What to Say to a Friend Going Through a Divorce

Posted: 17 September, 2019

Your friend breaks the news that she and her husband are going through a divorce. It could be a shock or you may have seen that coming a mile away.

It’s a good idea to ask if she knows whether they are going to file a joint petition or have a contested divorce. That way you’ll have a sense of what your friend is about to deal with.

Of course, that also could be none of your business, depending on how close you are to your friend. But if you two are close, the answer to that question will tell you whether it will be quick or a long, drawn-out process.

What can I do to help?

What you can do is listen. Simply let your friend talk. Let her know that you are always available to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on. Divorce is 3 parts emotion and only one part legal.

Listening is your most important job. Many people going through divorce feel like they cannot talk about it or they get too embarrassed. Sometimes people feel like failures. If your friend is comfortable enough to open up to you about this, just let them release their pent up emotions.

What should I say to a friend going through a divorce?

Strangely, you should say normal things. Invite them for food or drinks. Tell them they’re strong and they’ll get through it. Tell them that they can reach you anytime they need to talk. Invite them to do something normal. If you like to hike together, go hiking.

Tell your friend that they are loved. Or if they understand love better through a different way, then do the things that make them feel loved. Ask if they need a hug. Ask if they want to go watch the new summer blockbuster, Oscar nominee, or new episode of their current favorite show.

By keeping everything normal, you can help ease the emotional stress of divorce.

Is there anything I should avoid saying or doing?

Everyone travels through the stages of grief at different paces while going through a divorce. One person might be immediately ready to hit the town and pick up a new fling in order to distract themselves. Another person might take years before they’re ready to consider dating again.

While offering an opportunity to have something normal is great, like going for a manicure or grabbing a beer, don’t force someone into something they’re not ready for.

Social is good. Pushy is bad. Normal is best.

“I saw that coming.”

It can be tempting to say something to the effect of, “Yeah, you guys seemed like you were having issues last time I saw you.” That doesn’t help.

Nobody wants to hear an “I told you so” when they’re going through this. It’s an emotionally charged process. Your friend is already exhausted from dealing with (or avoiding) their emotions surrounding their spouse. The least you can do is not add any fuel to the fire.

“He/she was never good enough for you anyway.”

Sometimes your friend’s spouse was just awful. Chances are most people don’t know the half of it.

The problem with trash talking your friend’s soon-to-be-ex is there is always the slim chance they will reconcile. Then you run the risk of becoming excluded from the friendship.

It’s normal to go through stages of missing, hating, wanting to reconcile, and feeling nothing at all. You friend could be at any one of these points in their current feelings toward their ex. They could also feel completely different tomorrow. Your anger toward their ex might not align with what emotion your friend is currently experiencing. The best way of supporting your friend is to listen to their feelings.

If they have children, then their ex will still be involved in their life. Sharing stories of their ex’s unfortunate actions will not help smooth that process.

“Almost half of couples get divorced so you aren’t alone.”

Statistics don’t help. Intellectualizing emotions doesn’t help. Platitudes don’t help.

Whether your friend faces their emotions or runs to any distraction, your job is to listen. Telling your friend about your cousin who got divorced won’t them feel any better. In fact, they might wonder why on earth you are telling them that and what that has to do with anything.

What if they are making stupid mistakes?

Some people cannot help themselves when it comes to advising other people on their life choices. If this is you, the best thing to do is keep your opinions to yourself.

Remember that your friend is going through a traumatic time in their life. They probably feel a huge loss of control. Telling them they’re making mistakes with their divorce decisions is akin to telling them that they aren’t capable of making it on their own. That’s the last thing anyone needs to hear.

Listen. Be empathetic. Skip the advice unless it’s explicitly asked for.

What if my spouse and I are friends with both of them?

This can get tricky. It’s incredibly difficult to maintain both friendships, especially if you normally do things as couples.

Try not to pick sides. At the same time, realize that you have a good chance of losing touch with one or the other as they go through the divorce.

Avoid conversations or anecdotes about times you saw their ex. It will make your friend feel excluded when they need a sense of support.

But I want to do more than just listen, what actions can I take?

Most people have trouble asking for help when they’re going through a divorce. Sometimes just showing up is one of the best things you can do. Granted, it will depend on your friend’s circumstances. Temporary custody. Living arrangements. Stuff like that.

Make specific offers. “Call me if you need anything” is great. Yet your friend might worry about imposing on you. Try something like, “I can take your dog for the weekend if you need some space.” Maybe offer to take the kids. You can also provide help with yard work or fix something in the house.

How you can help is only limited by your imagination, time, and skill sets. The more specific you get with your offers, the more likely your friend will take you up on them. After all, if you specifically offered to do something, they won’t have to worry that they are asking too much of you.

Remember, there is a strong correlation between divorce and decreased health. So try to encourage things that will keep your friend both physically and mentally healthy.

What is the single most helpful thing I can say?

“You can do this.” It encompasses support, understanding, and empowerment all in four words.