I remember attending a friend’s wedding shower a few years ago. Almost all the ladies in attendance had left husbands and/or kids at home so there was an added air of stolen freedom to do whatever we liked for at least 3 hours. We all took part in the activities and everyone took turns asking and answering questions about marriage, in-laws, children, friends, finances, career, fashion, housekeeping etc. No one asked questions about what to do if it all went sour because no one ever went to a bridal shower thinking of divorce. Or so I thought.
After the bridal shower, as I loaded my paraphernalia of feather garlands and shiny plastic tiaras into my car, one of my friends came to meet me and asked for a quick word. I told her to go ahead but I didn’t stop what I was doing as it was already late and I wanted to get home before my kids slept. When she said the word ‘divorce’, it took my brain a few seconds to process what she had just said. I was so stunned that I dropped my last bag and felt my eyes well up. I hugged her but couldn’t even hear her out as I sniffed and tried to stop the tears. To my enduring shame she ended up comforting me and telling me it was not the end of the world and that things would get better. I was to take heart and believe that God would heal all broken hearts. So embarrassing! She was the one getting a divorce and I, her friend, was the one being comforted.
I learnt a couple of things from my abysmal behavior that evening. I realized that I was useless at being a friend in need where matters of the heart were concerned and also that not many people knew how to handle such situations. A long while later, my friend who got the divorce was happy to share some pointers on acceptable behavior. Here are some of them:
Firstly, do not judge. So what if you introduced the couple to each other? It is harder to remain neutral if you are friends with the couple and easier if you are friends with the wife (we are discussing this from the woman’s perspective). Don’t assume that you understand what caused the breakup and don’t apportion blame.
Don’t ask annoying questions like have they tried counseling or gone for prayers etc. They would most likely have done everything possible before deciding to go their separate ways. You can’t care for a couple’s marriage more than the parties involved so don’t ever assume you know better.
Don’t try to help them get back together except they ask for your help. This is linked to the first and second points because you may not be in possession of the full facts of the breakup.
Don’t help them spread the bad news, people usually get to know of these things in time. It is not in anyone’s interest to tell other friends because they may make the breakup even more painful for the couple by asking prying questions.
Don’t assume that now your friend is single she is going to make a play for your hubby. It has been known to happen but in many cases a woman going through a divorce is too emotionally drained to contemplate a relationship so soon. The tell-tale signs of trouble would include an unnatural dependency on your husband to carry out seemingly unnecessary chores for her. At this point feel free to panic and start asking yourself, your friend and your hubby probing questions.
Support your friend to be the woman they were meant to be. I have seen friends who have come out of unhappy marriages to become successful in their careers, happier in their minds and physically healthier. A woman can be all these in a happy marriage but for some, the only way to survive is by leaving an unhappy marriage. Lavish praise and encouragement on your friend in her hour of need. Boost her self-confidence so that she can make the right decisions to make her life better, and you will feel blessed to be part of her journey as she creates a new improved version of herself.
Do not avoid talking about the divorce. It is not a contagious illness. Listen to your friend and give her the opportunity to unburden her fears, hopes and hurt to you. She is likely to tell you some of the most secret things about her failed marriage but it is not for you to share in any way. She will probably regret telling you some things, but always assure her that whatever she tells you will not be heard by anyone else.
Be real and honest with your friend and avoid being a sanctimonious hypocrite. Very few people enter marriage expecting it to fail. Some people are unlucky in their choices, some are careless and some are just plain unrealistic. It doesn’t mean that they deserve to be sneered at or that you are wiser or holier or morally superior to them. Some divorces occur as a result of a series of unfortunate events which no one could have predicted.
The only people who understand why their relationship broke down are the two people in the relationship. I know a couple who divorced ten years ago but still looked after each other when one fell ill. I also know a much older lady who used to cook for her ex-husband whenever he came to the UK on a visit even thirty years after their divorce. She would visit his apartment daily to cook for him and keep house but they never got back together. When she fell ill he paid her hospital bills and when she recovered he helped to pay for the upbringing of the children she had since had from her second marriage.
Love can be strange. Some people love and can live together while some cannot live together but still love each other. If you are in a happy marriage, cherish every day and don’t take each other for granted. If you are single, enjoy your independence before you settle down. If you are divorced, be happy because you are alive and you can still find love with someone else. You can also find happiness with your family, friends and your career.
BTW: My friend got divorced in 2008. She is now happily married with two kids. Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.
Abi Adeboyejo lives in Birmingham, UK, with her two children and her fabulous man, who by the way, prefers that his wife writes down her thoughts than listen to her musings on everything