Say the Right Thing

When Someone Gets Divorced

My friend Sarah separated from her husband when their son was 4, and she was stunned when a casual acquaintance reacted to the news with a cluck of the tongue. "She said, 'Oh, your poor kid' -- as if I hadn't thought of him in all of this!" When Katie Allison Granju, of Knoxville, Tennessee, first told people she was parting with her husband after three kids and 13 years of marriage, a clueless friend asked, "Have you considered counseling?"

The common thread in these reactions is the assumption that a friend who's getting divorced is overlooking something. But odds are that she's been considering this move carefully for a long time. No matter how resolved she is about her decision, though, a divorce still brings out all sorts of feelings: anger, guilt, shame, sometimes even a sense of relief. "The best thing you can do is listen," says Randi E. Platt, a psychologist in private practice in Philadelphia. "Emotions run high when a marriage breaks up, and your friend needs someone who can help her deal with her feelings."

Don't say...

  • "Was he cheating?" Never press for details -- it's none of your business unless your friend needs to vent.
  • "Did you think about how this will affect the children?" Yes, your friend has probably thought about this far more than you can imagine.
  • "My parents got divorced when I was a kid, and I used to wish they could get back together." Your story is not relevant -- unless your friend explicitly asks for your memories on this subject.

Do say...

  • "I just called to see how you're doing and to tell you I'm sorry that you've been going through such a difficult time."
  • "How are you holding up? Let me know if you'd like to meet for coffee."
  • "You're going to get through this."

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