We want to show compassion for friends who tell us they are getting a divorce, but often we don’t know how to respond. It’s especially difficult when it’s clear they don’t want the divorce – that the choice was made by their spouse. Often the first thing that pops into our head – an unvarnished truth, perhaps? – is the very thing we should not say as a first response to the news. Here are ten statements that are often blurted out in a well-meaning attempt to offer comfort – followed by what goes on in the mind of the friend (who doesn’t want a divorce) when they hear it.
1. You’ll be better off without him.
The unspoken response: In what way? Better off financially without half of the family income? Better off with only seeing my kids half the time as they shuttle back and forth between two houses? Better off coming home to an empty house, an empty bed? Define “better off.”
2. You can do better than her.
The unspoken response: I don’t want “better” – I want what I thought was the best – the person I love.
3. You’re better than he’ll ever be.
The unspoken response: Then we must both be crap, because clearly I’m not good enough for the person who’s “not as good as me.”
4. The best revenge is being happy.
The unspoken response: Shut up, OK? Right now it flippin’ hurts and “happiness” is a concept I can’t begin to imagine.
5. He’ll be sorry one day.
The unspoken response: Uh, which day is that? I’m pretty sure it won’t be tomorrow. Or next Tuesday. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he will be. Ever. You need to work on your pep talks.
6. Time heals all wounds.
The unspoken response: I’m not “wounded,” you moron – I’m decimated. Does time heal decimated?
7. Have you prayed about it?
The unspoken response: Until my knees are raw and she’s still leaving me. My prayers haven’t been answered. Does that mean God doesn’t love me either? Just how unlovable AM I??
8. Is there another woman/man?
The unspoken response: Why would you immediately ask that? Do you know something? Does everybody know something?
9. Call me if there’s anything I can do.
The unspoken response: Yah – OK. Be expecting a call around 1:00 in the morning – I’ll be asking you to come over and fix my broken heart so I can get some sleep. Or, better yet, let me give you a call about fixing my spouse – make her change her mind about ending our marriage. Can you do that?
10. You don’t have guns in the house, do you?
The unspoken response: Is that suppose to be funny? You may not have noticed I’m not in a chuckling mood. And if it’s NOT suppose to be funny, who are you afraid for – my spouse or me? I don’t need you to put crazy thoughts in my head – there’s already plenty to deal with in there.
Whether you are thoroughly familiar with your friend’s marital history or didn’t see it coming, there are no magical words to be offered upon first hearing the news. If the news is being shared via phone or in writing, offer a simple: “Oh, Friend, I am so sorry” and let them make the next remark – one that may give you better guidance with what to say next. If you are told in person, and your relationship is such that physical contact is appropriate, sometimes it’s better to say nothing. Sometimes an immediate hug – an available shoulder “to cry on” – better conveys a wordless I hurt for you and with you.
Shel, great insights on grief. All kinds of grief, not just the death of a marriage, but the death of anything. Over the past fifteen years, I am learning there is truth in the old adage, “Silence is golden.”
You’re so right, DiAne – divorce is yet another form of grief and the counseling steps for divorce and loss through death have substantial overlap. You’re also right about that old adage – which serves us well in MANY situation!!
In the early 1980s, one small-press greeting card outsold all other divorce cards.
Cover art: cartoon picture of a sad person with head in hands, sitting at a table.
Cover message: “You know what they say…there are two sides to every divorce…”
Inside message: “Yours and the sh*t head’s.”
You can see why this card did so well. Basic support, no advice.
Laughed out loud at that Marylin. It renewed my desire to get a divorce greeting card line going – something an ex-law partner and I discussed many a time. If ever one needed a chuckle or a compassionate heartfelt remark, it’s one who is newly divorced. I also like your spot-on 4-word summary of how to deal with the situation!
Wow, every single one just nails it right on the head.
Many feel saying something/anything is better than nothing – I think you would agree, Gina, that statements like the ones discussed are proof that is not always true!
Having recently gone through that exact situation I heard all of these and then some. The comments my kids heard were equally outrageous. What someone going through this needs is kindness, compassion and a non judgmental friend who prays for them.
Well said, Shawn. I’m sorry you and your children had to deal with that.
Great suggestions, Shel. Sometimes just being quiet and listening is the best response.
What if you said a few of these and they got back together…yikes!
Excellent point, Jill – nothing can kill a friendship like letting the friend no what you really think about their choice of mates!!