Things NOT to Say to Someone Recently Divorced
The author of Life Drawing: A Novel explains the rules of kindness and etiquette to follow when comforting a newly single friend or family member.
4. "I never thought he was right for you..."
This statement contains a supportive message: "You did the right thing." But it comes wrapped in something that sounds an awful lot like, "I knew better than you all along," or "I could have told you this would happen." Most people going through a divorce are struggling already with a lot of embarrassment and shame—trust me, I still remember those awful "I'm a bad person, I'm a bad mother," moments.
So, how do you let a friend know that you think they've done the right thing, without making it sound as if you've been tsk-tsking their marriage all along? "This seems like a positive step," is one straightforward possibility. But my sister-in-law set the gold standard. It may seem obvious or even a little hokey, but her simple statement, "I really do trust that you've thought this through and know what you're doing," was amazingly steadying. True, the fact that I was getting divorced meant that, at some point along the way, my judgment hadn't been all I might have wished, but hearing that solid word, "trust," helped me remember that taking some missteps in life doesn't mean you are doomed to keep taking them.
5. "I wonder if you could give me some advice, because my marriage isn't going so great these days."
After my divorce, I was amazed by how many unhappily married people—some of whom I barely knew—started inviting me to lunch or suggesting we meet for coffee, so they could get a little advice. The harried looking mother at pre-school. The friend of a friend I ran into at the deli. I became a kind of poster child—or poster woman—for divorce. And it was very clear to me that most of these people didn't want advice as much as they wanted permission. The fact that I had been part of a marriage that ended seemed to make them assume I was going to respond to the possibility of their divorcing with a big, "You go, girl!"
But what divorce really taught me was that no one else can know whether or not someone else's marriage should end. And no divorce is good news. Sometimes, it's an improvement over the married life, the married household, but it's inevitably a sadness, as well. My answer to all those who asked me if I thought they should get divorced was always the same. "I have no idea what you should do, but whatever you decide, make sure you can articulate the reasons behind the decision very clearly to yourself. Because I promise you, there will be days when you will need to remind yourself that you made a conscious choice and why you did. And there will be things people say to you that will bring on those days..."
Which I realize, looking back, was my first lesson in what to say to people who are considering divorce...
Robin Black is the author of Life Drawing: A Novel and If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This