her needs and provide more compassion, then she can grow her connection without burning out.

One way to make this time more tolerable for yourself and avoid building up that resentment is to adjust your short-term expectations and be curious as to why your friend might be acting in a way that seems confusing to you. While he has certainly gone out of his way to support her, his frustration makes me think that he may not understand that he is still at the beginning of an intense grieving process. You say that your friend “just finalized” her divorce after almost two decades of marriage, so this monumental life change is brand new and therefore very raw. A finalized divorce does not indicate the end of a trial; for many people, it feels more like the beginning. Divorce is often cited as the second most stressful life event an adult can experience (the first being the death of a loved one), and what you call “moving on” is your way of managing your acute grief.

In the past year, your friend has experienced levels of loss, starting with the person she loved for many years (and could still love). She too has lost the companionship and daily intimacy of going through life with someone. Although things ended badly, there was a time when someone asked her how her day had been, she slept next to her and learned the details of her day and her childhood stories. She has lost the habits and rituals that she and her spouse used to share. They had children and perhaps envisioned milestones, such as graduations, weddings, grandchildren, and retirement, that they would experience together; that imagined future is also lost.

Also, you say that your friend is separated from her family. Now the family she created as an adult has also fractured. She lost a life that, for better or worse, had been her anchor, and I imagine she feels completely adrift without it, especially without a family of origin to turn to for support. In addition to this, she may feel guilty about the effect the divorce could have on her children, embarrassment or embarrassment in sharing news of the divorce, and the isolation that often occurs when dating friends do not invite single people to social events.

What many people don’t understand about divorce is that it can feel like the death, or many, of a person, an identity, a life, and a future. And just as each of us dies in our own unique way, the same goes for how a person might grieve in a marriage.

With this context in mind, you may see your friend’s behavior in a different light. Your assumption that she “has the energy” to date, but not for you, misses what’s really going on. She is not giving her energy to other people; she’s probably numbing herself with alcohol, men, and whatever else gets her through the day. In this vulnerable state, she probably doesn’t have anything of substance to offer anyone else right now, not the men she’s dating, not her best friend, and maybe not even her children. she.

You say that she is a “lifelong” friend; challenges are part of the trajectory of a long life. Most friendships will not be reciprocal on all points, and certainly not when one person experiences a traumatic event. Your friend is in survival mode right now and has limited emotional bandwidth. He may believe that if she were in her situation, she would behave differently, but most of us are poor predictors of what we would do in a given situation.

So where does this leave you? None of this means you shouldn’t have your needs met in the first place, it’s just that now is the time to turn to other people in your life while your friend is grieving. You are also not responsible for your friend’s well-being; you can share your concerns if she is willing to listen to them, but what she does with them is up to her. Beyond that, there’s really only one thing she needs from you right now: your presence. Since you live in different cities, this does not have to be your physical presence. You just need to transmit I’m here being patient and loving without exhausting yourself.

For example, you can draw loving boundaries by saying, “I’m here for you, but I only have 20 minutes to talk right now” or “I know this is a hard time and I love you so much, but I have to go to bed now” or “I hope I knew how to help the way a therapist would, but all I can do is be your friend.” You can also be sensitive by avoiding complaining about your partner, if you have one, and not trying to equate your situation with someone else’s. her by saying something like “I’ll be like a single mom too while my husband is out of town” (Many of my therapy clients tell stories like this.) Most of all, you can remind her, with words and actions, that you love her and which is adorable, even if he can’t take away the pain during this terrible time.

The positive side of difficult times is that they tend to bring people closer together. If she feels your presence without judgment and your love without anger, then in a few years you will both come out of this with a deeper sense of what it means to be friends for life.

Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By sending a letter, you agree to leave the atlantic use it, in whole or in part, and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.

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