What to Say to Someone Getting a Divorce
Friends support each other through thick and thin, so of course, that’s your intention when you learn a friend is facing a divorce. Maybe you’ve been through a divorce yourself. If so, you’ve definitely got your own experiences to draw from – but your experiences may differ wildly from theirs. And if you’ve not experienced divorce yourself, you may feel at a total loss for what to say to them.
At Hello Divorce, understanding how to provide the right kind of divorce support is our specialty. That’s why we created this article: To help good friends like you know what to say to a friend who is divorcing.
Common emotions people experience while going through a divorce
This is probably not the time to blurt the first thought that crosses your mind to your friend. Perhaps now more than ever, it makes sense to think before you speak to them. Consider the types of emotions your friend is likely experiencing … it’ll inform your choice of words.
Here are some of the most common emotions felt by people during a divorce.
Anger: Maybe your friend initiated the divorce. Maybe it came as a complete surprise. Your friend may be angry at their spouse, angry at the world, or angry at themselves. Regardless of the circumstances, anger – a close cousin of frustration – is a common divorce emotion we can all relate to.
Fear: With the loss of a spouse, your friend may fear that their basic needs and ability to survive are under fire. They may worry about where they will live, whether they will have enough money, how they will get healthcare coverage, and how their time with their kids will be impacted.
Grief: Your friend may be grieving the relationship and the role they are losing. What if they wanted the divorce? Well, even positive change can be stressful. And if your friend didn’t want the divorce, they may be feeling gobsmacked. Grief often manifests as sadness, but it wears other guises as well: moodiness, insomnia, and displaced anger, to name a few.
Relief: Some people spend years contemplating divorce before they actually go through with it. If your friend has taken a long-anticipated leap, they may be feeling relief at the sheer act of finally going through with this big step.
Overwhelm: Now that the decision to divorce has been made, your friend’s to-do list has undoubtedly grown exponentially. It’s completely natural to feel overwhelmed when on the brink of a huge life change. If they’re like us, they’ll feel better arming themself with checklists and other information about divorce, child support, and alimony laws in their state.
Before you speak, consider these common reasons for a divorce
Sometimes a marriage just doesn't work out, people and goals change, or the passion fizzles out. But many times, the cause of divorce are much more serious. You should not make assumptions about the whys and hows. Your job is to be a positive source of support. Here are some common reasons marriages break down.
Whether your friend is filing for divorce because their spouse cheated on them or the other way around, infidelity is a common reason for divorce. But what’s behind the infidelity? There is no “universal” answer to this question – it could be something as simple as temptation or as deep and personal as an abusive relationship or low-self esteem.
Money itself can’t cause a divorce, but money-related stress can certainly contribute to a relationship breakdown. Couples may disagree and become bitter about how their money is spent – or not spent. Add financial hardship to this situation, and you’ve got a potent mixture of frustration and distress on your hands. And although financial counseling is available, some couples don’t get it in time, or they don’t get it at all.
In fault state divorces, substance abuse can usually be used as grounds for ending a marriage. Statistics from the National Library of Medicine suggest that alcohol use disorder often precedes divorce. Living with an addict is hard on everyone involved, and unfortunately, domestic abuse is sometimes part of the problem.
Domestic abuse is a universally recognized problem that involves a power imbalance as well as physical and emotional harm. Unfortunately, it’s far more common than some people realize: One out of every four women and one out of every ten men experiences some form of it during their lifetime, according to the CDC.
As you can see, the reasons behind a divorce can be heavy, painful, and deeply personal. You mean well and want to help your friend – otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this – but the words you choose matter. First of all, find out how your friend is feeling. Check in with them to see where they’re at in their emotional process … and keep reading for helpful advice on what to say (or not say) right now.
What not to say to a friend getting divorced
As tempting as it is, do not bash your friend’s ex. Negativity and provoking emotions that could ramp up conflict is the last thing your friend needs right now, especially if they are trying to work out an agreement with their ex (and stay out of court).
Even if they are battling it out in court, your friend will fare better by staying calm, level-headed, and positive about moving forward and resolving their divorce in the most amicable way possible.
Other things to avoid saying to someone going through a divorce:
- “I saw this coming” or "I told you ______."Yes, maybe you did. But there’s nothing helpful about pointing out that you saw cracks in the foundation of their marriage – that only adds to their feelings of failure, shock, or disappointment right now.
- “You’re better off without them.” Your friend is grieving the loss of the relationship and should be allowed to move through the loss.
- “Are you sure you can’t try harder?” It’s not your place to question if, how, or when to decide to end a relationship. Only the two people in it know all the effort they’ve put in.
What to say to a friend who is divorcing who did not want or expect it
Remember the deluge of emotions we talked about above? Anger, fear, grief, relief, overwhelm – a person caught off-guard by divorce may experience these emotions with even greater intensity. Because they’re in such a delicate place, choose words that uplift and support them while still being honest:
- “I’m here for you.” You can’t take away the hurt, but you can let your friend know they’re not alone. With all of their unexpected losses, they’ll be glad to know your friendship is not one of them.
- “Can I help you find a therapist/lawyer/mediation service?” Your friend may need a utilitarian partner to lean on right now – someone to help them with the practical tasks of divorce while they grapple with their big emotions. In addition to finding the basic services mentioned above, your friend may eventually need help finding a new apartment or house, a health insurance provider, or even a job. If they’re open to your help, let them know they’ve got it.
- “Let’s spend time together.” A mini vacation from life’s big stressors – AKA, friend time with you – may be just what they need. If your friend likes movies, stop by for a Netflix night with wine/chocolate/chicken wings/whatever they love. If they like sports, take them to a game, or just get out and throw a ball around. In short, invite them to do whatever you think would help them feel better, if only for a while.
What to say to a friend who is divorcing who wanted it
Your friend has made this big, important decision, and advice is likely not what they want. Rather, they want your support, friendship, and perhaps your listening ear. Here are some things you can say to a friend who initiated and is now going through a divorce:
- “I’m proud of you.” Your friend may have wanted this divorce, but it’s only human to question ourselves and second-guess our decisions – especially big decisions like this. What’s more, your friend may be a little fearful of your judgment and the judgment of others. Let them know you accept and admire them for who they are.
- “I have faith in you.” A lot of scary unknowns loom in the world of divorce. Convey to your friend that you believe, in the words of Gloria Gaynor, that they will survive. Remind them of this as often as needed. (Hint: They might need to hear it every day.)
- “Can we meet for dinner?” Or lunch. Or coffee. It doesn’t really matter what you do or where you go. Let your friend know you are ready and willing to get together and talk – or not talk if that’s more your friendship style. Sometimes, it’s enough just being in the same room with a good buddy.
How to show your support to someone going through a divorce
Some people move on easily after divorce while others struggle to embrace their newly single identity. Let your friend take the lead on how much or how little they need to talk through their emotions or seek sources of support (unless, of course, you know this person appreciates you taking the initiative on these sorts of things).
Chances are you know what your friend needs from you … but if you don’t, it’s okay to ask them. Learn more about being a good friend to someone going through a divorce with our blog, The Good Friend’s Guide to Helping a Friend During Divorce.