When Vicki Gunvalson’s boyfriend Steve Lodge recently took her on her first motorcycle ride, the two make a pitstop where they get into a discussion about divorce and their regrets around it.
While Vicki admits she made mistakes in her split from Donn, she also says she is now trying to keep her fellow The Real Housewives of Orange County cast-member Gina Kirschenheiter from making the same mistakes she did. Gina filed for divorce from her husband, Matt, in April and has had to re-live it as the season airs. Together they share three children, Nicholas, 5, Sienna, 4, and Luca, 2.
Theresa E. DiDonato, Ph.D., an Associate Professor at Loyola University Maryland, says when talking a friend through a split, remember their experience is not the same as yours.
"Although we don't have this romantic connection anymore, it doesn't mean you can't be family anymore," Gina explained. "This idea that you're divorced and no longer family to me is so backwards and dated and old school and I refuse to subscribe to it and we're doing the best that we can to keep our family together. It just looks different now."
Vicki says she was trying to offer Gina advice and wanted to tell her, “just make sure you know what you are doing.”
“Looking back at my divorce from Donn, I did not put the effort in to stay married,” she admitted. “Do what you can to make it work, because being divorced is a forever decision…I wish I had had somebody to shake me and say, you got a good guy there, stay married.”
Steve advises Vicki to be there for Gina, but to let her make her own mistakes and learn her own lessons.
"If you've gone through a divorce, and your friend is now in the middle of the process, don't assume her experience is the same as yours. Couples experience divorce differently, with some responding to infidelity, violence, or abuse, and others reacting to entrenched patterns of poor communication, incompatibility, conflicting values, or financial problems," she tells Personal Space. "Motives for divorce may contribute to both the emotional and practical process of navigating the end of a marriage, and may affect the kind of relationship couples enter after their divorce."
DiDonato adds that after divorce, social support does helps mitigate the feelings of loss involved; in other words, yes, your friend will most likely need you.
"If you've gone through a divorce, you might be familiar with these feelings of loss and can be a source of social support for a friend going through the same experience. Remember that you're there to support your friend, and not the other way around," she says.
Like with both Vicki and Gina, the "practical challenges of navigating a divorce could be a source of stress," says DiDonato, so if your friend is open to it, the lessons you learned could ease her experience.
"Divorce is a transition, one that involves rebuilding your identity and restructuring your daily life, and if you've navigated this challenge, you might have supportive advice of what worked for you, but don't assume what worked for you, will work for her," she says. "Listen to your friend and her needs; if she needs a night out and that wasn't your process, listen to her and take her out! In other words, people pursue their identity rebuilding in different ways and supportive friends can help them with that process. Friends are generally viewed as important for helping people maintain an active social life post-divorce."
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