How to help a friend going through a separation

Many know someone who has been through a separation and looking at the stats, many have experienced it for themselves. Separation from a significant partner is a lifechanging event. Unfortunately, it can also be a life-ending event in extreme circumstances. Such a challenging period comes with strong emotions such as grief and loss, fear and worry. It can also come with never-ending questions and, often, conflict with the ex-partner, particularly if they are parents or own property together and now must work together to find a resolution. Below, we give you tips on how to help a friend going through a separation.

As support people, it is natural to want to care and protect loved ones and there are many ways in which this can be done effectively. However, if incorrectly done, you can inadvertently take on roles that do not empower your loved one and have you feeling burdened with the responsibility of fixing the problem or saving them. Only they can do that for themselves; you are just there to help support them on their mission.

Here are some tips that may help you support someone going through a separation or divorce:

  1. Avoid entering the situation with the intention of 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, psychologists, accountants and mediation services.

  1. Instead, be a great listener

Listening is an invaluable skill. It takes out the guesswork and guides you to address what is at the heart of your loved one’s issues. Focussing on this task makes your role less complicated as you are not invited into any other role such as the rescuer, the problem solver, the advisor or the Judge. It also ensures your loved one feels heard and understood. They will feel less alone and more connected just from your undivided attention.

  1. 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”.

  1. 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?” You will find that hearing only one side of the story is not conducive to giving the best advice.

  1. 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 your loved one can’t 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 feel calm and find peace and encourage they practice this self-care as much as possible throughout this time.

  1. Look after yourself

Lastly, 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. We commend you for doing so. Being a support person can add extra stress on your plate; one which may already be quite full! It is okay to set kind, consistent boundaries for yourself in this dynamic. In fact, it is quite helpful for 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.

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 our upcoming articles and if you or your loved one, needs professional guidance, please reach out to our team via phone on (03) 9793 7888 or via email at