Monday, October 29, 2012

What NOT to Say to Someone Getting Divorced

Many people have genuinely good intentions, but don't always know the right thing to say.

Don't worry, those moments happen to the best of us. 

Many people are surprised when they first learn about "big news" things, and don't always think their immediate responses through very well.

Unfortunately sometimes the mouth opens before the brain can click on. 

And some people are just socially inept morons.

Oh yes, yes they are.....

So here are some basic guidelines I have come up with for dealing with people going through a divorce (or really, any big personally challenging time period in their life where socially inept morons often have the overwhelming urge to open their mouths).

You're welcome. 

Take their lead on how they want to talk about their ex. If they aren't trash talking them, you sure as hell better not be. On the other side, if they want to curse the filthy bastard to hell and back, by all means, dish it up with them and recognize this is not the moment to be "fair" and pointing out "good qualities". This is a very personal thing, and how they think about their ex will change as the work through the stages of grief divorce. The last thing they need to be doing is feeling like they have to defend their ex because you, their supportive comrade, is ranting and raving about how much of a selfish idiot they are.

I mean, they probably do agree with you to some extent, but loyalty is a funny thing sometimes.

Words aren't always necessary, or even wanted. Empathize a basic sympathy (ie- "oh hon, that's gotta be tough") and then just give them a hug or otherwise sit close with them in silence if they aren't talking right then. Sometimes the silence does more good than the most expressive soliloquies detailing how their ex is a jerk. If they need to talk, they will speak. If they need to cry, their tears will fall. You don't need to do anything more than being there, presence is enough.

I cannot emphasize this one enough. Sometimes, the best friend is the one who knows when to just shut up. 

Don't ask divorce-specific questions. There are two types, the juicy details and the philosophical reflections, and they both SUCK are hard to answer. I don't care how much you want to know all the inside gossip, it's none of your damn business. And asking existential questions like "why" or "couldn't you guys try to work it out?" do nothing more than make the person being questioned feel bad because they can't answer them.

No one can. Why does any marriage fall apart? If the fact that the couple is getting a divorce is widely known public knowledge, you better believe it's past the 'working out' stage.

Bring them ice cream sundaes.

It's my signature move to help people when they break up with a boyfriend, get fired, or otherwise have a notably crappy day.

Don't quote scripture or other cliche sayings. I mean it. There is NOTHING like the stupidity of "everything happens for a reason" and "time heals all things" to make all that pent up anger at the world get channeled to you, the unsuspecting (and perhaps moronic) well-meaning friend. Sometimes life just sucks. Sure, in 5 or 10 years it probably won't suck any more, and maybe they'll have the distance and perspective to look back and be like "oh I'm so glad I got divorced from that moron, my life turned out so much better" but they certainly don't have it right now (and there's also certainly no guarantee they will have it then). The closest thing you're allowed to utter is something very basic like "it'll get better", but then preferably only if you've actually been through it and actually know that, otherwise you still might get called on talking bullshit.

You want know one of the most comforting things anybody ever said to me regarding my divorce? It was one of the slightly older gals at work telling me that her husband (who incidentally is also a Target employee) is hubby number 3. It was that simple. A small smile, and that sentence followed with "it'll be ok" did more for me than anything else could. It gave acceptance to the part that sometimes marriages don't work, understanding that right now it's really fucking hard, and hope that a failed marriage doesn't mean a life of being alone and unhappy. Nobody else gave me that, and it was what I so desperately needed right then. 

Unless you are going through the exact same situation, please don't tell them how whatever your-totally-not-the-same situation that you presently have in your life is just like theirs. It's not, and your poor attempts at fabricating similar life experiences don't help when stated in the manner of "oh I know just what it's like."

This one is also very important to apply to situations like deployed spouses (no, frequently taking business trips is NOT the same, unless they are being shot at on their way to the conference center) and single parenting (again, working opposite shifts is certainly hard, but NOT the same thing as being a single parent). 

When all is said and done, someone getting a divorce mostly just needs acceptance from you of whatever stage they are in so they can accept it themselves.

Or a sharp ax, good alibi, and a pig farm.

No comments:

Post a Comment