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!