What Not To Say To Someone Who Is Going Through A Divorce

Around one in three people who have married have divorced at least once, according to the United States Census Bureau. Divorce is a common outcome for many couples, yet it can be a deeply lonely experience. One divorcee told Psychology Today, "You feel the stigma, especially if some friends distance themselves, and you feel like a failure as a person ... It was hard to interact with people at all [after divorcing] because I felt like I was a mess."

For friends of those going through a divorce, it's crucial to be present and supportive. But how? Firstly, don't leave your friend hanging, even if the topic of divorce is uncomfortable or you aren't sure how to respond. One study suggests that women lose 40% of their friendships following a divorce. Simply staying by your friend's side is one of the most supportive actions you can take.

Still, it can be difficult to find the right words to communicate your support. Here's what not to say to someone who's going through a divorce, as well as a few helpful words of affirmation to try.

Be careful with your post-divorce advice

Watching a loved one go through a painful divorce can feel unbearable, and many well-intentioned friends try to make things better by sharing their best advice. However, giving advice to someone going through a divorce can backfire. Especially when advice is unsolicited, as the receiver may feel judged or criticized, per PsychCentral. Not only that, but they may struggle to find the right answer for themselves when factoring in another person's opinions. This can make it harder to heal following a divorce.

Even if your friend does ask for your input, be aware that your advice may not work for them right now. One common piece of advice given is to quickly start a new relationship after the divorce. In reality, some are ready to date right away, while others take up to a decade before they're emotionally prepared for romance again (via Women's Health). Post-divorce timelines are rarely one size fits all.

Don't pressure friends to talk about their divorce

It can be tempting to ask for a full synopsis of the divorce, especially if you're close to the person going through it. You may even feel that asking for details shows that you're on their side and invested in what they're going through. But not everyone feels comfortable opening up, especially when the decision to split is still fresh.

There are a number of reasons why marriages fail, each just as personal as the next. Pressuring a friend to explain what led to their divorce may cause embarrassment or trigger painful memories that they're not ready to recount. As psychologist Joseph Cilona, PsyD, told Oprah Daily, "If you're met with resistance, avoid putting pressure of any kind on your friend to talk." Ask if they want to share what happened, and respect their wishes to keep mum. If they choose to not share personal details, don't take it personally.

Try not to bad mouth their ex

The best thing someone can do to help a loved one through a divorce is to be on their side, right? Well, sort of. You can rally around your friend, but that doesn't mean you must cast their ex as the villain. One divorcee told Reader's Digest that their friends' criticisms of their ex-spouse felt like criticisms against them. In other words, telling your friend that their spouse is a terrible person can sound like you're judging their choice of partners.

Your loved one may want to complain about their ex, but avoid chiming in. Allison Rimland, a couple's therapist, summed it up well, explaining to Prevention, "It's like how you can talk badly about your family, but if anyone else does, you leap to their defense ... Even if your friend is venting about her ex, resist the urge to jump into the game."

Don't play down their divorce

There can be benefits to looking on the bright side, but you might want to hold off when talking to someone who's going through a divorce. Saying things like, "At least you don't have kids together," or "It's good your divorce was quick. My sister's divorce took two years," can inadvertently trivialize the hardships your friend is experiencing.

Even if you believe that their divorce isn't so bad, bringing up "worse" scenarios likely won't make them feel better. According to Healthline, trying to cheer someone up by comparing their experience to other difficult experiences is called minimizing, and it rarely offers the comfort intended. Instead, try stepping fully into an empathetic point of view. Verywell Mind suggests listening intently to the other person, without judgment, and putting yourself in their shoes. Imagine how challenging their divorce is from their perspective, without comparing it to others.

So what should you say?

Sometimes, the best things to say to someone going through a divorce are also the simplest. Leave your personal opinions and advice aside, and simply let your loved one know that you're there. Psychotherapist Ashley Mead told The New York Times that it's often enough to say something like, "I know I can't fix it but I am here for you."

Validating words can also show that you understand and accept their feelings. Verywell Mind says phrases like, "That must be really hard," and "I can see how you would feel that way," are effective in conveying emotional validation.

Finally, knowing what to say (and do) can be as simple as asking. Psychologist Joseph Cilona told Oprah Daily that it's okay to ask what kind of support is helpful and which isn't. Your friend may want a listening ear or an invitation to do something fun to get their mind off of the divorce. But you may not know until you ask.