The call that your friend’s spouse just walked out oftentimes takes you by surprise. Why? Because it probably hit your friend by surprise too. Most spouses who walk out on marriage have played with the idea in their minds for months or even years before they make the move.
When the wife walks out, Joe refers to it as “blinded by the flight”. He gets frantic calls at all hours from men who swear they had no clue their wife was even unhappy, let alone wanted a divorce.
When the husband walks out, I refer to it as the “now-it-all-makes-sense” move. We women have that intuition thing going on, you know. By the way, even though the calls I get are not at all hours and not quite so frantic, the devastation and hopelessness is still there.
From being in the ministry for over 20 years, we’ve heard it all. And, we’ve learned a lot. Here are 5 things we do in order to avoid making the devastation worse.
We all know how it feels to be hurting and not be able to get a word in edge-wise. So, the first thing to do is let the person tell you what is happening without giving a lot of advice. The rule of thumb is, if they ask, then advise.
If you are in ministry or a professional counselor, your friend may be calling for advice, but don’t just assume that. Wait for an open door.
2. GIVE HOPE
To respond with “Oh, no! This is so horrible! I would die if that happened to me!” is usually not helpful. People in this situation need to hear phrases like, “There’s hope. I know you must feel terrible, and I don’t blame you. But, don’t give up.”
If you don’t have a resource for your friend, offer to help do some research. This is critical, since your friend is only at a 25% emotional capacity in the beginning and won’t have the energy to do this alone.
3. PROVIDE REASONABLE SUPPORT
If your schedule doesn’t permit you to drop everything and be by their side, then don’t promise to do so. Remember, they have already been abandoned by someone whose promise meant nothing. Instead, tell your friend that you are going to do your best to create some extra time in the coming weeks to meet for prayer, coffee, or lunch regularly.
Support is crucial, but you can’t be their only lifeline. Be realistic and help your friend make a list of 3-5 same-gender friends he/she can include in their support system.
4. PROVIDE ACCOUNTABILITY
An abandoned man or woman is vulnerable. Don’t send a newly separated person to any support group or class that encourages men and women to share their emotional hurt with one another. Even though your friend could benefit from a group and support, help him/her choose one that allows the men and women to share separately.
And, if your friend happens to be of the opposite sex, it’s wise not to be their support. Instead, point them to same-gender support. This is for your protection as well as theirs.
Ask questions such as, “What is the toughest thing you are dealing with today, or this week, and how can I pray for you?” Then ask, “What is something we can thank the Lord for this week?” Listen for clues that suggest depression, suicide, or threats to their spouse. Make sure to have resources available that you can refer your friend to, based on his or her need. (Most are easily found on the Internet or phone book.)
5. LET GOD WORK
It’s tempting to want to rescue when the people we love are hurting. But, we’ve seen the most miraculous things take place in the midst of a separation or even divorce. God cares more about a relationship with His children than He does about their marriage, so sometimes the circumstances just have to play out.
Be supportive, but don’t make the mistake of getting in the middle of your friend’s lessons, spiritual walk, or consequences (their marriage problems are not all one-sided even if it seems that way).
God allowed the pain from our own two-year separation, from 1987-1989, to grow us closer to Him and ultimately to each other. Nothing is impossible with God!
Our ministry offers support partner resources, as well as resources for your friend. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org