What (and What Not) to Say to the Recently Divorced

Jessica Carter - September 24, 2014

For Church members who have recently experienced divorce, it feels like the ultimate failure—marriages, especially temple marriages, aren’t supposed to end if you are doing your best to do what’s right. Yet, here we are—hurt, confused, and shaken to the core.

What (and What Not) to Say to the Recently Divorced

So, what should you say to someone who is recently divorced? Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you navigate some emotional landmines while still offering your heartfelt support.

#1. Don’t say: nothing.

I get it—sometimes people don’t know what to say. But avoiding me or acting awkward around me doesn’t help. When I’m talking to someone, it’s pretty obvious if that person has heard the news and is trying to act like he or she doesn’t know—the lack of eye contact, the shifting from one foot to the other, the unusually intense interest in the day’s weather, etc. Go ahead and note the elephant in the room.

Do say: “I’m sorry to hear about your divorce,” or some other simple, sincere expression of sympathy.

I know I’m divorced—it’s okay for you to acknowledge this life-changing event. In fact, I would prefer that you did. It doesn’t mean I want to dwell on it. It’s just a way for you to let me know you care. And if you follow with, “How are you holding up?” it goes a long way.

#2. Don’t say: “What happened?”

Divorces are excruciatingly painful and complicated. I don’t want to explain or defend my decision. Odds are there are details a divorced person wants to keep private—especially if children are involved. And odds are this is a decision he or she has agonized over for months or even years. Maybe it wasn’t even his or her choice, but the ex spouse’s. We can’t neatly summarize it for you, nor do we want to try.

Do say: “I’m here for you if you ever need to talk.”

This statement lets us know to whom we can turn if and when we do need to work through our feelings. If I take you up on your offer, you’ll probably end up with a lot of information and insights about the situation, so it’s critical that you keep everything confidential. Please don’t extend a listening ear if you know you won’t be able to resist the urge to share details with others.

#3. Don’t say: “I never thought you two were a good match anyway” or “I never knew what you saw in him/her.”

My whole world has just been turned upside down, and I’m already questioning my judgment on just about everything in my life. Obviously, at one point I loved this person deeply and thought this person was the best match for me. It doesn’t help to know that you never liked him or that you saw our divorce coming from a mile away.

Do say: “I hope you are both doing okay.”

Some divorced people may disagree with me here, but I don’t want people to feel the need to choose sides. The ex spouse is hurting too, and I appreciate it when people express concern. In fact, I encourage friends to reach out to the ex spouse—especially if that person is the one who moved out. He or she is living somewhere new and likely doesn’t have a support system in place. If you were a friend before the divorce, there is no reason you shouldn’t be one now.

#4. Don’t say: “At least you’re still sealed together.”

For two people who have decided they would be better off living separate lives, the notion of being sealed together for eternity is not particularly comforting. And even if we are still sealed, that may not remain the case, so such a comment could make things worse down the road. Better just not to go there at all. Period.

Do say: “You are a great person with a lot to offer.”

Our confidence is nonexistent at this point, so, yes, we could use a pep talk now and then. Be specific and talk about some of your favorite qualities about us. We could use the reminder, and some of the qualities you notice might surprise us and help give us hope for someday finding love again.

#5. Don’t say: “I wonder whose fault it was,” “I wonder who left whom,” or anything else along those lines.

I know it’s human nature to speculate, and I’m sure these conversations are being had between neighbors and friends, but please be careful about what you say—especially in front of your children. Just assume that anything you say will eventually be repeated to my children. And trust me, they don’t need to hear your theories on infidelity, pornography, finances, or anything else.

Do say: “I’m sure you’ll do what’s best for you and your family. Let me know how I can help.”

Please don’t judge us. Certainly mistakes were made by both parties, but you don’t have all the facts, no matter how much you think you know. Instead, give us the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of how we got to this point, we’re here, and we’re doing the best we can. If you do offer to help in some way, please make sure you follow through. Otherwise, it feels like you’ve thrown me a desperately needed lifeline and then yanked it away again. It’s much better for me not to plan on any help than to count on assistance that never materializes.

#6. Don’t say: “I heard your ex is dating someone who looks just like Cindy Crawford/Brad Pitt.”

As I mentioned earlier, our self-esteem is probably at an all-time low. We don’t need to know that the ex spouse is dating someone who is incredibly wealthy or looks like a supermodel. Nor do we need to hear that he or she is dating a different person every night of the week.

Do say: nothing.

Never repeat rumors about the ex spouse. And even if you’ve seen something with your own two eyes, keep it to yourself. No good can come of it.

#7. Don’t say: “I know a guy/girl who is divorced. I should set you up.”

You might as well say, “You have warts, I know a guy/girl who has warts, you’d be perfect together.” We already feel like damaged goods in the LDS singles market. Don’t make us feel worse by assuming that only another divorced person could possibly be interested in us. Absolutely, Mr. Divorced could be Mr. Right, but if divorce is the only thing we have in common, don’t bother. Please consider hobbies, personalities, goals, etc., and not just our marital status.

Do say: “When you’re ready to start dating, let me know. I have a great guy/girl in mind for you.”

The thought of diving back into the dating pool is terrifying. We are depending on our friends to introduce us to others we might click with—whether or not they have been married before.

#8. Don’t say: “I’m sure you just want to be left alone.”

Getting divorced feels like jumping off a cliff—and we need friends and family to be our safety net. Assuming we want to be left alone is almost a guarantee that we will fall even deeper down the rabbit hole. Check in on us from time to time and let us know you care. Even a quick e-mail or phone call

means a lot.

Do say: “Would you like to come?”

True, I have pulled away from friends and family and currently maintain a near-hermit lifestyle. I just need more time to heal. But please keep inviting me to join you, even if I keep turning you down. I feel like I don’t fit in—especially at church—so please continue to reach out and include me. I’ll accept your invitation when I’m ready.

This piece of classic LDS Living content was originally posted in November 2011.

© LDS Living, November/December 2011.

© 2014 LDSLiving.com.