Recently, a friend told me she was getting divorced, and I was anxious to say the right thing. Later, I asked some people I know who are divorced about what kinds of comments are helpful or, more important, unhelpful. I was more worried about what not to say.
Here’s what they told me. Don’t…
— Argue hard for your friend to take one course or another. You can’t know what’s right for someone else.
– Be judgmental. “People judge themselves harshly for getting divorced,” a friend told me. “Don’t add to it.” Along the same lines, try not to say too many bad things about the other spouse. “When we first separated, I wanted to hear people criticize my ex-wife,” a friend said, “but it’s really not good to have those kinds of conversations. After all, I did marry her, and we have kids together, so I don’t need to know that no one liked her for all those years.”
– Assume that you know who is “right” or “wrong.” It’s impossible, from the outside, to understand someone else’s relationship. “Technically, I left my husband,” a friend told me, “but he’d abandoned our marriage long before. I didn’t appreciate being viewed as the one who wasn’t willing to do any work to keep it going.”
– Insist on being given a reason. People can’t always sum up their reasons neatly, and they may want to keep their reasons private. Don’t probe for explanations or pry for details.
– Forget to include divorcing friends in your plans. “Divorce changes everything about your social life,” someone said. “It really helps if friends ask you to do things. It makes you feel included and supported.”
Some helpful comments: “You’re going to get through this,” “However this turns out, I hope it all works out for the best,” “I’m here for you,” “Just take it one day at a time.”
What are some other things to say — or not to say?
The days are long, but the years are short.