Going through a divorce can be challenging. Those experiencing this difficult situation are experiencing many emotions and often scrambling to work out the details of their new life after the split. In addition to a shoulder to lean (or cry) on, those in the midst of a divorce need words of encouragement. With that in mind, there are some things that should never be said.
Divorce and parenting coach Rosalind Sedacca said one thing you should stay away from is speaking badly about someone’s soon-to-be ex. “Making disparaging statements about the soon-to-be ex is a big mistake. Regardless how you may feel about the ex, it’s not your place to discuss their behavior or personality traits. Divorces are far more complex than outsiders can imagine, and it’s none of your business. Some relationships don’t move ahead to divorce, which can be awkward for you in the future,” Sedacca told The Cheat Sheet.
It is also advisable to stay silent on how easy or hard you thought the divorce process was. Only the people actually involved in the divorce can say how they felt while going through this life event. Counselor Joanne Dennison told The Cheat Sheet she felt hurt when someone said she should be thankful for the ease of her divorce:
One of the most painful things said to me was “at least you have an easy divorce.” Granted, this person had apparently had one with every bad thing you can hear of, but for me it was like a dagger in the heart. All divorces are painful even when they are the “right” thing. It also happened to be just as I was signing the papers to lose my home of 18 years. I think anytime someone assumes they understand the whole situation, and says something, it is almost always going to be wrong and hurt someone.
Words can be healing but can also wound like a knife, so think carefully before you speak. Here are five things you should never say to someone going through a divorce.
1. Who cheated?
“Wow … who cheated?” is one of the worst questions you could ask someone going through a divorce. Other statements that should not be said:
- You know we never liked him/her for you anyway, right?
- It lasted longer than we thought.
- You’re better off without him/her.
- You were too good for him/her.
- The fastest way to get over someone is to get under someone new as quickly as possible.
I revert back to what our parents taught us. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. But if you just feel as though you have to say something and you really mean it, try one of these:
- I’m sorry to hear the news of your pending divorce. I’m here for you, please let me know if you need anything.
- I’m here for you.
- I will babysit the kid(s) for you when you need a night out.
- The drinks are on me.
- I have Ben & Jerry’s and two spoons.
Lisa (L.T.) Lewis, spiritual strategist, speaker, personal and executive coach; CEO and founder, Kick Boxing Believers, L.L.C.
2. I never thought you two were a good match anyway
Why do people think this will help? But it happens; I’ve heard it multiple times. The person’s whole world has just been turned upside down with this divorce. They are questioning my judgment on just about everything in their life. It does not help to know that you, someone they probably trust, never liked the person and saw the divorce coming.
Nicole Dean, counselor and expert at Homeschool Base
One of the worst thing to say to someone getting divorced is asking “why?” This is bad because you can’t possibly get the complete answer. Not to mention, it puts the person on the spot. Be mindful of the fact that the divorce is happening because two people contributed to its demise and chances are they will both be blaming each other. It is often difficult for people to acknowledge their own piece in what has happened. It would be better to show empathy for the situation. Focus on the feeling you pick up on. Does the person divorcing seem sad, happy, confused, devastated? Show care and concern as he or she is experiencing a major life event. Maybe just asking “are you OK?” or “how are you doing?” is the best thing to say. Then, be there to really listen to the answer. It’s worse to not say anything at all. It’s like knowing someone close to the person died and just ignoring that fact. In that situation, it’s hard to know exactly what to say, but saying nothing could come off as insensitive.
Marni Feuerman, psychotherapist, marriage content expert for about.com, and a divorce blogger for The Huffington Post
4. Your ex looks amazing!
“Your ex looks amazing — I saw them out with a hot date and they both looked really happy. Oh, and your kids were with them and they love the new girlfriend (boyfriend).” No matter how amicable the divorce, or who asked for it, it’s always hard to hear about your long-term spouse moving on and being happy without you. It’s worse when they look better than they ever did and are happier than ever. And the hardest things for single parents to hear is that their kids are embracing the boyfriend or girlfriend because it feels like they’re taking your place.
Just because you wanted a divorce doesn’t mean you want to hear how well your ex is doing and how much your kids love the new partner of your ex. A better thing to hear is, “I saw your ex. He (she) looked OK.” There’s no reason to editorialize or even make your friend feel badly about their ex’s new happiness without them. If they ask how he or she looked, wanting more, just shrug and say, “Who knows? People going through divorces are all over the map!”
April Masini, relationship expert
5. There are more fish in the sea
One of the worst things you can say to someone getting a divorce is “there are more fish in the sea, you’re young, you’ll find someone better.” This is awful on so many levels. The assumption should not be they’ll be OK and get over this marriage if only they find another relationship. Perhaps they wanted this person. Or maybe they want the divorce but cannot imagine getting into another relationship. We don’t know what they are going through, not even close.
Kimberly Mishkin, divorce coach and founder of SAS for Women
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Editor’s note: This story was originally published December 2016.