Saturday, July 7, 2012

What to Say to a Friend Going Through a Divorce



Recently, my sister Ashley told me she thought I should do a post on what to say to a friend going through a divorce.  She also wanted to know what she could do that would be meaningful and helpful for a friend in that situation.

I started telling Ashley a few things and realized I had a lot of thoughts on the subject.  I am going to do a three part series on this..the first being what to say (and not say) to someone going through a divorce (along with my thoughts on telling others of your own divorce), the second being how to help someone going through a divorce and the last will be how to survive your own divorce. 

One of the hardest things about getting separated is deciding who to tell and what to say to people.  When Sam and I got separated, I didn't know if we were going to ultimately divorce.  I really hoped that we would be able to work things out and get back together.  So when Sam first moved out, I only told a few close friends what was going on.  As the months went by, and I realized where it was headed, I started to tell more people. 

The hardest people to tell were people close to us who loved our family a lot.  The picture at the top of this post is of my Gourmet Dinner Night friends.  Telling this group was especially hard because they all knew and loved Sam and because I had never said a word about the fact that Sam and I were having problems so the news hit them like the atomic bomb.  But they were all so supportive and loving and cried along with me.

I found it was helpful if I decided ahead of time exactly what I was going to say and how much I was going to say to people.  Sometimes, the other person's tearful/shocked reaction to my news would put me into tears.  Or sometimes I would run into someone I hadn't seen in a while and they would innocently ask about Sam and I would burst into tears.  It's okay.  People understand. 

These were all the Christmas cards I received last year.  I kept them up until almost Easter because it just felt so good to look at it and know so many people cared about me and my family.  I had considered telling people in my Christmas letter that Sam and I were divorcing but then Ashley reminded me that "Nothing says Merry Christmas like a divorce announcement."  haha. 



Another difficult thing is letting people know who you are friends with but haven't seen in a really long time.  After much consideration, I finally decided to just change my status on facebook and let people ask.  It was hard for a day or two to know that everyone was seeing it for the first time but it was also a relief to just have it out there.  Many old friends sent me messages, emails, texts and reached out to offer their love and support.

Sometimes the most awkward situations arose when I didn't tell people for way too long and then they found out by seeing me on a date or in some other strange way.  My next door neighbor found out because we were both outside this spring and he yelled to me "What's new?"  I yelled back "you heard I got divorced right?!"  He yelled back "No..I'm sorry!  Let me know if there is anything I can do!"  And I yelled back "Thanks!"  haha.  We are not close so that was sufficient in that case!

So you ask, "What should I say to someone going through a divorce?"  I think the best thing to say is "You must really be hurting right now.  I'm so sorry."  I also appreciated "You are in my prayers" and "I'm thinking about you."  Don't say "Let me know if there is anything I can do"  or "What can I do for you?"  Because the answer will always be "oh, nothing..I am fine."  Just jump in and do something..anything!  Write a note, bring in a meal, give me a hug (though not at church..because that made me cry in front of other people and I hated that!)

The worst thing for me to hear which will come as a surprise to most people was "I feel so sorry for your sweet children."  Guess what?  I do too!  But you saying that only adds to my guilt that I couldn't save this thing.  The better thing to say is "How are your children doing?" or "Kids are resilient..they will get through this."  I was very comforted by all of the people who told me they were the product of divorced parents.  It made me feel better to see that kids with divorced parents can still turn into wonderful, healthy adults.



Finally, if I can stress one thing, it would be to never, ever respond to the news of some one's divorce by saying negative things about some one's ex.  Unless you have a very close relationship and are certain that you will not offend them, I would really avoid saying anything to the tune of "What a jerk!"  or "I never liked him anyway" or my favorite "I always thought you were too good for him."  These things do not make me feel better.  I did choose that guy once and he is still the father of my kids.

And please don't avoid me or say nothing at all.  That is the very worst of all.  Even if all you can say is "I'm sorry."  That is better than pretending that I am fine and nothing is going on.

I feel like I am doing so well now.  It has been a year since Sam and I separated and I hope that some of this might be helpful to others going through a divorce or who have friends going through one.  I guess what I, personally, would say to a friend going through a divorce is that life goes on.  You may not believe it right now, but you will feel normal again and even happy!  Just hang in there.  Please feel free to comment with other good ideas!

23 comments:

The DeVito's said...

Amen! I mostly got - he's a jerk, you were too good for him. People that I grew up with (and their parents) just ignored it. It's kinda funny because I'm REALLY open about it and still tell people that I was married before. Some times I feel like I have a scarlet D.

Natasha said...

YES to all of this! When I went through a divorce nine years ago with two very young children, everyone was shocked but none more than me and I had a hard time knowing what to say and how to respond to what others said. Great post! The worst was when people told me they never liked my husband as well, it made me feel stupid since I chose to marry him and stay married 7 years! And I got the comment you mentioned about my poor children as well...didn't people know I knew already how sad this was for my babies?!

Amber said...

You don't know me, but I happened upon your blog and wanted to say that I was really glad you wrote this post. I have a friend going through a divorce right now, and I sometimes don't know what to say. I want to be supportive, and I worry about upsetting her or saying the wrong thing. So thank you for sharing this.

Shavanna said...

Bless you Brooke, you are so brave to share that. I had people show up at my work and say horrrible things to me, but I did get through it and even though It WAS my fault, God forgave me and restored me and what brought me back to God was a friend who said I don't understand what you are going through, or what you are doing (I left him) but I love you and God loves you and I will always be there for you.

The Mostess said...

I don't have the time to read a single word of this post, but seeing as it's about divorce, may I just say that I never liked that Sam guy, and I always thought you were too good for him.

Ashley said...

This is great. I think ignoring someone's heartbreak is always the wrong answer, though so often it seems like the least awkward approach. No matter the tragedy I've found that people really appreciate it if you just mention that you are sorry for them or thinking of them (that the world does not just continue to go on as normal). I'm glad you didn't break the news in a Christmas card.

Kimmie said...

I LOVED this!!! (I always wondered what was posh or not to say and do...but obviously not too much, because i pretty much say or do whatever comes too mind)! You are a lucky girl to have so many friends and family....and the most adorable kids on the planet!

The Mostess said...

Okay, but seriously.

I agree that it's hard to know the 'right' thing to say and do. When in doubt, just let people know you love them, and are thinking of them.

The kids. The kids! Meh! The kids will all be fine. As a child of divorce, and currently awesome adult, I can vouch for this.

I feel like I dropped the "oh, my sister died, so...." when catching up with people I hadn't seen in a while. I think you set the tone if you're open and not weird. It's always going to be awkward, but you don't want people to feel bad about asking innocent questions.

I'm excited to see the rest of what you have to say.

SewSara said...

thanks brooke! i really appreciate this. and even for someone NOT going thru a divorce, i have experienced some of the similar things when my husband has had his struggles - and you're right, it's never good to hear someone insult a person you love and chose as your husband, even when times are rough. i like the idea to say "you must really be hurting right now." that is very wise.

ps - i gave my friend kari your email address, i think she wrote to you?

Chantel said...

I love this so much! It's so true that the most hurtful thing is when people don't say anything at all! I feel like divorced is the most misunderstood trial out there, especially in our religious culture, because people don't approve of it, but oftentimes, it is COMPLETELY out of your control! Like you said, you wanted to get back together, but you saw where it was headed. It no longer is about your choices or your efforts -- It's like your life is literally taken out of your hands, and you have no more control. It HURTS!

Thanks for this post. I'm excited to learn more about you. -- And also, continue reading your Bachelorette posts. I dreamed about Emily and Jef last night. Ridiculous, I know :)

(I'm a new follower of your blog, so you may not recognize me: empiricalday.blogspot.com)

Liz said...

I'm totally guilty of the "what can I do for you?". I love how you and your mom just do things and don't even ask. I promise to do the same.

Can I count this as my formal thank you note for the amazing chicken salad and such? We all devoured it. I haven't been able to muster up a thank you card with the trip and all. All I can say is that I'm actually excited to cook in my new kitchen, so good things will come your way. Love this post. People were really weird when Parker was diagnosed too and it was hurtful and hard at the time. Love to you!

Denise Wilkins said...

Thanks so much for this post. Someone very close to me just told me they are divorcing and I've been at a loss as to what I can do to support her. Thank you for the advice.

Lauri said...

Darn tiny iPhone keypad...-continue. -you. DUH!!!

Lauri said...

You're the best Brooke, so strong and brave and such a great mom!! You and Sam have awesome kids and your relationship now makes me admire you even more!! You ontinue to amaze me!! Love ypu!!

brooke said...

Sorry Lauri! I took the wrong comment of yours off..should have removed the second one so your first comment made sense...anyway..I got your awesome comments and my iPad does the same thing...damn little keyboards!

alexandra said...

This was great advice, and some of it applies to other situations beyond divorce. The principal of not asking what people might need, but just doing something for them is such a great one, and one that has been a recent goal of mine to achieve. It is an unfortunate commonality to just wait for someone to ask for specific help (which tends not to ever happen because it is hard to ask people to do things for you). Oftentimes the mere act of bringing a meal to someone going through a difficulty can be so touching bc it shows that people are thinking of you, even if you are capable of making dinner. Anyway, thanks for the list of rules. Aren't you glad you have Ashley to advise you on what to include in a Christmas card? I probably would have used it as a venue to spread the divorce news.

Also, I think the fact that you don't appreciate people criticizing your ex shows how mature and charitable you are.

Emily Redd said...

THANK YOU BROOKE...this so needed to be said. I could obviously relate to everything you said. The people that just walk by and don't say anything (especially the people you thought were your friends)...DUH!! I AGREE with everything you said and especially the part...life goes on no matter what and sometime you will feel a smile again and happy or hopefully happier. Yes, never say negatives about the ex....AGREED! I'm worried about your post about what not to share about your divorce...I hope I passed!! LOL!! XXX

The Mostess said...

I'm anxiously waiting for your "Bridle your passions" Batch post.

GWACK said...

Me,too! That was on heck of a Bachelorette episode!

GWACK said...

One. Stupid touch screen.

Em said...

I read this post and thought, Oh my word, I hope I didn't say/write anything insensitive to Brooke! I'm so sorry if I did. This post is so helpful.

I definitely agree with you (and Mostess) that ignoring the situation is the worst thing to do. It appears absolutely thoughtless--like they know about it but just don't care enough to say anything to you about it.

That picture of you and your kids (and tiny little Buster!) is beautimus.

melanie said...

Right now in the newest stages (you last year), it's hard to imagine I'll feel 'normal again', especially at night. Will sleeping be included in that? I'm a mess at nighttime.

Such a great post, I want to send it on to others. More people need your insight.

Molly said...

Ooh! Chantel is following your blog! She's a friend of mine. Fun to see her on here. She is amazing.