In the midst of my divorce, and for the many months following, I had a slew of people who didn’t know what to say or do. for many, I was the first person they knew, up-close-and-personal, to walk this wobbly path. There is no rule book, no manual for what to do when your friend experiences this strange and devastating loss.
The following are REAL things people said to me. Most are well-intentioned. Many, I’m guilty of speaking over people. and hear me when i say that there is so much grace if you’ve said them, too.
we so badly want make sure we say something even if it isn’t exactly right for the situation. We long make others’ pain more palatable. the silence scares us. but The words we offer often make US feel better, and leave a wake of pain and devastation.
Here are 8 things NOT to say to someone going through a divorce or break-up:
1. “At least you don’t have kids.”
Let’s back up.
If your sentence begins with “AT LEAST” you can stop talking. Go ahead and shove it right back where it came from. wash your mouth out with soap while you’re at it. “AT LEAST” is NOT a way to begin a sentence. Do not lessen pain with trivial comparisons. That is not your job.
Sure, it would be more complicated with children involved.
But remember that divorce was never in my 5-year plan. i planned my life with him. I had dreamed of one day having green-eyed, tan babies smashing fingerprints on my windows and scribbling on my walls. This was the even the year I had wanted to start having those smooshy babies.
So yes, it would have been complicated juggling custody and managing kids in the midst. I cannot imagine the added stress and heartache. But by saying: “At least you don’t have kids,” you are diminishing those hopes and dreams i once clung to.
2. “Why didn’t you fight harder?”
This was gut-wrenching for me to hear. A perfectionist and people-pleaser at heart, i never wanted my marriage to fall apart. less for myself, than for the people around me. I never wanted to disappoint my family, his family, our friends. Our marriage was hanging on by threads for months. Sure, there were better ways we could have communicated, sought out counseling before it was too late, waited longer before getting married. But i had people ask this even after the divorce was final.
This question, while well-meaning, only adds pain and self-hatred. Instead of asking why I didn’t fight harder, find out why you didn’t fight harder for our relationship. discover how you could better support future relationships. ask the tough questions. uncover what changes you can make to support other marriages better.
3. “can I set you up with ____?”
I know this is well-meaning. I really do. And it’s probably said with a giggle and a toothy grin. And some days, I may respond well to this request (or want to at least see a picture). But this question sticks a Band-Aid on the loss. Trying to replace one human with another until I feel better.
Allison Fallon said it best when she said: “What’s better than finding a spouse is learning to be at home with yourself.”
A break-up and divorce cause you to begin to question so much about yourself, your worth, your value. Let me start dating again on my own timeline. This could be weeks, this could be months, even years down the road. in the meantime, remind that i am valuable and worthy of love with or without a significant other. Marriage is not the end-all, be-all of society. I am no less human or no less woman without a man by my side. i am enough.
4. “Well, you weren’t together/married/dating for that long.”
You may feel tempted to qualify my grief by the months/years/weeks, we were together. But you don’t get to do that. My loss will look radically different from something you’ve experienced. Allow me the space to grieve in my own way for as long, or as little as I need. Do not put limits on how sad i should feel about someone, regardless of how long the relationship lasted.
5. “I saw THIS coming.”
Guys. This really happened. People who i love actually said this to me. My initial response to this is disappointment. If someone dear to me really saw this divorce coming, why didn’t they step in? Why didn’t they ask better questions?
Where. Were. they.
If this is something you are tempted to say, please don’t. Use this knee-jerk response as a wake-up call. A reminder that marriages, relationships, families take an entire village, a whole community to flourish. Ask how you can start better supporting and fighting for the marriages in your life. And how you can better invite people into your own relationships for support, too.
6. “Don’t worry, you will find someone.”
We try so desperately to pour certainty onto pain. This is one of those instances. You don’t actually know if I will “find someone.” In the moment, we may not want anyone but the person we lost. Please don’t start predicting our future to make yourself feel better in the midst.
7. “Time heals all wounds.”
One of my dear friends responded best to this platitude: “**** OFF.” (you can replace the stars appropriately).
Yes, time helps. the pain dulls over time. But time can be your best friend and ALSO YOUR worst enemy. The more time that passes, the longer you’ve been without him or her. The more time that passes, the less PEOPLE WILL BE there to support and love you. The more time that passes, the more likely you are to beat yourself up when a wave of grief washes over you.
8. “You’re better off without him.”
This often is followed by: “He wasn’t even good looking. You can do better. I never liked him.”
Sweet, well-meaning friend. You are trying to help. You really are. You are for me and you love me, this I know. But, please remember that I loved him. that i was madly, deeply in love. that i planned my future with this person. There may be moments i want to vent, but let me be the one to lead that conversation.
In the wake of a fresh wound, you cannot tell me that i’m better off without him. I miss him. I miss silly things about him- that he left all 24 pairs of his shoes at the door. Or that he was the messiest teeth-brusher to ever live.
Avoid diminishing his character. Let me grieve the loss of this person in my life (even if there were attributes that weren’t appealing).
now hear me. You won’t get it right every time. You will say stupid, ill-timed things. Don’t let this scare you or stop you from entering into this grieving process. We need you—we may want to talk or cry or scream or drink or sit in awkward silence. But we need your presence more than anything. Not your words, your pat answers, your empty clichés, your Bible promises.
we need you.
Here are a few suggestions of what to say to friends going through a divorce or break-up:
Thanks, sweet friends, for enduring the last year of my life with me. For learning the hard things, for saying the stupid things, and for the grace you’ve extended to me when i didn’t know how to invite you into this with me. Thank you, more than anything, for your on-going presence. I am the luckiest to be loved by you.
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