William Cottringer, Ph.D.

A pending divorce can be a scary and devastating experience for a married couple. For every divorcing person, the future is nothing but uncertainty, anxiety and confusion. Such an emotional state is not good for focusing on priorities or thinking clearly.

It is a good idea for family and friends to work together to offer positive survival support. Below are some tips on what is most needed from the perspective of a person going through a divorce.


Probably the most common destructive side effect of any failed marriage is the loss of self-esteem. A marriage failure is bound to take a large chunk out of anyone's self-confidence, regardless of how good it might have been coming into the situation. No matter how good of a wife or husband you were, you could have always done better to make the marriage work. Or if one spouse walks out on the other-- for whatever reason-- the abandoned partner can't help but feel terrible about him or herself and feel like a victim.

There will always be lots of unanswered questions that will fester with the divorced person and seriously damage self-esteem. What did I do wrong? What is wrong with me as a man or woman? Am I being singled out and punished for something I have done wrong? Am I damaged forever? What could I have done differently? Why didn't I do it?

In giving support during a divorce, you can't tell someone not to feel bad about a terrible situation. However, you can help them separate feeling bad about the divorce and feeling bad about themselves, (and even about the other person). There is no connection between either of these two things and they don't belong together in the same sentence.

There is nothing "wrong" with either person in a divorce (although that may be harder to say in some cases!) They were both just part of a bad situation that didn't work. Assigning blame is just arbitrary and artificial. There can never be an accurate scorecard, so why bother keeping score? By doing that you are not helping the person move forward.


A person facing the possibility of a divorce doesn't want to face certain realities and so you must tread softly in this area. People faced with the divorce option don't want to see the marriage as a total mistake or that it could never have worked no matter who did what. The fact that a marriage is over is also a hard reality to swallow. Facing any kind of failure is the last thing any of us wants to do.

You have to be very careful of not letting your own personal values or what you "know" interfere with what you say to the person who doesn't want to face important realities. Somehow you have to figure out how to help the person prepare for some practical realities, such as moving, getting a different job, straightening out finances, not distancing good friends, etc., without discounting their natural denial as to the inevitable.

Even when you know for certain that a marriage is over for someone or that it could never work, you can't impose that information on the person who equally knows for sure nothing is certain. Plus it is always easier for a person outside the situation to see the truth more clearly. But at the same time, situations have a way of suddenly changing in unexpected ways. Nothing is really that certain. The wise person knows that things are always tentative until they actually happen.


It may be tempting to analyze the marriage and come up with a list of good reasons why it didn't work out. We all do have this strong tendency to understand things, especially the bad things that happen to us. You can be driven to make sense out of these things. But that is not necessarily productive, because your reasons may be wrong or artificial, despite how appealing or credible they may be.

It may be better to look at a divorce as a "random accident" with no definite cause. From there, it is productive to help the person think about what he or she can do to prevent such an accident from re-occurring in the future. You can help them become clearer on what qualities hold a marriage together. One thing I have personally learned the hard way is to be more sensitive to red flags. If two people don't bring out the best in one another from the beginning, the ending is not likely to be a happy one.

Another important consideration in selecting the right marriage partner is reasonable compatibility in values and needs. Disparity between partner's needs and values can cause too much friction once the romantic bliss wears off. Realizing this after a failed experience can be a real learning experience.


A divorce experience is highly likely to result in a person building a wall of disparity and self-protection to hide behind. Once burned, never again! Although it is a natural self-defense reaction, wall-building is not healthy or productive. Sooner or later the wall has to come down, and the higher it is, the harder it falls.

There are lots of bleak, premature conclusions to help the person not dwell on. "I'll never be able to trust anybody ever again. I can't go through this again. I'll never have any happiness. There is nobody else out there for me. There is something dreadfully wrong with me."

It might be better to help the person learn to pay more attention to their intuitive feelings or rational concerns that raise red flags in the dating stage of a relationship. That way he or she can improve the ability to select the right partner and assure a happy, successful marriage. Or, this might be the perfect time to encourage the person to move, go back to school or change jobs to get some new scenery.


If you are a happily married person or you have survived a divorce yourself, you are in an excellent position to demonstrate the positive attitude it takes to avoid becoming a psychological victim of divorce. You know there is hope for happiness and you can live it as inspiration for the divorcing person. If you have survived a divorce and gone onto a happy marriage, other relationship, or remained happily single, you are living proof that there is live after divorce.

Build self-esteem, don't impose your realities, suggest some helpful learning, encourage hope and help the person to gradually move forward by your own good example. Follow these five tips and you will be doing your best to help the divorcing person survive the potentially destructive aspects of the experience.

Author's Bio: 

William S. Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue WA, as well as Success Coach, Sport Psychologist, Photographer and Writer in North Bend, WA.. He is author of several international best-selling books including You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Passwords To The Prosperity Zone, “P” Point Management, Reality Repair RX and Do What Matters Most. Bill can be reached for comments and questions at 425-454-5011 or bcottringer@pssp.net