So your buddy just got divorced, and you have no clue what to say when you go for drinks tonight. Does your friend need you to be a shoulder to cry on? A distraction from all the horrible stuff going on with the divorce? A reminder of the fun way things were before he was married? Or does he need you to be his wingman so that he can get back out there?
While it certainly all depends on the specific person and their specific circumstances, there are some broad guidelines that you can follow, laid out to us by a therapist who helps a lot of divorced guys, as well as a couple of guys who got divorced themselves. Let’s get into it.
What Do I Need to Understand About Divorce?
If you haven’t been through one yourself, it might help you to empathize with your buddy if you have some idea of what’s going on. According to Kurt Smith, the clinical director at Guy Stuff Counseling and Coaching, “Divorce is an all-consuming process that can drown you. Typically it takes more than a year just to complete the legal process, and in many cases, much longer.” So it’s a complex, overwhelming process that the soon-to-be or just recently divorced dude cannot get away from.
This isn’t just the case with paperwork and other legalities. Cody, who was married for three years before he got divorced, says, “Divorce is sort of like a death, except it’s more complicated because you can drive by the person, or you can see them at the supermarket.” With that, he says there is a complex emotional process that the guy is going to go through, even if they were the ones who wanted out of the marriage.
In short, just know that your buddy is going through a lot of complicated stuff, and accept that they’re going to need some support.
So What Should I Do About It?
Since the TV in their brain is already switched onto the 24/7 divorce network, Smith says that a friend should be the one to help change the channel, even if it’s just for a little while. Smith offers, “During this time it’s likely that the friend has done nothing but be mentally consumed with it and talks with everyone about it.” He adds that just about every person they run into is going to ask how things are going with the divorce, so what your friend needs from you is the opposite.
“Don’t talk about the divorce or any aspects of it, even if the friend wants to,” Smith says, adding, “This doesn’t mean refuse, but steer the conversation away from it.” How exactly? Smith says the best thing you can do is try to get him to change the subject without outright insulting him or completely disregarding his feelings.
So About Those Feelings…
Even in our #woke world, many men still suck at talking about their feelings with other men. Smith says that your friend is going to get depressed, and sometimes depression doesn’t just look like a down-in-the-dumps mopiness: Sometimes it looks like anger, obsession or substance abuse.
Cody offers a personal example: “I was drinking too much, probably… definitely. It was this miserable phase of self-medicating. So I would say to watch the behavior of your friends. They may want to party more, but it may be them self-medicating.” While it’s good to be a distraction, it’s not good to let your friend drink themselves to death.
When it comes to feelings, while it’s important to try to get your friend unstuck, it’s still good to listen. For Cody, he moved in with a buddy during his divorce and found that simply having him around helped him through it, even if they didn’t talk about it all the time. Cody also says that you should be mindful of things like birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, because those kinds of dates may be triggers and send the guy right back into those complex emotions. “Even people who may seem together, you still may want to check in with them,” Cody insists.
George, who was married for 22 years before going through what he describes as an amicable divorce, says that it helped to talk to friends, but that he would never allow them to speak ill of his ex. “I never spoke bad about her, and I never tolerated that from friends. Whatever happened, happened between us.” Generally speaking, not bashing the ex is good advice, not only because it’s uncool, but also because if they get back together, you’ll have to do some major backpedalling later.
Finally, on the subject of feelings, while being a distraction is good, if it feels too much like you’re avoiding the elephant in the room or like your buddy needs to talk, Cody says that it’s okay to offer help and to listen to their problems, but don’t push or pry past their comfort level. Ultimately though (if we haven’t said this enough), don’t let them stay there. Eventually, you should try to change the subject and help your friend have some fun.
Speaking of Fun, What About Dating?
Much like the drinking, some guys may try to catapult themselves back into the dating world after a divorce, and while it may be natural to try to “get back out there” in light of their newfound freedom, understand that they may be using that to cover up their emotions and insecurities. Short of actively stopping him from going home with someone, there’s not a ton you can do about the over-eager guy, but understand that this is likely more complicated than it seems and that, in these cases, it may help to try to get your buddy to open up a little.
As for the timid guy on the dating scene, Smith says, “The friend shouldn’t push the subject of meeting someone else, which is a common mistake.” Many guys try to distract their friend by getting them laid, but more than likely this isn’t what they need, so don’t push them — or at least, don’t push too hard. For George, he says that he had one female friend at work ask him out literally 90 minutes after he told her he was getting divorced, which he turned down simply because, “It was too weird.”
George also adds, “Some of my guy friends were like, ‘This is great, you’re going to get laid!’ and I’m just not that kind of person. It was never in my personality.” Also keep in mind that there’s probably a good amount of self-work a guy has to do during and after his divorce, and Cody says that if someone rushes into a new relationship, they’re going to be dragging all of those issues into the new relationship. “There’s no need to replace that person right away,” Cody says.
Should I Offer Him Any Advice?
No. Screw you and screw your advice. No one wants that (Dr. Smith said so).
What If My Friend and I Aren’t That Tight Anymore?
Cody says that in his marriage, he and his wife became pretty insular, so some of his friendships suffered in the process. But when he got divorced, he made some new friends and also found occasion to reconnect with people. So if it’s the case that you and your buddy grew apart during the marriage years, you may find that a call from you is most welcome, and maybe helping them get in touch with their old selves is exactly what they need.
What If My Friend Won’t Hang Out?
Some guys might get super depressed and avoid the world during and after a divorce. Cody says that he basically went into hiding for a while, with the exception of some of his regular bars. In this situation, Smith says to, “Invite him to do things, create opportunities and reasons to get together, suggest things you’ve done together in the past and, if you’ve got other friends, include him in those get togethers.” So you should make an effort to invite the guy out, as post-divorce isolation is very common.
That said, Smith does add something here that’s important, which brings us to the final point, and one which might be difficult for some dudes to hear: “It’s not the friend’s job to fix him,” says Smith. “Be a friend, not a fixer.”
Now, this can be very hard for guys, as we tend to be solution-focused and may try too hard to “fix” what’s wrong in a situation. Smith, however, cautions, “Maintaining healthy boundaries is crucial. The friend may need more help than you can provide.” In those cases where a friend seems stuck, inconsolable, isolated or perhaps even self-destructive, they need more than a friend — they need help. For those friends, you may want to try to get them to see a counselor or some other means of assistance.
In the meantime, just be their friend. Try to keep them distracted and focused on the future, and when it’s appropriate, and as long as you’re not pushing too hard or pressuring them too much, you just be the best wingman you can be.