The social landscape for a divorcing person often seems bleak. When a friend is moving from the Kingdom of Couples to Single Land, they need reassurance and support. Instead, what they too often get is abandonment or unwanted and even hurtful comments.
Friends from their married years chose to remain in touch with their ex and exiled them. Neighbors that used to stop for a chat dodge them in the supermarket as though they have caught some kind of communicable disease. Yes, they might seem overly sensitive, but their world has just turned upside down.
You know you’re not one of those people who might say something unkind. But there are still things that you could say in a moment of carelessness that are best left unsaid.
1. “You need to get over this and move on.” Your divorcing friend knows that. They want to do exactly that. But the obvious obstacles to moving on such as finalising the legal documents, separating assets, and sorting out custody arrangements seldom allow a divorcing person to do anything except stay stuck in the quagmire of divorce for weeks or months. And after that, there is the long process of emotional healing. What should you say instead? Tell them you know it takes as long as it takes. The time it takes to heal and move on is not a set number of months or years.
2. “We must get together sometimes, or we must have you around for dinner.” The divorcing person is already feeling fragile. And since you can bet they’ve heard this from others who are insincere, what they understand is that this vague offer of getting together is just a brush-off. Either say nothing at all or make a firm commitment: Have you been to the new restaurant down the street? Would you like to meet me there for lunch next Wednesday?
3. “Things will get better,” “There’s always sunshine after the rain,” “You’re stronger than you know,” “The sun will come out tomorrow…” or any other platitude or banal saying you might be tempted to throw out. Unless you are psychic and know for certain that things will get better, refrain from saying things like this because both you and your friend know that the future is largely unknowable. And it shows how shallow you are and how little empathy you have. Instead, tell your friend that you’re in for the long haul. Her marriage might be ending but your friendship is solid.
4. “You’ll meet someone else. Just put yourself out there and the right person will come along.” This is a variation of number one. When your friend is in the phase of dressing in track suits and hasn’t seen a hairdresser in months, they are signalling that for the present time, at least, the last thing they want is to start dating. Suggesting that they get back into dating is also an assumption that the most important thing is to get coupled up again as quickly as possible. Instead, they probably need to focus on liking themselves and feeling good about themselves in order to get their confidence back first. What about offering to go shopping with them and help them pick out a new outfit? Or ask if they would like to go with you to a day spa? Luring them back into the world is a better strategy than criticising them for withdrawing from it.
5. “I never liked your ex” OR “I always liked your ex.” This one is sure to infuriate because your opinion on their ex and whether you got along with him are irrelevant to your friend’s divorce. This is about her, sort of like her wedding day only much more drawn out and painful. And you don’t get to eat cake and dance afterwards.
6. Talking too much, lecturing, and giving your opinion about everything. If they ask for your opinion, by all means offer it, but don’t wade in telling them what to do and what not to do. Become a listener, even if your friend vents and tells you things you would rather not hear. It’s not what you say but what you do that matters. Offer to go to the gym with them. Offer to walk their dog or babysit if they have to go somewhere like divorce court. Suggest going to a movie or concert with them, because people entering the uncoupled world feel awkward doing these things by themselves.
Most of all, stay the course. Show up for them. Let them know you don’t see them as tainted, lessened, or damaged. Let them know they are still who they have always been to you. And honor that friendship by speaking from the heart and not shooting from the lip.
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