5 Ways to Support a Friend Navigating a Major Life Transition
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
“Friendship isn’t a big thing, it's a million little things.” Paulo Coelho
Building and maintaining a long-term friendship is like piecing together a mosaic made up of years and years of moments and memories. With all the highs we experience with our friends, we may feel unprepared when we see someone we care about navigate a low point in their life, like a divorce, a layoff, or an illness.
When you receive a call or email from a friend reaching out in their time of need, realizing that you’re someone’s lifeline can be, in a word, scary. You might not feel up to the challenge, especially if you’re going through your own transitions. But don’t panic: here are 5 concrete ways to support a friend through a transition, without sacrificing yourself (or your friendship).
Determine When it’s Time to Call in the “Experts.”
Sometimes people do not want you to do or fix anything, they just need someone to listen and be on their side in the midst of upheaval. However, sometimes your friend may need professional resources such as an attorney, accountant, financial advisor, divorce coach or therapist.
If a friend is asking you for insight that you may have in a professional capacity, you’ll need to determine if it’s worth blurring the lines between professional and personal. Alternatively, they may need specific advice that’s outside of your area of expertise. Ultimately, it may be helpful to check your network and point them in the right direction of a professional resource that they can formally engage with for the long term.
Direct Them to Safety
If your friend is in a life-threatening situation or fears for their physical safety, then you will need to assess and respond to the situation as quickly as possible. But you must ask yourself the following questions; Does it violate your boundaries or make you feel uncomfortable? Are there other resources or individuals who can assist?
Creating a list in advance of local and national organizations and resources (such as a local hospital, domestic violence shelter, or Suicide Prevention Hotline) may be helpful to both you and your friend who is experiencing a physical or mental health crisis.
At the end of this post, we provide links to some of these organizations.
If you haven’t heard from your friend in a while, take note and be the one to text or call them. They might be struggling with the reality of their situation, feeling overwhelmed or otherwise unable to reach out. It will mean the world to someone if you put in the extra effort to engage in the “million little things” that help remind people that they are not alone. Knowing that there is someone who cares may be enough of a reason to talk on the phone, get dressed to meet you for a coffee, or take a quick walk in the park.
A few examples of “little things” that can make a world of difference:
For friends navigating divorce: Take their kids out for ice-cream to give them some alone time.
For friends navigating a health crisis: Drop by with some food, or offer to treat them to delivery.
For friends navigating a career transition: Offer to do a mock interview with them.
While your friend is navigating their transition, it’s important that you both keep in mind that this is your friend’s journey — not yours. Understanding your line of demarcation between what you can and cannot do to support them is a crucial step in protecting your own mental health and preserving your friendship. Be clear and gentle but firm about your boundaries. For example, if they are asking for resources that you do not have, such as money or a place to stay for an extended amount of time, it’s important that you be honest with yourself and with them so that they can ask someone else or find another resource.
This can be a hard one, especially if your friend is going through a separation or divorce from a spouse or significant relationship. Compassion is always key. If your friendship and relationship is with both parties, tread carefully! If you engage in the chorus of negativity with your friend or others and your friend changes their tune, you will be the one left singing solo! While you are entitled to your own feelings and reactions to your friend’s divorce or life crisis, decide the role you are going to play and stay true to that. If you have chosen to be the advocate for both yourself and your friend, protecting your energy and reserving judgement will be the best gift you can give yourself and your friendship.
Whether you’re actively supporting someone or serving as a friendly ear, don’t forget to listen to yourself as well. Honor when and how you feel comfortable offering up your time or energy, and recognize when you don’t. You’ll thank yourself later, when your friend pulls through this difficult time and you both still have each other on the other side, stronger, more resilient and with more pieces to add to that mosaic.
Are you or someone you know navigating a career change or other transition? Check out Tamara’s Transition Tactician Academy for more support
Resources for Support
National Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org/
Suicide Prevention Hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://nami.org/Home