Building Support Networks with Divorced Friends

This is an area where I, as The Widow Coach, “break” with some of the conventional “wisdom” out there.

If you have been widowed any length of time, you will have encountered the “let’s compare our pain” conversation in which a well-meaning friend, acquaintance or family member will make some kind of comparison of another’s pain to yours in an attempt to empathize.  Comparing loss of a spouse to divorce is fairly common.  You will encounter agonized comments on online groups about the pain those remarks cause to the widows and widowers out there.

It can be tempting to try to join the “one up” discussion or feel offended that someone could be so insensitive.  As one widow said acerbically,  “There is a BIG difference…my spouse is dead and hers may be a scumbag, but he is breathing.  She is a single parent where I am an ONLY parent.”

True, perhaps…but that is not the point.

Trust The Widow Coach on this (one of my clients is divorced and widowed)….winning the “whose pain is greater” battle will cause you to lose an amazing opportunity.   Let’s be frank here:  widowhood is a traumatic loss, but people also will go out of their way to help the widowed.  Because divorce is common, it doesn’t cause the same level of support.  As one of our divorced buddies remarked sadly, “When I was divorced, no one  brought  me a  casserole.  I was on my own when my wife left me with the kids.”

So let’s take the high road and recognize an important fact: with a little empathy for each other, divorced and widowed people can form an amazing support system for each other.  Think about it:

  • Both groups had a marriage end and face similar challenges “unwinding” the life they built together with a spouse
  • Both groups are functioning without a co-parent at least part of the time
  • Both groups have similar “single parent” support needs
  • Both groups may face similar (but not the same) dating challenges

Here are some ways to build an effective support network with our divorced sisters and brothers:

  • Avoid at all costs the contest over “whose pain is greater?” game in your head and in discussion.  Both groups have suffered loss.  While the widowed person’s loss is generally more painful, this is about building bridges, not walls.  Some divorces are truly brutal and cause intense amounts of pain.  Agree to respect each other’s losses and move on to build on common ground.
  • Understand that your loss has triggered a process to grieve your spouse.  Your divorced sister or brother is dealing with a series of events as part of the divorce that may involve “ups and downs” related to the dissolution of the marriage.  You have a gift of incredible empathy because of your loss and can help them simply by listening.
  • Honor each other’s loss.  Your spouse did not leave you voluntarily.   Can you imagine the pain if that happened?
  • Identify areas to team up and help each other.  Here are some ideas:

o   Team up on household repairs

o   Trade off rides for kids to sporting events

o   Provide “opposite sex” suggestions for raising kids if your parenting styles are similar-how many times have you wished you could “run a decision by” your spouse?

o   Trade recommendations on handymen, landscapers, service providers

o   Sometimes the simplest things help, like sharing the “how was your day?” conversation

o   Be emergency contacts for each other at school, scouts, sports

o   Trade off strengths…his baking skills for your handyman skills?

o   Transform your lives together by cheering each other on

o   Attend each other’s school events like concerts

o   Go to the gym together

o   Develop a bucket list and swap ideas.  Do some of them together

o   Go on vacation together.  One of the most pivotal moments for one of our widows was a few months after her husband was killed.  A divorced friend invited her and her son on vacation to the Smokey Mountains to join her and her kids.  The kids had a great time together and the widow spent some much-needed time soaking up nature and soothing her battered heart.

There is enough pain in our widowed world (and for those of who are divorced) to fill an ocean or two. We can and should consider building alliances based in compassion to help each other on our journeys.

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