When a friend gets divorced: what they need to hear

Some people have a gift for knowing the exact right thing to say. I am not one of those people. Tell me you have to put your beloved cat down and you’ll likely end up consoling me. One time, before my divorce, a co-worker tearfully confided to my officemate and me that her father was dying from cancer. My beautiful co-worker immediately jumped up, hugged her (oh how I miss those pre-covid days) and shared warm, comforting words. Me? I collapsed into a quivering mess of tears and snot for the rest of the afternoon.

The right thing to say

That’s why this blog is a challenge for me. What are the “right” things to say to someone going through a rough divorce? For me, it’s easier to start by picking out the “wrong” things, keeping in mind that every person’s experience is unique. What might have been the wrong thing to say to me, could be music to somebody else’s ears. But for me, these are the worst things to say to someone going through a divorce.
So what are the “right” things to say? Again, this is personal and probably different for everyone. It may sound weird or weak or even pathetic, but for me, I needed to play the victim for a bit. It wouldn’t last forever and I didn’t want it to, but for a while, I threw myself a pity party. That’s when I learned who was in my true inner circle because they knew just what to say. They patiently listened to me vent – a lot – and then validated every emotion that I felt.

How to validate

Me: “I’m stupid and gullible for staying with him for so long.”
Inner circle: “He is a narcissistic, arrogant, worthless POS. You are a saint, an angel on earth and the best parent – your kids are so lucky to have YOU.”
Me: “He dumped me to chase after younger women. I’m old and ugly.”
Inner circle: “He is delusional and the women he is chasing are pure trash. He will end up alone and miserable. You are SO much better.”

Focus on your friend

During that time, I wasn’t ready to feel empathy, sympathy or forgiveness for him. I did not want to hear that his mental illness and addiction were mostly to blame for his horrific behavior. I wanted to knock him down like he’d done to me and I didn’t want to feel guilty about it. I didn’t need advice or an analysis – I needed to hear that he was terrible and I was terrific. To me, that’s what friends are for!
I’m fortunate to have an inner circle that is not only loyal, but also viciously funny. Over time, their jabs turned my ex from a monster into a meme. More than anything, that’s what helped me navigate the worst period in my life and emerge stronger and ultimately, much happier.

Start by listening

If you’re not sure what to say to someone going through a rough divorce, start by listening. Divorce can be like a death, with the same stages of grieving. Depression comes right before acceptance, so if your friend needs to have a pity party – be the life of the party! Mix up their favorite cocktails and put together an empowering playlist. Dust off those pom poms and cheer them on to a victorious new chapter in life!