10 Things Not to Say to a Recently Separated/Divorced Person (and 6 Things to Say)

I have realized that very few people know what to say when they find out that you are divorced or separated. They are trying hard to comfort you but if you’ve never been through it how would you know what to say? I want to help. Here are some things that people said to me (lots of times, all of these were said over and over again). If you said any of them, I am not angry nor do I hold a grudge, I do not even remember the people who specifically said any of these. I just want you to know that they are not helpful and explain why they are not helpful. I also offer some advice on what to say, how to be comforting and kind to someone going through this. These happened more at the beginning, so all of the responses are memories of how I felt when these things were said to me within the first few months. All of these things are said out of care and comfort, I just want to explain why they are not helpful.

1. “There are other fish in the sea.”

Most people who have recently gone through a separation and divorce are not looking to date immediately (and if they are, they shouldn’t be, but that would be a different post). My marriage just ended, I do not need someone to tell me that there are other options as if it’s no big deal. It’s as if you’re saying “eh, just move on. It’s not like that relationship meant anything.”

2. “Was s/he having an affair?” and “Were you having an affair?”

I cannot help but feel lucky that my divorce did not include an affair on either side. The feelings of rejection and hurt can only be intensified by an affair and I cannot imagine dealing with that. However, whether or not an affair occurred is none of your business. Ever. If it’s something that I want to process with you, I will. You do not need to ask (or gossip about it). Also, the pasta section of the grocery store is an inappropriate place to ask any questions about the divorce, especially these two.

3. “I never liked him/her anyway.”

Either you were lying the whole time I was in that relationship or you’re lying now. Either way, I do not want to be lied to. This makes it seem like it was a horrible choice to marry the person in the first place or that you knew this was coming from the beginning. This is not helpful. I liked my ex a lot, that’s why I married him.

4. “Thank goodness you don’t have children.”

Think before you speak. Yes, I’m grateful that we did not have children and that I was not pregnant. However, what if that morning I had found out that I was pregnant? How would your comment have made me feel?

5. “Aren’t you so glad it happened now instead of 10 or 20 years down the road?”

Umm, I’m not glad that it happened. I have no response to this question. I understand what you’re trying to say; it is just not comforting.

6. “I know how you feel. My cat died when I was three and it was so hard to deal with.”

Okay, this one is an exaggeration, no one said these exact words. However, plenty of people said something similar. These are not the same thing. If you haven’t gone through a divorce or something equally as painful saying “I know” is not helpful. You don’t know and I’m so glad of that for you! Please do not pretend.

7. “You’re so young!”

Yes. I know. Let’s move on.

8. “God hates divorce.”

Yes, and so do I. I do not think this was the plan. I think that it broke God’s heart that my marriage ended. However, God’s love for me (and my former spouse) is so much bigger than his hatred for divorce. I have never experienced the intimacy and comfort of the Lord like I did during the first 4 months of my separation. Please stop judging me. You don’t know my story.

9. “I wish you had married someone like my husband. He’s amazing.” Or “I wish your marriage had been like mine.”

I’m so glad your marriage is awesome! I’m so glad you married an amazing man! I’m so glad you’re happy! Please do not rub it in my face. This makes me discontent, not hopeful for my future.

10. Listing all of the faults you noticed about my former spouse.

This is one of the least helpful things. I was hoping and praying for reconciliation for so long. Anytime someone said “oh and he did this” made it that much harder to want reconciliation. It encourages bitterness. We all have faults.  I know he could come up with a very long list of mine. I tried really hard not to talk badly about my former spouse (and still try not to). By sharing what you disliked it was hard for me not to agree or over share. It’s just not comforting or helpful in the healing process to tell me how awful you think he was, mostly because he was not as awful as you are making him out to be.

 

When you are faced with a situation like this consider these six things to say instead.

1. “I don’t understand how hard this must be for you.”

Admitting that you don’t know can be super helpful. It’s okay that you don’t understand, I may just need to process or know that I have friends. Separation and divorce are very lonely.

2. “I’m so sorry, that sucks.”

It does suck. It is by far the hardest and most devastating thing I have gone through. Let’s acknowledge that and now we can move on in the conversation.

3. How can I pray for you and your spouse?

Often my answer was “I don’t know” but it was incredible knowing that so many people were praying for me and also for my former spouse. This is by far the most comforting question I was asked. After you offer, pray for both people.

4. If you need to talk, I’m here.

Allow me to dictate what I share with you. I do not need to process with 100 people. If I want to share with you I will. By saying this you allow me to make the decision rather than trying to force intimacy on me. Every time I tell my story it is exhausting. Please let me decide when I have the emotional energy to share.

5. “I don’t understand.”

This was one of the best things people said to me. Thank you for not trying to assume you know why my marriage ended. I still don’t fully understand and I was one of the two people present for every moment.

6. “I’ve been there. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you are going to be okay.”

If you have been through a divorce or a painful time you will know when it’s appropriate to say “I know.” These two words are so comforting when shared well. Share how you have found comfort in Jesus or offer to talk. I will caution you to not over share. In the early stages I cannot be a comfort to you if you are still processing your own divorce.

 

You do not need to have anything profound to say. Sometimes a hug and a listening ear is all that a hurting person needs. The simplicity of recognizing that someone is hurting is often all that it takes. Just love the person. Do not try to pick up juicy gossip or satiate your curiosity or make sense of the situation. Just be kind and please, think before you speak.

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Guest Post: Karis’s Life as a PK

After wanting to share my experiences as a PK with people for some time, I decided to do this series when my dear friend Karis and I shared part of our story of friendship (and hating each other, a post in itself) with a group of teenagers on a retreat. After sharing our story, several of the adults were discussing PK life. Karis’s dad mentioned how helpful our stories could be to pastors. Thus this blog series was born and Karis and I are talking about other ways to share our story. She’s really great and I hope you enjoy this post about her life as a PK! (click here for the introductory post or for the first post, Daddy’s Clothes)

 

As a ten year old, the most exciting thing in my life was Florida State football. I lived and breathed going to the games, watching them with my Dad, cheering for the “good guys” and laughing at the “other ones”. I was on my way to one of the greatest FSU football games of all time when I got asked one of those pivotal questions in life. You know, the ones where you still remember where you were and what you were wearing 15 years later?

Here it was, the question that rocked my world: “How would you feel if I became a priest?”

Here was my educated, enlightened, ten year old response: “That sounds cool, Dad.” I was mildly engaged, much more focused on the more important things in my childhood, like the game we were about to attend.

You see, I didn’t give much (any?) thought at all to my Dad becoming a priest. In my experience, priests worked only a few hours every Sunday morning. They greeted people at the door in funny robes, preached a long, boring lecture, gave us the “snack”, told us to be good and sent us home. In my experience, priests’ kids got to go to summer camp for an extra week every summer! How cool was that?!

Perhaps if I’d been a little more prepared, I might have handled the transition into PK-dom with grace and tact. But you see, these are the things that nobody talks about. Why? Because telling other people about what it’s like to be a PK is pretty much akin to that nightmare everyone has of ending up in a public place naked. We don’t talk about it because it feels vulnerable, exposed. We don’t talk about it because if we start, how are we going to stop? And we don’t talk about it because if we were to tell you the truth, you would start to feel bad for taking our parents away from us as much as you do.

My entire experience as a PK can be summed up in this little nugget: “Whenever my Dad is with you, he’s not with me.”

Do me a favor? Next time you’re in church, take out the bulletin and read the upcoming events and check which ones you think your pastor might attend: Vestry meeting? Check. Men’s Bible study? Check. Women’s Bible Study? Probably not. Wednesday night programming: Check. Choir Rehearsals? A possibility. Then, add in the things that aren’t in the church bulletin: Planning meetings, staff meetings, deaths, counseling sessions, phone calls, networking, sermon writing, scheduling.

It’s a pretty exhausting list, isn’t it? Hard to handle it all in a business day, but then you add to the mix that many church-goers work a normal day shift, meaning that a lot of the events have to happen at night. Believe it or not, pastors have the same amount of nights per week that you do. The difference is that they don’t get to decide which events to be at and which ones to skip out on. They don’t get to cancel if it’s raining too hard, if their kid has a soccer game that night, or even because they’re tired. I would average that most priests are out of the home at least three weeknights every week, maybe even more. I would venture a guess that when they are home, most of them are so emotionally spent they find it hard to engage anyway.

I’m not saying this to complain about the PK way of life, or to make you feel bad. I don’t mind sharing my Dad with you. He’s a pretty cool guy, and I’m glad you get to know him. Sometimes, though, I want to get to know him, too. Sometimes, I want you to tell him it’s okay to stay home just this once. Mostly, I just want you to understand those kids that go home with his wife after church every Sunday.