Knowing what to say to a friend who is going through a divorce can feel really tricky and there are definitely things you should avoid saying. Being mindful of your own biases and focusing the conversation on your friend's support needs lets them know that you are there for them as they process this painful experience.
What to Say to Someone Getting a Divorce
Each divorce process is unique. For some, it may be amicable, while others have a more volatile experience with their ex-partner. Regardless of where your friend falls on the spectrum of divorce complications, know that each person will process and grieve in their own way and on their own time. Be sure not to force your thoughts on what you believe is okay on them, as this can shut them down and interfere with their ability to process.
What Can I Do to Help?
If you want to help with your friend's day to day, there are plenty of ways to to let them know that you are there for them as they move through the divorce process. Rather than asking what you can do to help, try to be more specific so it takes the burden off of your friend. You can say:
- "I'd love to bring you over some dinner tonight," followed with, "What would you like me to pick up for you?"
- "I'm heading to the grocery store today and would like to grab your groceries for you if that's okay." Then clarify, "Text me what you need and I'll drop it off whenever you'd like."
- "I'd love to stop by and help out with any chores or laundry if you'd like," and add, "You deserve a break and I am more than happy to help."
Listen to Them
Some people, especially in the midst of pain, tend to speak circularly, coming back to their emotional process and/or something that feels confusing to them. This is a totally normal aspect of processing and although it may seem repetitive to you, jumping in to try to problem solve will typically not work at this stage in the grieving process, nor may it be something that your friend ever asks of you. Help your friend understand that you hear them by saying:
- "It sounds like you're feeling hurt by (insert specific situation)."
- "That sounds really difficult."
- "I hear what you're saying."
- "Do you want to talk more about that?"
- "I'm here for you."
- "I can understand why you're feeling that way."
Validate Their Process
Validate your friend's emotional experience so they not only feel heard but also understood and supported. To do so, you can say:
- "It sounds like (insert experience) made you feel (insert emotion)."
- Going through (insert experience) sounds really difficult."
- "I'm hear to listen if you want to tell me more about (insert experience)."
- "That must have felt really stressful."
- "Thank you for sharing that with me- that was really brave of you to say."
Make Plans With Them
Make concrete plans with your friend that you'll both look forward to. Keep in mind that depending on where they are at in their emotional process they may want to lie low instead of going out, and try not to take it personally if they decline. They may feel too emotionally exhausted to spend time with someone else at the moment. You can say:
- "I'd love to take you out for some food or coffee if you'd like," and then offer, "I am also happy to pick something up for us if that's easier."
- "Would you like to see a movie tonight?"
- "Are you up for going for a hike sometime this week?"
If your friend declines, ask them if it's okay if you check in again with them during the week. Some people like to process alone for a bit, while others appreciate it when their friends reach out. It's always best to have your friend take the lead when it comes to plans.
Help With Transitions
Going from married to single can feel overwhelming for some individuals. It can feel even more intense if pets and/or kids are in the mix. This huge shift can make your friend's life more stressful as they figure out potentially a new residence, go through the process of redecorating, come up with new pet and/or kids' schedules, and begin to adjust to their new routine. To help your friend with these transitions, you can say:
- "I know you're in the process of moving, and I'd love to help you pack up and organize if that's okay with you."
- "Do you need me to pick up anything for your kids' new rooms?"
- "Would you like me to watch your pets today?" Add something like, "I know you have a lot going on today and I'd love to spend time with them."
- "Would you like me to pick up your kids from school today?" You can also say, "I know you're extra busy with the move and I'm more than happy to lend a hand."
- "Let me know if you'd like any help decorating the new place or if you want me to come by and help you unpack anything."
- "Would you like me to clean your new place before you begin unpacking?" Let them know you're willing to help by adding, "You know how much I love cleaning and I'm happy to do it."
- "I know you normally spent (insert day or time) with (insert ex partner's name), would you like to meet for (insert activity) this week instead?"
What to Avoid Saying to Someone Getting a Divorce
Even with the best intentions, sometimes the wrong words just come out. If you can, try to avoid saying anything that comes off as judgmental or controlling. This is your friend's time to process, and it is more than likely going to look different from how you process. If you do say something that doesn't land well with your friend, apologize and own up to it. The last thing they need is additional stress right now, especially from their support system.
Don't Trash Their Partner
Even though it may feel tempting to denigrate your friend's ex-partner, resist the urge. Your friend may still need to interact with their ex-partner for logistical reasons, may co-parent with them, or may want to eventually be friendly again with them. Even if your friend is going to town on trashing their ex partner, just hear them out and validate them without adding in your own opinion. If your friend does reconnect or befriend their ex partner again and they know you don't like them, it can create an awkward situation for everyone. Try to avoid saying:
- "They weren't good enough for you."
- "I can't believe you stayed with them for this long."
- "I knew it wouldn't work out, they were never a great spouse."
- "I totally agree with what you are saying, (insert friend's ex partner's name) is the worst."
- "I'm so angry (insert friend's ex partner's name) hurt you."
Don't Only Focus on Your Version of Positive
Soley focusing on the silver lining can invalidate your friend's experience and may make them feel closed off to really sharing their true feelings with you. Try to avoid saying:
- "You're better off without them."
- "Everything will get better soon."
- "This is for the best."
- "Everything happens for a reason."
- "God has a plan for you."
Don't Offer Unsolicited Advice
While you may feel inclined to offer your opinion, it's best to pause and ask yourself if your friend wants your opinion. Before offering any advice, always ask and respect your friend's answer. Try not to say:
- "Your situation is just like mine," or, Here's what I did..."
- "You need to...."
- "You should be...."
- "Have you thought about....."
Don't Make This About You
Divorce and separation can feel really triggering to someone whose parents divorced during their childhood and/or they experienced a divorce or separation themselves. Before you reach out to your friend, check your own biases and note what has triggered you in the past. Keep in mind that your triggers and your friend's triggers may be different and while you may have some similarities in terms of experience, your friend's process will be unique. Do not say:
- "I would never divorce."
- "I believe divorce is a sin."
- "I know exactly how you feel, but I would never...."
Instead, offer kind, supportive, and non-judgmental words that focus on your friend's experience and not your own. You can certainly let them know that you experienced something similar and would be happy to share what helped you cope if they'd like. Always ask for permission before delving into your own experience.
How to Be a Good Friend to Someone Getting Divorced
While you may feel nervous about saying the wrong thing to a friend going through a divorce, it's important to be there for them and provide non-judgmental support. Allow your friend to take the lead, offer kind words of support, and let them know specific ways you're able to help them out if they'd like.