Getting a divorce is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can ever go through, so the support of friends and family can provide comfort, hope, and even a useful distraction to the frustrations of the process. What we don’t need during this time is harsh judgment and criticism, insensitive remarks, or well-meaning pals who actually make us feel worse about the situation!
Please, don’t say or do the following six things to a divorcing friend or loved one:
1. “What makes you think you can do better?” Seriously? No one knows your life until they’ve walked in your shoes, so no one can presume to know what goes on behind the closed doors of your home or how you really feel. While your marriage might look peachy to a passerby, you may very well be in misery and justified in your feelings.
My own mother used this line on me when I told her that my marriage was in trouble. Thanks, mom! She pointed out the fact that I had kids, was overweight, and nearly 40, so what exactly did I think I would “get” if I divorced? Well, it’s not always about “getting” a new man, if that’s what she meant! How about respectful treatment, self respect, peace, dignity, and maybe even happiness? I think we all deserve that!
2. “People today just don’t try hard enough or take marriage seriously!” Clearly, people of ages past were pretty successful at remaining married for life. To put that in perspective, divorce wasn’t really an acceptable option for most people until about the 1970s, so it could be true that people worked harder at marriage…but, is it also possible that many were also trapped in unhappy unions with no viable options (especially for women)?
Who needs others to tell them they didn’t try hard enough to save their marriage? Yes, some people are too quick to give up when things get rough, and shame on them for not trying! Marriage is hard work, and it’s important! My point is that the average Joe on the street has no idea what you’ve been through or what you’ve tried to do to turn your problems around, so comments like this are hurtful and most often ignorant!
3. Immediately turn the conversation to their (or their third cousin’s) divorce…blah, blah, blah! There’s a fine line between sharing useful information learned from a similar situation and shamelessly grabbing the spotlight for oneself. If someone is sharing with you that they’re divorcing, they would like your words of support and encouragement, not an hour of your personal horror stories and trials and tribulations from your own life. Sorry, but it’s not about you right now, it’s about your friend who needs you! Ask how you might be able to help and offer a sounding board so they can talk!
4. Distance yourself or act like your friend’s divorce is contagious. “Divorce” is like a dirty word to many married people. Once a friend or two divorces, it kind of shakes the foundation of other married couples who may wonder “could it happen to us?” The answer is “yes,” if you stop watering your marriage flower and neglect the relationship, you could be the next pair in divorce court! Your marriage can’t be infected by the problems of another marriage, and your insecurity is not a reason to turn your back on a friend, nor is it a reason to treat her like a failure or outcast!
5. “I’m so sorry! That’s terrible!” This response may be completely appropriate, depending on the circumstances; but, the divorce may not be such a terrible thing at all! Saying “congratulations, I’m happy for you!” may be appropriate in some situations. If your friend announces a divorce, take the temperature on the situation to decide whether sympathy or congratulations are in order. Your friend may be devastated by the situation or regaining freedom from an oppressive marriage. No matter the nature of the divorce, offering your support and being a friend is the best response you could ever offer!
6. “I’ve got a single co-worker who’s really cute!” Don’t assume that just because your friend is about to become single that they’re ready for a new mate! Dating and romance will come in due time; but, this is the time for healing, reflection, and getting life back in order. Offering up a new partner insinuates that your loved one’s worth is dependent on being in a relationship and that she should be freaked out at the prospect of being single!
Being with the wrong person or rebounding too quickly into a relationship she’s not ready for is a worse fate than single status! When she finally starts talking about dating again, you may have your in to play Cupid. In the meantime, if you think your friend needs a positive diversion or someone to love, consider a pet or a new hobby!
Friends and family of divorcing people can provide a lifeline of reassurance, empathy, love, and encouragement. A true friend cares not if their friend has made mistakes or decisions contrary to what he or she would do. Instead, they care and stand by loyally without condemnation, helping however possible.
Think before you make a statement that may damage your friendship or prove how much you really don’t know about your loved one’s reasons to divorce. You may not agree with their choices, but it is not your life to live. Be there to offer a hug, shoulder to cry on, a helping hand to move, or a pleasant distraction from their circumstances. Your friend will appreciate your fidelity while so many other things are falling apart, and your photo won’t end up on a plaque somewhere as “world’s most insensitive former friend!”