What Not to Say to a Friend Who’s Getting Divorced

5 common sentiments that just don't help. And 5 that do.

Divorce is like cancer. Not because you’re sick, but because no one knows quite what to do with you when they see you.

Are you supposed to act like nothing’s happened when you see a friend who recently got a divorce? Do you throw your arms around them in the grocery store and tell them how sorry you are? Do you leave self-help books on their doorstep? Offer to counsel them through a Facebook message?

I remember when a close friend’s brother had cancer. Their father was trying to make small talk in a difficult time, and he mentioned that he liked to eat my pimiento cheese. I was so desperate to help, I showed up at their door in two hours with two gallons. Gallons.

Most of us say and do what we can in these situations because we feel the pain of those we love and want to ease it.

Most of us say and do what we can in these situations because we feel the pain of those we love and want to ease it. And truth be told, we feel our own worlds rocked violently when we hear the bad news of others and inevitably transfer it to ourselves. Could this happen to me?

And you know what? That’s ok. The thing is, the person with cancer—or going through the divorce—doesn’t have a clue what to say to you either. That’s part of the humor of our shared, messy humanity.

I haven’t had cancer, but I do know what living the “D” word feels like. I thought I might write down a few things I wish people had not said to me—and even better, a few things I am so thankful you did.

Do not say:

“What happened?”
If you have to ask, then you probably don’t need to know. That being said, I told a good friend about this list, and she said it’s unreasonable for me to think no one should ask that question. So, after much thought, I finally decided that if you’ve seen me naked, then you’re close enough to ask me what happened. This is hopefully a fairly short list for most of us, or otherwise people probably already know what happened.

“Who filed?”
I know this is one of the first questions that pops into your head, as if the answer somehow gives a clue to whose fault it was, and really, isn’t that what you’re trying to find out? It doesn’t matter. Well, I guess if you want to choose sides or like one person more than the other based on whose fault it is, then ok, it does matter.

“Do you want to go out with my cousin, brother, uncle, neighbor, son, grandfather, grandson, me?”
No, and you don’t want me near your cousin, brother, uncle, neighbor, son, grandfather, grandson or you for a long time. Trust me.

There are many demons to face during the fall-out of a divorce. And you have to face them alone. By alone, I mean you, God and time. My first realization of this came just a week or two after I filed for divorce.

I had to go out of town for work, and long story short, I ended up being stuck in an airport parking garage in a rental car all night. It was hot outside, horns were honking, planes were taking off and landing, and I was alone—and an emotional wreck. Those hours were some of my darkest and some of my most enlightening.

Dawn came, as it always does. But that time alone showed me it was going to take a lot of work to understand myself in the way I need to finally believe, “Yes, I am enough. Yes, I am loved. Yes, I am beautiful.”

To be your true, fearless self: This is a place best discovered without depending on someone else to tell you.

I’d like it if you could try and just see me. The same me you’ve known—not someone who now checks a different box on all her forms.

Anything with the phrase “beauty from ashes”
Please retire Isaiah 61:3 from your list of things to say to hurting loved ones. But if you really like saying it, then I ask that you remember the phrase is “beauty instead of ashes” not “beauty from ashes.” This means two very different things if you stop to think about it.

The label “single mom”
You may find this amusing, but I didn’t know I was a “single mom” until someone referenced me in that way. I was bewildered.
What I mean is this. In that moment, I realized you see me differently now. You have labeled me.

Labels are rarely useful, unless they are in your refrigerator. We like to use them because it helps organize our lives and put people in places we can understand. But I’d like it if you could try and just see me. The same me you’ve known—not someone who now checks a different box on all her forms.

Do say:

“I know you. I don’t need to know anything else.”
If it’s your friend going through the divorce, isn’t that enough until they are ready to talk?

“Give me your house key.”
There are no words to describe how I feel about my friends who helped me move, unpack my new house, organize my kitchen (and closet albeit temporarily) and then have continued to help me make a new home, clean it up, and survive this past year. I have come home from work many times to find beautiful flowers on my balcony, candles burning in the kitchen and ironing all done.

If you want to show Christ to someone, this works a lot better than the beauty from ashes thing.

“Come rock on my porch with me.”
This place has been my sanctuary for a long, long time. Offer a safe place like this to someone you deeply love if you can.

Now, it will mean listening to your friend ramble, cry, contradict, panic, shout, chant the “f” word, laugh, threaten, give up, get back up, run out in the middle of a dinner party, ask to spend the night, ask to run away ... so this one is only for the friendship that can stand up to—and work through—anything.

These friends and I have given birth together, buried loved ones together, argued, loved, cried, disagreed, laughed and finally settled in to whatever life brings.
And thankfully, it means sometimes we just get to sit and rock and look at a magazine.

“Wine is at 6. Dinner at 7.”
I’m still me, if you can let me be. I like eating steak and French fries with you. I like trying the new wine you found. I like listening to your music, and I hope we will laugh.
Thank you for remembering there is more to me than my current circumstances.

“I understand.”
Even if you don’t.

Top Comments

Stephanie Grove

1

Stephanie Grove commented…

I agree with David Barratt, in that-- while love should always be our highest priorities in our dealings with other human beings, believers or no-- we must still be careful not to reinforce or encourage sinful, selfish, or hurtful behavior. For example, a friend of mine left his wife of nearly five years with no explanation other than that he didn't love her or find her attractive and never had. His abandonment of her was excruciating and completely unexpected, and made doubly painful by the fact that he left her with all their accumulated debt and pressured her not to tell any of their mutual friends what was happening. When asked by friends, he tried to defend his behavior saying he had gone against God's will in marrying her and was now simply correcting his error, and that he was "at peace" about it spiritually. He was very hostile to any hint from other believers that he might be mistaken, and in fact brow-beat and harassed several of us who had been his close friends for years because we would not pat him on the back and approve of his actions. It became so bad that I personally had to stop speaking with him because the only thing he wanted to hear was unconditional approval, untempered by truth or concern for his ex-wife's well-being. Through walking with his ex-wife in this valley of the shadow of death I have come to discover that "runaway spouses" are in fact a far more frequent cause of modern divorce rates than I realized, and they tend to leave behind a lot of unresolved emotional trauma in their wake. Meeting the kind of behavior my friend exhibited with loving acceptance and understanding would not have been right, nor would it ultimately have been loving. And while I still pray for him and hope to one day be reconciled in Christ, I know I did the right thing in standing firm and holding him accountable for his callous treatment of another child of God.

9 Comments

David Barratt

1

David Barratt commented…

I think it's important to remember that Jesus first displayed love to everyone. Love proceeded anything else. However, Jesus was not afraid to stand up for what was right. I think the "Do's" that you have written are beautiful, they are truely loving and I'm so thankful that someone would take the courage to love you in that way. But I don't think the "Don'ts" are wrong. Actually, I think they are really important. But the "Dont's" should always be proceeded by the "Do's". The Church's first priority is to love as Jesus loves. Jesus went out of his way to love others, but after he displayed that he was for them, he did the much more difficult work, he worked to restore the person through repentance. I'm really not sure what repentance would look like in this situation, it's probably very different depending on "What happened?". Jesus has the ability to look right into our hearts and know what happened, we do not. I think you are right, you shouldn't just outright ask that question, you should show your love and then you should ask that question. I'm really sorry that this happened to you my sister. I hope that God leads you to what is best for you.

peace & love

Terry

1

Terry commented…

I think another big "Don't Do" is not to do anything at all. I understand it is difficult to not know what to do or say to someone who is going through a major life crisis. But to not do anything at all is just as damaging and hurtful.

When I was going through a separation and then divorce, many of my daily friends and colleagues just went missing. Close people from my church never called or contacted me or my ex to see if there was anything they could do.

If you have absolutely no clue what to say or do, just ask that person "What can I do for you? I am here for you." Just knowing someone is there for you can be a huge source of healing.

Stephanie Grove

1

Stephanie Grove commented…

I agree with David Barratt, in that-- while love should always be our highest priorities in our dealings with other human beings, believers or no-- we must still be careful not to reinforce or encourage sinful, selfish, or hurtful behavior. For example, a friend of mine left his wife of nearly five years with no explanation other than that he didn't love her or find her attractive and never had. His abandonment of her was excruciating and completely unexpected, and made doubly painful by the fact that he left her with all their accumulated debt and pressured her not to tell any of their mutual friends what was happening. When asked by friends, he tried to defend his behavior saying he had gone against God's will in marrying her and was now simply correcting his error, and that he was "at peace" about it spiritually. He was very hostile to any hint from other believers that he might be mistaken, and in fact brow-beat and harassed several of us who had been his close friends for years because we would not pat him on the back and approve of his actions. It became so bad that I personally had to stop speaking with him because the only thing he wanted to hear was unconditional approval, untempered by truth or concern for his ex-wife's well-being. Through walking with his ex-wife in this valley of the shadow of death I have come to discover that "runaway spouses" are in fact a far more frequent cause of modern divorce rates than I realized, and they tend to leave behind a lot of unresolved emotional trauma in their wake. Meeting the kind of behavior my friend exhibited with loving acceptance and understanding would not have been right, nor would it ultimately have been loving. And while I still pray for him and hope to one day be reconciled in Christ, I know I did the right thing in standing firm and holding him accountable for his callous treatment of another child of God.

Kerri

3

Kerri commented…

This is spot on. I went through it four years ago and the people who did the "do's" remain so special to me. They showed the love of Christ at a time I desperately needed it.

MrDeclanDwight

1

MrDeclanDwight commented…

"Chant the 'f' word" - ha!
Love the honesty.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In