Maybe I should title this column “Six Ways to Make a Divorcing Friend Feel Worse.” That would capture my recent experience, on the receiving end of more than my own separation anxiety – but a great deal of interest on the part of everyone else I know.
So here are some tips and guidelines from my personal vault, when it comes to hearing news that a friend or acquaintance is divorcing.
“Just heard you are separating. Am shocked. Are you selling your furniture?”
Pull Up a Chair. Prepare to be Schooled.
I stared at that text message, blankly, completely perplexed. It was one of the first responses to the news of my separation.
So, I thought. This is how divorce goes? People want your furniture?
I re-read the message repeatedly, thinking that eventually it would make more sense – surely I wasn’t reading it right. Yet those twelve little words on my phone might as well have been black buzzards circling above me, one angry and sporting the features of my “friend” rather than a beady-eyed bird face. What was next? Swooping down on my house to pick apart the bones of my broken dreams?
I wanted to simply ignore the text message, but I knew that the sender would keep texting until I responded.
So, I typed: “Thanks so much for your concern. I’ve never been divorced before, but I’m pretty sure I will still need my furniture.”
My Recent Separation
Until my own separation, the closest I had been to the divorce process is that of a neighborhood friend. She had always struck me as a private person, so when she revealed her divorce to me, my response was appropriately reserved. I wished her the best and tried to reassure her that better times were ahead. I let her know she could call on me for help, but didn’t specifically assert myself in any way.
We were not the closest of friends, and again, she had always seemed somewhat guarded about her personal life. Perhaps I should have done more?
Considering the reactions I’ve been receiving recently, my response to my neighbor’s divorce must not be the norm. Apparently, people generally react more strongly, and maybe, more strangely.
Six Ways NOT to Respond to News of Divorce
Divorce is difficult and extremely trying emotionally. Don’t make it more complicated for your friend, your neighbor or your coworker while they are going through a very difficult time. Here are six ways to respond to the news of divorce.
Me: “I’m getting divorced.”
Her: “Who did you leave him for?”
Me: “There is no one else.”
Her:“Then why did you leave?”
Her: “Does he hit you?”
Note to self: So far, there seem to be four “socially acceptable” reasons for a woman to get a divorce. They are: you are leaving for someone else; he is leaving for someone else; you caught him cheating; he beats you.
None of these apply to my situation. If you don’t already know what’s wrong in someone’s marriage, when they’re splitting up, you don’t need to know. Don’t ask, unless the questions are: “Are you okay?” and “Is there anything I can do to help?” In other words, it’s none of your business.
Unless you are one of the two spouses getting divorced or a child of the divorcing couple, this event most likely won’t impact your daily life. Therefore, there is no need for you to get involved, to insert yourself into the conflict, or to gossip about any of it. Don’t be an unsolicited spokesperson in any way between the divorcing parties or anyone else.
This includes but is not limited to: policing the marital residence (announcing all comings and goings of one spouse to the other spouse), taking screenshots of one spouse’s Facebook accounts and showing them to the other spouse, or any other communications that are… I repeat, none of your business.
Unless you are a child of the divorce, don’t cry.
My cleaning lady cried when I told her I was separating. In fact, she was the most visibly shaken of all of my friends and family. I’m not sure what this says about me, or my friends, or my marriage, but it was definitely unnecessary and alarming when the elderly Romanian maid, who sees me twice a month, burst into tears and broke into prayer.
You know the sort of thing. “You just need to tell him to ^%^%#%$*”:>,” or, “you should just __________” (fill in the blank with any hurtful, unnecessary tactic or gesture.) It’s sad how addicted society has become to drama. Perhaps it’s a result of the glorified “reality TV” culture that is centered on people behaving very badly.
When she heard about the end of my marriage, one person immediately de-friended me on Facebook. She later explained to me that she did so because she “didn’t want to be asked” where I was “hanging out” who I was “going out with.” Presumably, that meant asked by my husband and his family. Note to anyone who cares to know: I was at the time, and still am friends with my ex-to-be on Facebook.
Right after she informed me that she had de-friended me so she wouldn’t know anything when asked, (by my husband who could just look on my Facebook himself) she proceeded to, in the very next breath, ask me “So, who ARE you dating, anyway?”
Several friends and neighbors pretended nothing ever happened. They never even offered an “I’m sorry to hear that.” Others wouldn’t make eye-contact with me.
It’s okay to talk to a person who is in the process of a divorce. Don’t make them feel invisible just because their marriage is breaking up. If you’re a friend, be a friend. Acknowledge the news without going overboard.
Consideration and Common Sense
I’m not an expert on divorce or social conventions. However, common sense doesn’t hurt, and moderation is key. Address the situation kindly, then leave it alone. The divorcing spouses will fill in the blanks or raise the topic if they choose to. Be willing to lend a listening ear, or helping hand.
Lastly, there were a few people who reached out online or text and sent nice notes of support, without demanding details or asking about the “Fire Sale” of furniture. I know that took time, and those sentiments were greatly appreciated. After experiencing so many unkind words, interrogations, and uncomfortable interactions, it’s incredible how great of an impact a few kind words in a text message or email can have.
What are the best and worst reactions by others that you experienced while going through a divorce? Any tips of your own to share?
© Andrea Clement Santiago
Andrea Clement Santiago is a career advice columnist, writer, and communications professional. Her background in medical sales, training, and healthcare recruiting led to her role as the Guide to Health Careers for About.com, an IAC company. She has contributed to books, journals, websites and has made media appearances on television and radio in her capacity as a healthcare career expert. She writes about her experience as an adult orphan on her blog, No Parents No Problem. Learn more about Andrea here. Follow Andrea on Twitter at @AndreaSantiago, or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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