Getting divorced sucks. There’s no way around it. Even if it’s amicable (which most are not), it’s painful—a mourning of a lost life that will never be and a complete venture into the unknown. Except this time, you’re probably doing it with a little more age, wisdom, and probably a kid or two who are forcing you to keep your head above water.
I couldn’t believe the things people thought they could say to me or ask me when I was going through my divorce, even though I knew most of it was just meant to be empathetic or conversational. A lot of it was just out of place or tactless. So, to keep you from making those same mistakes, or to prepare you for what’s coming your way, here’s my list of 7 things you’re guaranteed to hear at some point during your divorce experience.
#1 “Are you sure you can’t work it out?”
This has several variations and can take a few different tones, but it usually stems from the idea of “divorce is bad and should be avoided at all costs.” And believe me, I get it. Prior to my own divorce, I had this idea in my head that people just didn’t try hard enough. Divorce was the easy way out, and we were meant to keep those vows we said in front of all of our friends and family.
But then it happened to me. And it was so excruciating to go through with that divorce, even though I did it with complete confidence and clarity. And then I led DivorceCare—a support group for those going through divorce, and I quickly learned that divorce isn’t taken lightly and when people go through it, they don’t want to be. There’s often no better alternative.
So my advice to someone who wants to encourage them to work it out: Withhold judgment. Just listen. However much they want to trust you with is for them to decide. Let t
#2 “He’s so great though!”
Oh this one stung so much. My ex was such a fun and kind person, so I know people meant well when they said this. In my case, my husband was an alcoholic, so leaving was necessary for the well-being of our entire family, but that didn’t change the fact that people thought he was a great guy. And I can think of a handful of people who always reminded me of that.
#3 “I never liked him anyway.”
Or the alternative, “You deserve better.” There are two ways this conversation goes. In one scenario, it’s simply people trying to make you feel better, like you truly are better off without him. But then there’s this other version of that conversation, where people really decide to tell you how they felt all along. Like, from the time we got engaged you knew it was a mistake and never told me?! That was the time. Now, you don’t get to tell me that.
That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate when people told me stories about his behavior from time to time. Sometimes it really helped fill in gaps that made my head spin—like hearing he would go out to his car during the work day and drink. I was mortified to know this, when I had no clue at home, but I was glad to know it because it helped me understand the real reason he’d been fired from that job.
But when in doubt, oooph, just keep the dirty details of his life to yourself. A lot of what I heard just hurt and made me feel stupid, and it didn’t do anything to change my situation.
#4 “Why? What happened?”
Inquiring minds want to know, people! Obviously. And more than likely, your friend will tell you. If not, it’s probably too raw or too personal. Other than my boss and two co-workers, I didn’t mention to a soul at work how my life had fallen apart. It was my escape from life and I did everything I could not to think about him or my single mother future while I was there. And being forced to wait a full year to get divorced made keeping that quiet much easier. And when my name changed on my email a year later, I was better prepared emotionally to handle the questioning.
#5 Anything about how they feel like a single parents sometimes
Oh, your husband travels for work all week? Works long hours? You have to get the kids to all of their sports and handle homework every night? Man, that’s rough. I’m in the same boat. Except I’m not—I don’t have a spouse who comes home to me on the weekends. My kids no longer have both of their parents’ things in one house. You are still a nuclear family unit, and I’m not. Please, please, please do not compare your situation to mine.
#6 “How will you afford it? Will you have to move?”
And if you were a stay-at-home parent, add in, “Will you go back to work?”
I was in an incredibly fortunate situation as the breadwinner of my family, but even then, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep our house. It was really tight for the first year with two kids in daycare. But I was staying afloat and so proud of myself for keeping my kids’ lives as normal as I could. So when someone asked me this, while so well-intentioned, it was just a reminder that I may not be enough. My kids were going to suffer and pay the price, and it was my fault. I doubt that’s how any of my friends wanted to make me feel, so just don’t ask this question.
#7 “Your poor kids!”
No shit, my poor kids. I know. I know. I know.
This is a terrible and confusing time, so when in doubt, here are a few supportive things you could say instead:
- I love you. You’re amazing.
- Your kids are so lucky to have you.
- Do you have someone to talk to? (friend, therapist, pastor)
- Can I bring you dinner?
- Do you want to talk about it?
You’re going to get through this and your kids are going to be just fine. Know that now. The rest will come.
You can download a free 3 chapter preview of my book, The Other Side of the Door, by clicking here.