What do you say to someone going through a divorce ?
Many people feel awkward when they hear of divorce. They say the wrong things out of ignorance–not because they mean any harm. Now that I’ve crawled through the mud of divorce, I have some insight into what you should and shouldn’t say. Remember, there will never be a perfect thing to say, but hopefully this article will point you in the right direction!
What Not to Say:
- “OK, I want the whole story. What happened?” Don’t ask for all the details–it won’t kill you if you don’t know! When my marriage was falling apart, a lot of my friends kept asking me to repeat what happened between my husband and I. I would cry at all the same parts in my story, feel all the same emotions, and I kept feeling depressed even though I thought talking about it would make me feel better. In retrospect, I realize that repeating my story to them was more for their sake rather than for mine. Making your friend repeat their story is like making them watch a horror movie over and over again. If you want to be there for your friend, think about their emotional health first. It is selfish to make them relive their pain just to cure your curiosity. When they are ready, they will tell you what they feel comfortable sharing.
- Don’t tell your friend to stop being sad, depressed, and expect them to instantly get over their heartbreak. When I was grieving over my husband’s infidelity and the breakdown of my marriage, I heard people say: “Stop giving your husband so much power by being sad.” “You should move on and just not think about it…” If someone fell and broke their leg, you wouldn’t tell them to get up and start running–it would be ludicrous! That would only cause more injury! They would need to get medical attention, take the weight off of that leg, and take care of it so that it was not injured further. So, why do we expect someone with a broken heart to “get back on the horse” and be instantly healed? We coax our friends to immediately start dating again, to start being happy again–when actually, this will cause more injury. Even though you can’t physically see a broken heart, it needs to go through a healing process.
- “Well, your marriage was a mistake.” Some of my friends wanted me to admit that my marriage was a mistake. However, it was not their place to make that judgment. It is wrong to think that you can determine whether or not they married the wrong person. That is for God to decide. People have the free will to make wrong choices within a marriage, but that does not mean the marriage was a mistake to begin with. Countless times, the Bible shows how God had plans for things to go one way, but the free will of people changed those plans. God can place two people together, but we can choose to walk away because of our own free will.
- Did you try to make your marriage work? Though you may mean well, this statement can come off as judgmental. This question is also a bit nonsensical. Most people try to make their marriage work before calling it quits. Your friend obviously did not get to the stage of divorce overnight. Most likely, they have exhausted every option before this and have been mulling over every detail for some time now. Recognize that they don’t need to give you a report of what they did or didn’t do to save their marriage.
- “If only you would have [insert opinion here], you could have prevented this.” A lot of people told me that if I had done things differently, I would not have been in my predicament. “If only you would have…” Do you know that by telling your friend that they could have somehow prevented the mess they are in, you are claiming a false statement as truth? It is prideful to predict what would have happened in your proposed scenarios. Moreover, it absolutely impossible for you to know exactly what would have happened had YOU been in their shoes and done all the “right” things; in actuality, the outcome may have been the same or dare I say, even worse.
- Don’t play counselor if you aren’t professionally licensed. I was given tons of “advice” when I first began to share what was going on in my marriage–most of the “advice” was actually an opinion. Those opinions only brought confusion and sometimes guilt. You could be doing more harm than good. The thing is, you don’t have what it takes to give clear advice unless you have been professionally trained.
- Don’t tell them that their marriage was not real. Just because their marriage did not work out does not negate the fact that they built a life with their spouse. They have every reason to grieve and feel the pain of their loss. It is also insensitive to tell someone that their marriage was fake when everything they are feeling is very real.
- Don’t pressure your friend into going to parties, events, or other social outings. People have the false notion that in order to heal from heartbreak one needs to resume all regular activities. You need to understand that your friend will have some very tough days and may not feel social. They may not want to celebrate birthdays, holidays, weddings, baby showers for a while–and you can’t take it personally or guilt them into “stuffing” all of their emotions in a box. Understand that they need to have some space and celebrations may be out of the question for a few months.
- Don’t share their situation with others. I know it may seem ridiculous that I put this on the list, but most of my friends ended up sharing my situation with someone that was “close” to them even though I specified that my circumstance be kept only between them and me. Your friend has every right to choose who knows and who doesn’t know about their situation. It is not your story to tell. Yes, I know it may be hard not tell your mom, sister, pastor, boyfriend or spouse–but if that person confides in YOU, make sure you are a trustworthy friend. And, if you think it will be a struggle to keep their situation confidential then be honest with them–don’t let them find out you told someone else through a third party. Rule of thumb, don’t talk about their situation unless they are present. ***Note: There are exceptions. If your friend is being physically abused or is in immediate danger you need to report this to the police. If your friend is suicidal, you need to call the suicide hotline.
What You Should Do & Say:
- I am here for you. Your role as a friend is to be there for them. To be a shoulder they can cry on. My adopted sister has been there for me during my worst moments. She has stayed on the phone with me when I thought I couldn’t drive because the tears in my eyes were blinding me from seeing the road. She’s been there for me in the middle of the night when I thought I was losing my mind. All it takes is finding out what your friend needs in that moment.
- Make a “comfort bag” of goodies for them. Grief for anyone going through a divorce comes in waves. You can put together a few of their favorite things–maybe their favorite movie, some encouraging words in a card, candy, inspirational art, a blanket for them to cuddle in, a journal. I had friends who gave me a blanket when I first separated from my husband. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. I still sleep with it every night. Things that bring comfort are so important.
- Tell them: “If you don’t feel like talking about anything, you don’t have to.” One of my dear friends said this before I went over to her house. Wow, what a relief it was to hear this! It was such a breath of fresh air. She just let me sit at her house, play with her kids, and she let me be. I can’t tell you how good it feels NOT to feel pressured to talk about your problems. So many people make the mistake of pressuring their friends to talk about their divorce. Sometimes, they just need a good distraction and some fresh air.
- Focus on your friend, not their church attendance. One thing my counselor said was–sometimes, people are more concerned with whether you are going to church than with how you are actually doing. When I first separated from my husband, the last thing I wanted to do was go to church. I wasn’t backsliding or partying it up on the weekends–I just needed time to adjust to a major crisis. God sees your friend where they are, and if they need a break from church, keep supporting them. Eventually, they will be ready to come back to church on their own time.
- Recognize that a divorce is not the same as a breakup. A marriage is very different from a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. I have weathered a few breakups of my own, but I can truly say they do not compare to a divorce. After breaking up with my ex-boyfriends, I was able to move on rather quickly and resume my normal routines–no matter how painful those breakups were at the time. But, when the reality of divorce first set in–I did not know what hit me. It is hard to understand until you experience both a breakup and a divorce. Divorce is a slow, painful death that rips at your heart, and it is exhausting because it is both an emotional and legal process. A divorce takes many months–whereas a breakup happens in a moment. The agony and dread of facing your spouse in court, drafting legal documents with your attorney, and fighting over property division is extremely excruciating. Be sensitive to their pain–even if you cannot personally relate.
- Buy them some helpful books. Please click here to find some books that have helped me through the mud of divorce. A book goes a long way, trust me. They kept me sane.
- Tell me about what you are doing now to cope. What is going on with your life right now? A lot of my friends were so busy playing detective and figuring out what happened in my divorce, they forgot to ask me how I was doing. They forgot to deal with the present day Jen. Stop digging into your friend’s past and start focusing on them in the moment. What do they need right now?
- What can I do to help you? This is probably one of the BEST things you can say to your friend because you are giving them a chance to tell you what they need. It’s better than assuming you know what they need. Believe me, they will thank you for it.
- How can I pray for you? Seriously, I have cried and leaned on many people and prayer has been such a strengthening tool for me. God is always BIGGER than any situation–no matter how bleak, confusing, or complicated it may seem.
Finally, remember to be gentle with your friend and tell them to be gentle with themselves. Don’t avoid your friend just because they are going through a divorce–they still need you. They will thank you later for being kind to their broken heart.
-Jen, Writer for The Healed Heart.
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I share my journey through a painful divorce in hopes that it will bring healing to others. Please click here for “My Story.”
I am pursuing my passion to build orphanages and make a difference in the world. To support me, please visit: www.gofundme.com/jensinedreams