See below for some basic tips on what to say and not say. Read Empathy Basics to get grounded in reaching out for almost any difficult situation.
Your friend just announced they’re getting divorced after 15 years of marriage. What should you say? What should do to help?
Say you’re sorry? Give them a high five? Ask for the nitty gritty details on what happened? Probably not, even if that one is oh, so tempting.
The answer is that you won’t really know what the best thing to do is until you know how they’re feeling about it. Divorce can mean profound grief mixed with betrayal and humiliation… or utter freedom and joy.
Maybe you’re a coworker, and you don’t know whether to acknowledge it, a neighbor, and you don’t know if you’re expected to choose sides, or you’re a good friend or close family member, and you wish your loved one would get over it already. This is our quick and dirty advice to you:
“I appreciated that friends weren’t judgmental about it. Like, ‘If you’re not going to just leave him, then I don’t want to talk to you.’ Because they could have done that. Instead, they focused more on, ‘how do you feel?’ They were sympathetic because they realized that’s what I needed most.”
Start with asking how they’re feeling about it.
If they’re sad…
- Say you’re sorry
- Keep the LOVE flowing…Remember that they could be feeling a mix of shame, grief, confusion, humiliation, neediness, and unlovability. Remind them that they are indeed loved by you, and don’t be afraid to get specific as to why.
If your friend is more on the “elated” side and found a comfortable exit strategy…
- Remember they may feel some guilt, some second-guessing, and a bit of hatred from the in-laws and community. As good friend, it’s important to support your friend, even if you don’t exactly agree with what they did, or how they ended the relationship.
Whether they’re up or down…
- A sweet gesture: On big days like court or moving, send some flowers or write a card. AT THE VERY LEAST text.
- Good friends and family- you are needed! Big time! Provide a lot of company. It doesn’t have to be at your house, but may be nice to provide company in your divorced friend’s digs. Be open to what they need, the empty pot rack and lack of dishes may add to the stress.
- A few ideas of what you could help with…moving, deposit for a rental, child care, mediation, court fees. If you are in a position to help, do. INSIST.
- Send a gift certificate or bring over some home cooked meals. Or just be there to help with the dishes.
- Stoke the flames of vanity. Remind them how phenomenal they are: Did I ever tell you look like Gwenyth Paltrow circa 1995? You are SOOO funny. So smart. (You get the picture!)
- A good way to show someone you really want to know what’s going on is to ask for specifics: ‘How’s it going for you today?’ Or, ‘What’s that like for you?’
Thank someone for a kind gesture they did for you.
Send a Card