5 Things NOT to Ask When They Tell You They’re Getting a Divorce

Posted by: Shel 12 Comments

5 Things NOT to Say When They Tell Yu They're Getting a DivorceIf someone asks for your advice when they are contemplating divorce, respond if you like. Or if someone you are very close to is heading down a catastrophic path and you and other loved ones are trying to help, it’s your call whether or not to say something.

But if a casual friend, acquaintance, co-worker, gym pal, or book-club buddy tells you they’re getting a divorce, they are probably not seeking your input. In such cases, here are 5 Things NOT to ask:

1. Have you considered the effects on your children? It’s hard to think of a more insulting question. Such a question presumes that you are being more considerate of their children than they are. You, who has no clue whatsoever about what goes on behind closed doors at their house.

2. Have you prayed about it? Very judgmental. Now is not the time to foist one’s own morals upon them, or to assume they don’t have any of their own. And frankly, no answer to that question will satisfy the one asking. If the answer is ‘no,’ more intrusive, intentionally guilt-inducing ‘advice’ will follow. If the answer is: “Yes, and God told me I should” is the one asking likely to believe them?

3. Were your parents divorced? Because we all know divorce is genetic, right? The question implies that, if the answer is yes, they were doomed from the start. And if the answer is ‘no,’ there must be something very wrong with them to not be able to stick it out, too. Again, take a step back and remember that you have no idea about the circumstances that led up to their decision. If it was, indeed, even their decision as opposed to one that was thrust upon them.

4. Was your spouse having an affair? Whether the question is a result of sympathy, empathy, or curiosity, this is sooooooooo none of your business. In any world, at any time, on any level.

5. Is there anything I can do? What are they suppose to say to that? This is right up there with “Call me if you need anything.” The speaker feels they have put out something compassionate, but it’s an empty offer. If you really want to help and there is something you think you can do, be specific. Such as “I know you’re scheduled to host book club next month, I’d be happy to cover that for you if your plate’s full right now.” If there’s not something specific to offer, simply tell them you’re sorry they have to deal with that and/or you’ll keep them and their family in your prayers – whatever response is sincere for you.

Bonus admonition: This is not the time to tell them your divorce-from-hell story. They probably have enough on their plate without the added baggage.

Have you had someone respond inappropriately to you when you said you were getting divorced? Is there something a casual acquaintance could have or did say to you that was helpful? If so, please share  so we can all get better at navigating this difficult situation.

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  • All of the above are well-intentioned, but hurtful. Good points, Shel.

    The best thing anyone ever said to me (and followed through with)…

    “What evening and time can I call you each week so we can talk?”

    • Shel Harrington

      Love that Brian! The follow through definitely speaks louder than the words!

  • Great list, Shel. I’ve had many friends in this situation, my response usually is, “I’m here for you.”

    • Shel Harrington

      That’s a good one for people we know well. Judging from my interaction with you over the past year, I bet you’re pretty good at following up on that statement, too!

    • Shel Harrington

      Thanks, Luanne – I remain on the lookout for more options of what TO say in such situations!

  • Donna Wade

    Well said Shel.

    • Shel Harrington

      Thanks, Donna – wish I had some better offerings for what TO say!

  • Gina Kishur

    Shel, you should be grandfathered in as a licensed therapist. Brilliant insight.
    Re. Inappropriate questions: (1) How could you let that wonderful man get away? (2) Can I have him when you’re done? (Oh yeah, he’s all yours.)

    • Shel Harrington

      Oh my gosh, Gina – is that not proof that people speak without having a CLUE about what goes on behind the public faces?? I bet those were the same speakers who are down on the first floor of the courthouse eyeing the about-to-be-single litigants. That’s the type of bad judgment that will get them a second trip to the first floor!

  • Thought-provoking on many levels, Shel.

    • Shel Harrington

      I’m always on the lookout for ideas for something appropriate to say in those situations – it’s so tough to find the balance of demonstrating compassion without being intrusive. It’s tempting to avoid the dilemma by plowing on to another topic – which could leave the speaker feeling marginalized. Not a lot of great choices!

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