Never Say These 5 Words to Someone Getting a Divorce, Expert Warns
An etiquette expert reveals the biggest no-no when comforting a friend whose marriage is over.
When you hear someone is going through a divorce, you already know they're living through one of life's most fraught and emotionally challenging situations. The last thing you'd want to do is say anything hurtful in a conversation about it—especially when your best intention was to offer comfort at such a tough time. You can avoid hurt feelings by making sure you know what never to say to someone going through a divorce. Read on to find out what an etiquette advises you against uttering, and her advice on what you should do to express your support instead.
Never say, "I knew it wouldn't last."
According to August Abbott, PhD, a relationship counselor and etiquette expert on JustAnswer, who has spent 40 years teaching etiquette classes, the worst thing you can say to someone who is divorcing is, "I knew it wouldn't last."
To express this sentiment is to fail to honor the commitment the person initially made to the marriage—and planned to keep before circumstances derailed it.
Demonstrate respect for the initial commitment.
As Abbott notes, "The fact remains that when this person stood at the altar, or wherever, and made that vow to be together forever, they meant it. They expected it. There was nothing but love, honor, and truth behind it. Now that it's ending, it's like a death." With that in mind, it's important that you show respect for that commitment, regardless of your private feelings.
Even if the divorcing partner is confident in their decision, they are processing pain.
There is no such thing as a painless divorce. "No matter how happy the divorced or divorcing individual may seem, make no mistake: Even the worst of the worst endings have a degree of loss in there somewhere," Abbott says. "Sometimes it's right up front and in the open, other times it's buried underneath the false face of bravado."
That's why she says the best way to talk to someone going through a divorce is to offer unwavering, unconditional support—without vocalizing too much of a stance on the former partner. "Never criticize the ex, nor pump the ex up as a great person," she says. "Focus instead on this person in front of you and let them know that despite their being so brave, it's OK to mourn the loss of hope if not [the loss of] the person in particular."
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Make yourself available to listen without judgment any time.
Even if the divorcing person seems relieved about the split—and even if it's truly for the best—"in the quietest of moments all alone, they are likely going through the stages of mourning," Abbott says. And that's just plain hard.
So most of all, she says, the best thing you can do for someone going through a divorce is to make yourself available as a nonjudgmental sounding board, and a true friend. "Be there to listen," she says, "any time, any day."