Marriage separation and divorce have become a fact of life for many Americans. According to the American Psychological Association, between 40 to 50 percent of married Americans will encounter a divorce or separation at some point in their lives. This means it's about as likely to be separated or divorced as it is not to encounter these marriage problems.
Not all divorces are the same. The reasons for a separation vary from marriage to marriage. The biggest three, however, are:
- Infidelity - When either partner cheats on the other, it can be the death knell of a marriage. This, according to experts, is the leading cause of divorce among Americans.
- Money - While you might not expect money to rank as highly among reasons for separation, financial troubles do, in fact, create marriage tension. Some of these end in divorce.
- Communication Issues - Arguments that become highly charged and drag on for months can result in divorce.
Common Challenges of Separated and Divorced People
Several challenges tend to be associated with divorce or separation. The first such challenge is accepting the reality that a marriage is over or a partner has moved on to someone else. You as a family member should be sensitive to what's going on in the mind of the person you are trying to support. Understand that the emotional pain or remorse they feel is very real and they might not want to discuss things with anyone.
Secondly, the divorced or separated person is likely to be inundated with well-meaning people who are giving them tactless advice. Just because people want to help does not mean their words are perceived as kind by the person they are trying to help. To be of meaningful help, you must take a much more cautious approach.
What Not to Do
The biggest mistake to avoid, when helping your newly separated family member, is being pushy. This means do not engage them on their divorce unless they speak to you about it first, or you see a gentle opening and can tell they need to talk.
Another mistake to avoid, according to marriage experts, is giving pep talks to the newly divorced person. Avoid sounding like a know-it-all just because, perhaps, you have managed to survive marriage challenges yourself. Anything that makes you sound superior to the recipient of your help could be perceived as being rude.
Win Their Trust so They Know It’s Safe to Talk With You
Your approach to helping your separated family member must first be to win their trust before actually talking them through their challenges. Winning trust comes down to knowing the family member's limits and what they are comfortable talking about or not talking about. Respect those limits.
Create a safe space by engaging them in a conversation around shared interests. For example, if both of you are in the same career or attended an event together, talk casually about that. Having someone they can still hold a normal conversation with will be a big stress reliever for them, which is where you want to be.
A great way to help your recently separated family member build their life after the separation is to pursue activities together that help rebuild their sense of identity. You will need to consider what sorts of activities they used to be a fan of before the divorce or separation.
For example, you can take them out skiing with the rest of the family if they are into that. If they love movies, take them to a movie, and don't make a big deal out of it. Begin to create a sense of normalcy around their social life so they feel confident about socializing in the absence of their former partner.
Helping Divorced Family Members Move on Romantically
Eventually, your family member will need to move on romantically. As a family member, you can help introduce them to promising prospects if you deem it to be the right thing to do. Be careful though. You do not want to rush things by setting them up on blind dates right away. They might not be ready to explore romance so soon after a painful separation. When the time is right, however, you can create social outings and invite them and some good friends to spend time socializing. If the time is right, they will find their own way to get close to someone new.