Mette Harrison, a novelist who also works in the financial industry, was blindsided in 2020 when her husband of 30 years asked for a divorce. A mother of six, she estimated that she also lost half of her friends between those who ghosted her and others who expressed judgment about the breakup. According to a 2013 longitudinal study headed by Brown University scholar Rose McDermott, if people in your close social network divorce, the risk of your marriage ending greatly increases. This may partially explain why those in marriage meltdowns find themselves abandoned by their nearest and dearest. But loved ones disappearing may also be because they just don’t know how to help.
On top of the loss of her marriage, losing friends was nearly too much, said Ms. Harrison, now 51. But when those who stuck by her offered help, she was also flummoxed. “I didn’t know what I needed even when people asked,” she said. One friend offered a bed until Ms. Harrison could find an apartment; another walked her gently through a frank assessment of her financial situation. A third texted every day for a year — a simple back and forth that Ms. Harrison said she depended on to calm her panic in the early months. Her older brother, Mark Ivie, set up a recurring monthly payment for rent and food, in addition to an Amazon wish list, which he shared with other family members.
“I absolutely would not have been able to make it without his help,” said Ms. Harrison. From grand gestures to small acts of kindness, experts say that there are many ways to help those slammed by the shame, shock and economic panic of a separation or divorce.