This article originally appeared on Huffington Post by Bill Flanigin on July 13th, 2016.
It seems divorced people love to give advice about divorce. Makes sense. They’ve been in the trenches of divorce themselves, so it stands to reason they learned a thing or two. Sometimes the advice is sought out; usually people just can’t help themselves. Sure the wisdom we want to dispense is all well intended, but my advice to all the people out there wanting to help their friends or family get through that difficult time is this: “You’re doing it wrong.”
It took me a while to figure this out myself. It seems when I hit my 40s, my friends started to divorce in droves, and I wanted to be a good friend and help them out if I could. I wanted to share my divorce mistakes and successes with them so they could get through the heartbreaking and sometimes messy stages of the end of their marriage as best they could. Maybe I could help it be less painful.
What I finally figured out was this:
“Every marriage is different. The dynamics of the relationships and circumstances within a divorce are so varied and complex, that to compare your divorce to anyone else’s is silly. But we do exactly that because of the few common threads all divorces have in common. Threads like sadness and misery and heartbreak and loneliness.
There are so many factors that affect a person going through a divorce. The biggest being the relationship dynamics between every person affected. Kids, family, in-laws, neighbors, even the family dog, and the spider web of how each of those people relate to each other affects us exponentially. And differently. Maybe you don’t have any children. Perhaps you really like your in-laws, or maybe losing them is a fringe benefit of your divorce. Maybe you have a disabled child that needs special care. Maybe losing your gray snouted boxer that you’ve had since she was a puppy (and who also is your best friend) is soul numbing in a way no one can understand. These relationship factors are so varied that no one else can know exactly what you are feeling. It’s Impossible. The emotional connections we have within all of those relationships are as unique to you as your fingerprints. See what I mean?
But that is just for starters.There’s more. Money, living arrangements, transportation, and logistical needs are different for everyone depending on what they do for a living and where they live. How people cope with all of these challenges affects them differently. The list goes on and on, so I’ll just stop here.
The next time you want to give someone else advice about how they are handling the end of their marriage, be careful how you do it. Think about how you phrase every sentence. The truth is you can’t know everything you need to know to tell them what you think they should do or not do. What you can do when you want to help is acknowledge that they are hurting. Be there for them. Help them move that sofa.
The only thing a divorced person is truly an expert on is their own divorce. You can always explain to a friend what worked, or didn’t work, for YOU during your divorce. Perhaps what you learned taught YOU some lessons about things you would have done differently. That’s really the best advice you can offer. And that’s actually really helpful. To entertain the idea your divorce is like your friend’s is like comparing cowboy boots to high heels because they both go on your feet.