Gifts for a friend going through a divorce, separation, or break-up

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"Better off" bracelet from Etsy seller MarileeYours
“Better off” bracelet from Etsy seller MarileeYours
My best friend just called me in tears, saying that she and her partner have decided to separate.

Of course I gave her my shoulder to cry on and told her to call me any time she needs an ear, but I also feel like I want to send her something to help her through the trauma of these early days of her separation.

The first few weeks of a separation can be fucking intense. The grief, the loss, even a sense of physical pain… it’s weird that something so common is so awful! Offering your ear is the most important thing you can give to any friend experiencing a profound loss or recovering from a trauma, but we get it: sometimes you want to give something more to offer your comfort. Of course you know your friend and their interests best, but here are our suggestions for great gifts for a friend going through a divorce or an epic break-up of any kind…

Read to them at night

gifts for divorced friendsNights can be difficult and especially lonely for the newly-separated, as time that used to be spent curling up on the couch watching Netflix together suddenly becomes… empty. If you live nearby, offer to come over and read to them.

What to read? It’s totally up to them — some folks might like catharsis, reading books about loss by folks like Pema Chödrön or Stephen Levine, while others might want distracting comfort reading like Harry Potter. Reading provides a nice way to be together, without talking about the situation.

If it feels right, hold their hand while you read to them.

Bonus points if you rub their hands while you read.

Triple bonus points if you read until they fall asleep.


Old Books-scented candle from Etsy seller Anthology Candles
Old Books-scented candle from Etsy seller Anthology Candles

Ok, sure: everyone gives candles for every possible occasion, but candles can take on a special meaning for folks going through a loss… again, this is especially true of lonely nights. And duh: lots of candles smell good, which can make an empty house feel a little less lonesome at night.

Obviously, this is a dumb gift if your friend is sensitive to fragrances… you might want to double check that, first. Remember that scented candles doesn’t have to mean cloying and predictable — think of Old Books or Tatooine.

Self-care products like makeup or hair stuff

This is another one that depends on the friend — obviously your favorite butch recovering from her transman’s departure might not be into a box of sparkly shit from Sephora. But they might be into a gift pack of their pomade or styling wax. Break-ups can be tough on self-esteem, and lots of folks need a little extra support remembering that their body is a wonderland. Bath, body, hair, and makeup products are silly and superficial, but can be great gifts.

Bring them food

Break-ups can be weirdly physical, and remembering to eat can be hard. Bring food over, or have food delivered. If there’s an app-based like Munchery available in your area, you can even get them a gift certificate — but good ol’ fashioned take-out works just fine, too.

Just listen

Really, the best gift you can give is your ear, your time, and a shoulder to cry on. Avoid platitudes (“…everything happens for a reason…”) or even reassurance (“…it’ll get better…”) and just focus on listening and handing over the kleenex.

Heartbreak survivors: what helped you during your darkest hours?

Comments on Gifts for a friend going through a divorce, separation, or break-up

  1. A gift certificate for a massage (or a freebie if you are a practitioner!)!

    Grief really affects us physically. Therapeutic touch can be so beneficial in situations like this.

  2. I have a couple of friends going through divorces and have also wondered what tangible things I could do or give to make a difference. Mostly I am just making an effort to check in, see them, make plans with them so they have things to look forward to, and make sure they know they’re cared for. One friend also took down all of the pictures in her home from 10+ year marriage, so I had a bunch of happy pictures of her and her friends and family printed to replace them.

  3. When my friend got divorced, I sent her care packages for a while. They included:
    – a cuddly stuffed animal (I lived too far away to provide regular hugs myself). I love Jellycat animals for their cuddliness!
    – music (I sent Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson)
    – a trilogy of super gripping (i.e. distracting) books (one book at a time); I sent the Chaos Walking series, but it depends on what your friend likes, of course
    – cozy PJs
    – a cute cup (she was the one to move out, and was missing her dishes)
    – a DVD (I don’t even remember what movie)

    I also sent a BUNCH of cards. I think I averaged a card a week and a care package a month for about 6 months. I’ll keep thinking and see if I can remember what else I sent. We also sent a lot of e-mails back and forth, and I went to visit when I could (she lives a 3 hour drive from me).

  4. Not a divorce but a seven year relationship break up here, barely a month out. I’m having to live with him until the tenancy agreement expires.

    I guess I’d appreciate social activities, like going to the cinema, or other things that get me out of the house but don’t feel forced. Having an actual thing/appointment to go to feels more normal than just going out for the sake of it.

    I’d love it if somebody took me to get my hair done as I can’t afford it right now. Similarly a shopping trip for a new coat.

    I think a small trinket type thing wouldn’t go amiss, depending on what people like. Things that are like souvenirs maybe?

    Magazines would be nice too, something easy to read but nothing that I’d be compelled to keep. They can pass the time but don’t require too much focus (you can probably tell I’m easily distracted by this comment!)

  5. New earbuds and maybe a CD or online music gift card. I spent the first two months after my separation/divorce jamming earbuds in at night and listening to music to drown out the loneliness and fears of the future.

    Invitations out are the most appreciated – it makes one feel wanted and worthwhile. Even if you just invite them over to your place for a Netflix binge or doing laundry together, it gives the now-single friend a feeling of normalcy.

    Seriously, the most thing needed is reassurance that they aren’t a burden and that they’re still loved. They’re dealing with a lot of heavy shit and will wallow in it for a while as they mourn the loss of the relationship. Be patient, be kind, be loving, be free with the hugs or the smiles, and most of all, remind them that it’s normal and everything will be okay.

  6. Finances can be a real issue (especially for people who were SAHP) so personal care items and vouchers for beauty treatments/their favourite clothing store can be a real help when there’s only money for the basics.

  7. When I was unexpectedly on the way out of an 11 year relationship, the most important things were definitely invitations and distractions. I was so afraid that I would be having to go through all of it alone, and it was nice to know that people still liked me solo, as opposed to as part of a duo.

    I also deeply appreciated distractions — one friend brought me a DVD of Will Farrell’s best SNL, and the mindless laughing made me feel a lot better. Being able to just NOT THINK ABOUT IT for even 10 or 15 minutes was a relief in the beginning.

    Later on, I’d recommend reminders to your friend about the things you like about them, and about how great they are. For me, the break-up was a real blow to my self-esteem, so the friend who would send me little cards that said “You survived! You’re so strong! Go you!” was a real blessing.

  8. Yoga gift certificate. I can think of nothing better for release, strength of mind, transformation, and a healthy focus. It’s saved my life more than once. Massage is also excellent. I’d suggest both, along with a journal for getting stuff out that they had bottled up for so long. If it were me, I’d want a big time-out/quiet vacation to embrace space and re-learn solitude from a relaxing vantage point. Or I’d pull a Cheryl Strayed and hike the PCT alone. -in which case; boots that are made for walkin’!

  9. Distractions and company – being alone, especially at night was terrible. A gf overseas got me through many nights via online chatting, because she was on a different time zone. Others would invite me to just sit and watch tv, or go for a walk, which forced me to be aware of the world and the passage of time, as well as having someone to talk to.

    Physical contact – hugs, hand holds, whatever. It’s funny how much you miss just touching the skin of someone else alive. Pet time, especially if you’ve had to leave your furry family behind. I taught a class of very touchy/huggy kindergarten kids that year, and sometimes would go in to work saying I was a little sad that day, one kid would hug me and suddenly there’d be a spontaneous group hug demanding nothing back; how could I not smile! A few friends donated cuddle times with their bubs too 🙂

    Reassurance of love and lovability from friends and family, and being safe to say i love you back to them (even if I hadn’t been prone to saying it much in the past!).

    I couldn’t cope with listening to the radio, too many songs with memories or emotions, the inane chatter of talk show hosts, news stories of all the horrible stuff. The song ‘happy’ ended up being the only song i could deal with for a while 😛 So recommend supplying stuff to listen to while driving or not sleeping: I got an audacity account for audio books, and plenty of podcasts.

    A gf gave me a pair of earrings, not expensive but since most of my previous jewellery had been gifts from the ex, it was nice to have something pretty to wear that carried a reminder of my friend’s love. I did some shopping for new things I could wear that were devoid of memories and connections to the past, which made dressing in the mornings less emotional. Easier too, since my wardrobe at that time was whatever went on the back seat of my car when I fled to my mothers, so not the most…coordinated, haha.

  10. Depending on the person- a good, upbeat breakup song to make them laugh. I sent my mom a link to “Since you’ve been gone” by Avril Lavigne, and she loved it. A friend of mine once sent me “Bad Romance” by Lady Ga Ga when it had just come out and I’d had a relationship crash and burn spectacularly. A laugh and a reminder that you’re not alone helps immensely.

  11. If they’ve already moved out on their own, send a pizza or their favorite take out for delivery at their house (you can usually prepay the tip so they don’t have to worry about anything at all). In the aftermath of my divorce, even thinking about what to eat was this overwhelming burden and I found myself skipping meals because I felt unable to make any decision or muster the strength to cook. A good friend started randomly sending me pizza or chinese takeout and it was the greatest thing anyone had ever done for me. I had leftovers for days and managed to eat enough to muster through the worst of the emotional fallout without destroying myself in the process. Never underestimate the power of food delivery!

  12. I second the idea to send weekly cards, and agree – the idea to replace family photos with photos of friends is totally brilliant!

    Another thing that I found really helpful during my divorce was a magnetic custody calendar, which shows kids when they’ll see each parent. I worried so much about my daughter, and having that made a huge difference in my stress level.

    A meal delivery service would also be awesome – preferably pre-made healthy meals rather than meal kits…but anything would be welcome, honestly.

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