In the aftermath of my husbands departure, so many people asked me how they could help. I did my best to say what I needed and accept support, but I know a lot of people have a hard time with it. Here is a list of some of the Do’s and Don’ts when dealing with a runaway spouse, and how to support your friends or family who are living through it.
Do: Call them, email them, text them, every single day. Seriously, every day. A lot of people reached out to check on me in the first couple of weeks and it meant a lot. So many times people do not want to reach out because either a) they are afraid of witnessing someone’s pain, or b) they do not want to be intrusive. Please do not let this stop you from being there for someone you care about. There is not much you can do to make this person feel better right now, but simply showing up for them is one thing you CAN do. Also, keep it up! After 2-3 weeks I stopped hearing from most people and that is when the shock wore off and the despair set in.
Don’t: Be offended or hurt if they turn down your offers to talk, to meet up, to visit, etc. They may not feel comfortable being a mess in front of you and just want to be alone.
Do: Offer to help them with moving, if necessary. Packing up your home and moving is a physically and emotionally draining experience even if there is no divorce happening. Its so, so much harder to do after abandonment. Someone should be there to help with packing up emotionally charged momentos (photos, cards, letters). Someone should be there to hold them as they fall apart on moving day. Someone should bring by dinner. Someone should offer to watch kids or pets during moving day.
Don’t: All show up to help on the same day! Again, moving is emotionally trying – try to be conscious of how much your friend can take. The divorce and moving day is not an excuse for a giant reunion of friends.
Do: Send them a plant or something living once they have settled into their new place. My sister in law did this and wrote on the card, “Here is some beauty for your new chapter. Never forget: you are the dragon breathing fire.” It still brings tears to my eyes to think about how much that meant to me.
Don’t: Send them booze. Alcohol is a depressant. It’s fun and cute to tell people to drink away their pain but it’s far more likely to make your friend feel like shit and/or do something they regret (like angrily rant on Instagram). I am not saying no drinking, I’m just saying your friend needs a friend more than a bottle of wine.
Do: Give your friend articles, books, or other resources that you think they might find helpful, if you have them.
Don’t: Give advice about what they should be doing, thinking, or feeling.
Do: Keep inviting your loved one out. At some point, they are bound to say yes.
Don’t: Guilt them when they say no thanks. For a long time, they will not want to be with other humans.
Do: Tell your loved one how much he/she deserves better than this, that it is not fair, and that you are sorry it is is happening. There is not much you can do, but simply acknowledging how much much this fucking sucks is really helpful. Your loved one will get sooooo much advice from so many places and that really is not what they need. They just need to be loved and held as they grieve.
Don’t: Wax philosophic about how this is a blessing and how much better off she will be. Its true: she will be better off. But right now, she can only feel how much pain she is in and how much her life sucks right now. Don’t patronize her by talking about how this is good in the long run. Allow her to experience the grief and the pain of right now.
Do: Reach out on anniversaries and birthdays. As time goes by, the every-single-day calls and emails are no longer necessary. Your loved one will slowly begin to heal. But some days are harder than others. Keep tabs on when your friend has an anniversary (of the wedding – of the day they were left – of the divorce) or a birthday approaching – a simple “thinking of you today, let me know if you want to talk” can go a long way. I cannot tell you how many times I did not take someone up on their offer but so, so appreciated that they had offered nonetheless.
Don’t: Assume that just because months or years have gone by, that those particular days are no longer hard. I cannot imagine a time when my former wedding anniversary will not cause some emotion for me.