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Respond-Ability: What to Say & What NOT to Say to a Friend Going Through Divorce

If you’re like most people, you aren’t sure of the best response when confronted with a divorce revelation from a friend. If you’ve gone through your own divorce, you’re probably painfully aware of just how unhelpful, or downright hurtful, the wrong response can be however well meaning. Here’s a quick primer to help you respond with support.

Do NOT Say This:

This is terrible, you poor thing. A variation of this sentiment is the standard response to divorce, which is unfortunate because pity and catastrophizing don’t help and can add to the despair the person is probably already feeling.

Couldn’t you have worked it out? or Did you try counseling? Listen, if they could have worked it out, they would have. These questions put your friend on the defensive and, frankly, are none of your bee’s wax.

What will you do about . . . the kids, the house, the stuff? Asking logistical questions is not helpful and adds to overwhelm. Unless this person expressly asks for your help in making a “to do” list, refrain from asking about logistics.

Your Ex is a world-class A$$H*#@! Initiating or joining in on Ex bashing is also counterproductive. It contributes to keeping a person stuck in toxic victim energy and discourages self-reflection in favor of blame and deflection.

This will make you stronger. While ultimately true, the person you’re talking to may not be ready to hear it. If not, it just makes them feel like you don’t get it which can make them feel more alone.

DO Say This:

I’m here for you. Being someone who can be relied on to listen, provide hands-on logistical help and/or join an outing to the movies for an emotional break is a huge gift you can give.

I wish I knew the perfect thing to say. It’s OK to admit that there isn’t much you can really say but that you care.

It looks like you’re having a tough time. If your friend is struggling, sharing a simple observation and quietly listening to what he or she chooses to share is very supportive.

I know this is difficult and I know you will get to the other side of this. You can acknowledge what a wrenching experience their divorce is and that there is an end to it without offering empty platitudes.

Nothing. Less is more. This is a time to listen more than talk. Simply be present without rendering an opinion or judgment.

Deb Purdy, is a transformation coach, speaker, workshop leader and author of
Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter and Happier After Divorce.

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