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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

7 Things to Never Say to Someone Going Through a Divorce

Being a good friend means standing by and supporting your friend, even when times are tough. But if your friend is going through a divorce, it can be hard to know what to say. Here's how to be supportive.

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“How can you do that to your kids?”

You can be sure that your friend thought long and hard about the impact the divorce would have on her children before making a decision. While divorce is difficult on everyone involved, including children, the truth is that divorce is sometimes the best thing for kids, says Darci Walker, PsyD, of Core Parenting in Portland, Oregon. It isn’t divorce itself that has long-term negative effects on kids. It is the conflict between the parents.” Sometimes getting divorced is the key to allowing parents to engage with each other in a healthy way. Yet even so, the decision to divorce often comes with guilt. Even if your friend is confident that divorce is the right decision for the family, there will almost certainly still be underlying feelings of guilt and doubt. You should try to assuage those feelings, rather than stoke them. These are signs your marriage could be headed for divorce.

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“That would never happen to us”

When a friend is going through a divorce, it can feel comforting to put them in the “other” bucket—their marriage was different; ours is strong. But keep in mind your friend may not have seen the divorce coming either. Dr. Walker advises: “In order to be a supportive friend, we need to sift through our own issues, beliefs, and automatic assumptions and remember that what we think we know isn’t necessarily true. And that supporting our friend though a trying time means suspending our reactions and following their lead,” says Dr. Walker. Instead of trying to distance yourself from the divorce, try to think if it from your friend’s perspective: Divorce can happen to anyone, even someone who think she is in a happy marriage.

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“He’s a jerk”

“While I might have felt that way at times, it didn’t actually help to think that I might have been wrong to choose him or that my kids’ dad was a bad person (he’s not). I know people often think that that’s supportive, but they should realize it then casts aspersions at their friend for being a bad judge of character,” says Melissa, who divorced a few years ago. “There may be times when venting feels good, but we also don’t need to get locked into the negative,” says Dr. Walker. “It is not helpful when a friend can’t see both sides of the bigger picture.” Even if your friend is professing hatred toward her ex, don’t jump on the bandwagon. Allow her to vent and be supportive without making similar comments. Here are 15 things divorce lawyers wish people knew about marriage.

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“Have you tried counseling?”

The question can feel presumptuous, making your friend going through a divorce feel like she hasn’t tried hard enough to save the marriage. Worse yet, if they have tried marriage counseling, and it failed—or if the other half of the couple wasn’t interested in counseling—the question can feel hurtful, too. Remember there is no one right way to get divorced, nor is there one right way for how to get over a divorce. Assume that your friend has tried everything that she felt comfortable trying. Learn the 19 things marriage counselors know about relationships.

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“Get a lawyer and take him for everything he’s got”

While anger can be a normal part of divorce, it is best not to fuel that anger with fantasies of revenge. “Getting locked into revenge or negative feelings can keep us stuck and unable to move on,” says Dr. Walker. Anna explains why this comment was hurtful to her: “My ex is not suddenly the devil who deserves devious and cold-hearted treatment. The end of a marriage doesn’t have to be an ugly painful war, and my ex isn’t suddenly the enemy.” Dr. Walker confirms: “More and more, couples are able to treat each other with kindness, respect and even love, putting their children’s relationship with each parent first and creating a co-parenting arrangement that can allow children to thrive. Whether a couple stays together or not, if children are involved it is their responsibility to find a way to engage with each other in a healthy way.”

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“What happened?”

Sure, you’re probably curious about what led to the divorce—especially if the couple always seemed happy on the outside. But the truth is, it’s none of your business. And if your friend wants to let you know the gory details, he or she will tell you without you prompting it.

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“I need space”

This usually isn’t said out loud, but is felt by the person going through the divorce. Actions like no longer inviting your divorcing friend over for a family dinner, or not wanting him or her to hang out with your significant other alone, or simply falling out of contact—all of these actions are deeply hurtful to a divorcing friend in a time of deep transition. Alyssa struggled with these actions after her divorce several years ago. “Honestly, what’s worse is what isn’t said with words: We don’t want to be friends with you anymore because we have our own struggles and you represent the path we don’t want to take. It’s easier not to believe you than to believe that a strong woman like you put up with abuse.” Instead of isolating your friend, make an extra effort to reach out and keep her in your life.

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What you can do: Just be there—and don’t say anything at all

“It is important to remember that you are not your friend’s therapist. You are a friend. You do not have to have the answers, know what to do or what to say. It is not your job to fix it,” says Dr. Walker. Instead, to be supportive, you need to remember that “divorce is a transition, not the end, and there is no right or wrong answer,” says Dr. Walker. Being supportive can look like different things. It could be bringing over a bar of chocolate, inviting your friend over for dinner, or just listening as your friend vents.