Knowing what to say to someone going through a divorce can feel tricky. What should you say? What topics should you avoid? And how can you help to make this transition easier? Being mindful of your own biases and focusing the conversation on your friend's support needs lets them know you are there as they process this painful experience. If you need help finding the right words, here are some easy ways to reach out.
What to Say to Someone Going Through a Divorce
Every divorce is unique. For some, it may be amicable, while for others, it's a volatile experience with their ex-partner. Regardless of where your friend lands on the spectrum of divorce, know that each person will process and grieve in their own way and in their own time.
Don't force your own thoughts and beliefs on them. This can cause them to shut down and it may interfere with their ability to process. Remember that you are an outsider in this difficult situation, so your role is solely to support them and to serve as a sounding board for their pain and frustration.
Support Your Friend
Death and divorce are the top two most stressful life experiences that a person can face. This leaves many people wondering what to say when someone announces divorce for the first time.
The answer will depend on your friend's specific situation. If this news doesn't really come as a shock based on prior conversations you have had with them, then it might be appropriate to say "congratulations." This may seem unfitting for the situation, but this was likely a very hard decision for your friend to make, and the topic of divorce can be associated with feelings of failure. You want them to feel validated in this moment, and by acknowledging that your friend has made a difficult choice and is moving forward in life, you can help to extinguish any uncertainty they may be feeling.
In contrast, if this news is surprising to you, or you don't know the details surrounding the divorce, then simply say something such as: "Thank you for telling me. I know that must have been hard," followed by "I am here for you." Avoid the words "I'm sorry." This can imply wrongdoing, which can further your friend's feeling of self-doubt and guilt. Instead, ask how they are doing and how the situation makes them feel. Let them dictate the tone of the conversation.
What Can I Do to Help?
If you want to help with your friend, there are plenty of ways to be there as they move through the divorce process. Rather than asking what they need, be proactive and assign yourself to specific tasks.
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 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 while in pain, tend to speak circularly, continuously noting things that feel confusing or upsetting to them. This is a 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.
Let your friend feel heard and understood 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
Affirm your friend's emotional experience so they feel heard, understood, and supported. You can accomplish this by saying:
- "It sounds like (insert experience) made you feel (insert emotion)."
- Going through (insert experience) sounds really difficult."
- "I'm here 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 will give you both something to look forward to. Keep in mind that depending on where they are in their grieving process, they may want to lie low instead of going out. Try to not to take it personally if they decline. They may feel too emotionally exhausted to spend time with someone else at this moment.
You can say:
- "I'd love to take you out for some food or coffee," 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 for you to check in again with them during the week. Some people like to process alone for a bit, while others appreciate when their friends reach out. It's always best to have your friend take the lead with plans during this period of change.
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 bring on extra stress as they figure out a new residence, divide up their things, get their kids and pets on new scheduled, and begin to adjust to their new routine.
Help your friend during these transitions by saying:
- "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?"
Send Encouraging Texts
It is hard for anyone to be alone, especially when the person has been with someone for an extended period of time. One of the best ways to help a friend who is getting divorced is to let them know they are at the front of people's minds and that they are still seen as a strong and vibrant person.
You can do this by sending encouraging texts saying:
- "My girls would love to spend time with their favorite aunt! They absolutely adore you."
- "You are a wonderful person."
- "I am so proud of you."
- "Your kids have an amazing mom."
- "I hate that you are going through this, but you are the strongest person I know."
- "You are cherished."
- "Love you!"
- "You are my top priority. I am here to help with whatever you need."
You can also share a positive memory that you have with the person. There is a reason people say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Paint them an image of how you see them through. This can be an extremely effective way of helping them see themselves in a better light.
What to Not Say to Someone Getting Divorced
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 their time to process. It is likely that their method of coping looks a lot different from yours. 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, 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 with them again.
Even if your friend is going to town on trashing their ex partner, just listen and validate them without adding in your own opinion. Why is this important? If your friend does reconnect or befriend their ex partner and they know you don't like them, it can create an awkward situation for everyone.
Try to avoid saying things like:
- "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 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. Some of the worst things to say to someone getting divorced are:
- "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 point of view. 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 be triggering to someone whose parents got divorced during their childhood, as well as for those who 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 you and your friend's triggers may differ 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 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 situation.
Be a Good Friend to Someone Getting Divorced
While you may feel nervous about what to say 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.