5 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Going Through A Divorce
We all mean well. We all want to be supportive. And yet, without knowing it, we can often add insult to injury without knowing it, or intending it.
Our goal with friends going through any traumatic experience is 1) to listen well, and 2) offer love and support, in a way that the person getting divorced prefers to receive love and support, to the best of our ability.
Here are some things to avoid.
1) "Well, at least you never had kids together."
Remember, our first goal is to listen well. This first one falls firmly in the camp of, "Your opinion," which is best to keep to yourself. Divorce can be a traumatic experience for many, and having (or not having) children is another deeply personal issue. Minimizing the trauma of the situation may seem like a good idea at first,
2) "Been there, done that."
Don't get us wrong, we appreciate the effort to relate, but this comment doesn't bond us together in a genuine heart-to-heart moment. At best, it redirects the conversation onto you and your experiences, which usually isn't helpful.
3) "What happened?"
This really isn't anyone's business. For many, it's also incredibly difficult to sum up in a short, "drive-by" sort of answer. Remember, you're asking someone to sum up a possible trauma for you in an easy-to-understand way, which feels like unneeded pressure. Divorces can be complex, years in the making (though not always), and if there was any sort of abuse involved, that's an added layer of difficulty that the person may not want to disclose to you.
4) "Let me know if you need anything."
This one is tricky since it's very well-intentioned and probably sincere (you actually WOULD do something if the person asked). The difficulty is it can feel extremely vulnerable to ask for help for someone going through a divorce. Put otherwise, it puts the hard part of asking for help on the person going through the divorce. Instead, offer something specific like dropping off a dinner, or treating the person to a gift. Then they can choose to accept or reject it. The specific offering depends a lot on the relationship, but take the burden of asking for help off the person going through the divorce.
5) Minimizing the situation in ANY way.
- "People get divorced all the time. You'll bounce back." (This one was actually said to me exactly a week after the divorce papers arrived in the mail.) Attempting to minimize the pain for someone else doesn't minimize their pain.
- "It could be worse." Of course it could. My house could burn down. A beam could fall on my head. The planet could explode. But none of those realizations help ease the difficulty of the divorce. Remember, something being true is different than something being helpful.
- "At least now you're single again! You're a free [man/woman]!" General rule: don't offer golden nuggets of advice. Stay away from advice. Unless the person has specifically asked for your advice, or I suppose if they are injuring themselves or someone else, advice = bad.
Since everyone is different, it's difficult to prescribe a list of things TO say, and there's no magic phrase. If you've been friends for a while, communicate that you're their friend and that you care. Get back to basics. Offer a meal. Or a night out. Let them know you respect their privacy. I had two friends offer to take me out for a few beers when the news broke, and I loved it. It felt great to get out!
The bottom line is to 1) listen well, and 2) offer support in the way the person prefers to receive it, to the best of your ability.
Over to you: what else would you add to this list?