When someone you know is getting divorced

by singlemomseeking on October 11, 2009

I recently ran into an acquaintance at a neighborhood get-together. This is a father I’ve known in passing, but I’ve never really known him. His son is younger than my kid, so we’ve never hung out.

Come to think of it, I hadn’t really seen him out with his wife recently. Whenever I’ve seen her — say, at the grocery store — we’ve waved and said “hi.” They’ve always just been one of those couples in the neighborhood.

Anyway, this dad and I chatting were over cheese and crackers the other night. Something seemed a bit off — maybe it was the bags under his eyes, or his 10 ‘clock shadow. That’s when he looked straight at me and whispered: “My wife and I are getting a divorce.”

I reached for my glass of water. “I’m sorry,” I said.

He shrugged. Maybe he wanted to talk about it at that moment. I wasn’t sure what to say. But this didn’t really seem like the best time and place, if you know what I mean.

Still, this got me thinking: What do you say to someone when he/she tells you, “I’m getting divorced”?

Maybe I can offer to babysit? Or, I can suggest a book that might help? Should I offer to go out for coffee with him? That might be awkward.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that someone has said these words to me. (I’ve even had to tell friends and family that I was getting divorced.). So, what have you said to a friend?

man BW back coniferine

Or, maybe another way to ask this question:

When you told someone that you were getting divorced, what would you have wanted to hear in that moment?

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November 8, 2009 at 1:34 pm

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Bad Mummy October 11, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I actually didn’t like people saying ‘I’m sorry’ when I told them my marriage was over. I wasn’t sorry it was over. I think it should be “I’m sorry to hear that”, followed up immediately with “is there anything I can do to help?” The person in question might need a lawyer referral, or need your opinion on residency schedules or the like.

I left my ex as my friends were announcing engagements and wedding dates, so no one wanted to even talk about what I was dealing with. Neither did the happily-married couples, as if marital breakdown is contagious. I only wish I’d known more single parents then, since it seems you need to live thru it to help someone else deal with it.
.-= Bad Mummy´s last blog ..The Dreams That Come =-.

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Happy Single Mom October 11, 2009 at 10:46 pm

It’s funny – I was on the reverse side the other day. I was at a work function where I ran into an old acquaintance. We were sharing stories about our kids, pediatricians, etc. when he asked “what does your husband do?” I said, “oh, we are separated & getting divorced” and proceeded to launch into an explanation of my ex’s job. I don’t know what to say to other people so that THEY don’t feel uncomfortable if the topic comes up.

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StudentMama October 12, 2009 at 12:45 am

I think by the time you are ready to tell someone – you’ve sort of gone through some of the emotions of grief. Unless you are really close friends – the information is probably given after some resolution about the outcome. Probably it was just relieving to tell someone!

I think it just helps to offer to talk about it. A simple “How are you doing?” can help, and definately an offer to help out. It’s just nice to know that there is someone to reach out to, if needed!
.-= StudentMama´s last blog ..Taking responsibility for self =-.

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MC October 12, 2009 at 3:41 am

If my own experience is any indication, this guy’s going through hell and living in a life that’s fallen completely to pieces. He may not even have told very many people.

I think an “I’m sorry to hear that” is appropriate and kind, followed by letting him talk for a bit–although, warning, he will probably just rant. But unless you are a close friend, want to be his therapist (or you want him to hit on you), don’t offer “to talk sometime”. Because he probably really does need someone to talk to.

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MommaSunshine October 12, 2009 at 4:05 am

The best thing that anyone has ever said to me was, “That really stinks”. She didn’t say I’m sorry….she just acknowledged that the situation sucked, which it does, even if you’re the one wanting to get divorced. She followed up with, “we should get together sometime soon” (she’s divorced as well). She also asked if she could do anything for me, and told me to let her know if she could.

This person wasn’t a close friend, but it was great to have that kind of support from anyone.
.-= MommaSunshine´s last blog ..I am Loved =-.

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Nicki October 12, 2009 at 4:41 am

Well, I’m in the rather unique situation of getting divorced and losing the man I love all at once. (Things didn’t work out with S…which also leaves me homeless with two kids, a kitty cow and a babbit.) And I guess what I’m getting now from EVERYONE are words of understanding and hope. (And I’m getting lots of love…which really helps.)

In addition, try to avoid looks of shock, gasps of surprise, awkward hugs, admissions that you saw that coming (some people are just jerks!) and insincere gestures. I think also that trying to disperse words of wisdom and religious content may offer less comfort. (Yeah, there may very well be a God who has a better plan for me…but it doesn’t feel like it so much right now. And I know that if it was meant to be, it will be, but crap!)

What I prefer are those people who look at me with genuine concern and simply ask, “How are you holding up?” It gives me an opportunity to talk, if I feel like it. And it lets me know that they care. These are the people I surround myself with at the moment.
.-= Nicki´s last blog ..Back to the basics… =-.

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Buterflymom October 12, 2009 at 5:32 am

I’m so sorry. Hang in there. It gets better. And it really does.

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Kat Wilder October 12, 2009 at 6:42 am

I agree — “I’m sorry” is meaningless, like saying an automatic “I’m good” when people ask you how you are. “Good” isn’t an emotion. And that feeds into the idea that a divorce means the marriage “failed.” No, it’s just that two people decided that for whatever reasons, they were no longer in love and could continue living the way they did. That isn’t failure because it negates whatever’s come before.

It’s bad to bad-mouth the ex: “I never thought she was good for you,” etc.

It’s good to listen … and refrain from trying to fix things for someone.”I understand” is a nice neutral response.

Acknowledging his grief, and that the grieving part is good and natural, and an opportunity for growth, is helpful, too.

And letting him know that, as devastating as it may feel now, things do start to feel normal at some point and maybe (hopefully!) even better.

That he shouldn’t rush to replicate what he had; here’s an opportunity to discover what he really wants. Marriage? Staying single?

But, I think the most important thing if their are kids involved is to make sure whatever bad feelings he holds against his former wife — anger, resentment, etc. — aren’t going to help him and her be the best co-parents they can be, and ultimately, it will be the children who will suffer. The best thing a divorcing couple can do is appreciate the way each one parents and loves the children, and get along as best they can.
.-= Kat Wilder´s last blog ..Women don’t bite, unless you want them to =-.

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singlemomseeking October 12, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Oh, yes, @Kat, so many folks seem to take this opportunity to say things about the soon-to-be-ex, such as “I never thought she was good for you.”

Ouch!

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April October 12, 2009 at 9:03 am

I usually say, “how are you?” and “let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
.-= April´s last blog ..Weekend Wrap-Up: finding emotional balance =-.

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Katherine SOLOdotmom October 12, 2009 at 9:25 am

Yeah this is a tough question. I remember feeling numb while going through the process. It was my own decision (and with good reasons) but it’s still a tough road to travel – regardless of what got you there. So I think “I am sorry” is still appropriate for a response if someone is early in the process. This was my choice and the best decision for me in my personal circumstances, but because of the pain I felt making that decision and putting my kids through it… meant – others’ empathy was welcomed.

However, now being far on the other side and working through the process (finding myself) four years later… I say “don’t be sorry, it was the best thing I ever did!”
.-= Katherine SOLOdotmom´s last blog ..List for Newlyweds, Part 2 of 5 =-.

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GLSD October 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm

I’ve had several friends and family members go through divorce and I always tell them “I’m sorry to hear that” and “If you need someone to talk/listen, I’m here for you”.

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Anna October 12, 2009 at 12:43 pm

It never bothered me to have someone say, “I’m sorry”. It is natural for people to assume that it’s not a good thing, and I don’t fault them for that. I just quickly countered with, “No, it’s a good thing for all of us, actually.” What you don’t want to say is anything judgmental. I actually had someone (who had recently gone through her own divorce) say, “Are you sure about what you’re doing to your son? It’s a lot harder on kids than you might think.” I should have told her right off, but I was too shocked. Don’t ever assume you know the other person’s situation.

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BigLittleWolf October 12, 2009 at 1:00 pm

What I needed most, and got from one or two people at the time of my divorce, is what I would offer now if I received this news. And that is – a shoulder, or an ear. No judgment, no referrals, no advice.

Simply: “If you need to talk, I’m here to listen,” or “If you need me, just call.”
.-= BigLittleWolf´s last blog ..Hard dates, soft dates, and other such matters… =-.

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singlemomseeking October 12, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Good one @BigLittleWolf: “No judgment, no referrals, no advice.”

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Lance October 12, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I have a male friend, my same age, that is getting divorced from his wife of 7 years. They have two kids together. He’s absolutely devastated for many reasons, but the kicker is that she wants to leave because she isn’t attracted to him. And never has been. My friends and I lend our sympathetic ears and take him out to have fun as much as possible. Among men, I think that’s the best you can do. When I think about my own relationship woes I think his are much much more profound.
.-= Lance´s last blog ..A Misunderstanding, Finally Cleared =-.

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MindyMom/Single Mom Says... October 12, 2009 at 5:19 pm

When I faced my own divorce I sought the advice of others who had been through it themselves. I knew I was facing a very ugly process (husband left me for backstabbing, calculating ‘best friend’ who was after his money and status) and I wanted to make sure that was the end of me getting screwed. It wasn’t of course, but I did get some really good advice as to how to go through a divorce with my head on my shoulders.

There wasn’t much more anyone could say in my situation that didn’t feel awkward for both me and them. It was pretty much a horrible situation and for the most part people treated me like I had the plague. I learned who my real friends were though – the ones who stuck by me. That kind of support is what I would offer to someone else.
.-= MindyMom/Single Mom Says…´s last blog ..Off to a Great Start – Not! =-.

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marty, @canape October 12, 2009 at 5:22 pm

When I told my father I was getting a divorce, he said, “What took you so long?” It was appropriate in my situation and out of the mouth of my daddy, but I don’t guess I would recommend it as a standard response ;)

I think, “I’m sorry,” is alright to say if expanded on a little. Like, “I’m sorry, that’s so hard.” or “I’m sorry you have to go through that.” Because I wasn’t sorry that my marriage ended – I was relieved – and every time someone said “I’m sorry,” I felt like I was supposed to feign some sad face and nod with gratitude for their sympathy.
.-= marty, @canape´s last blog ..Long term memory =-.

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SDMktg October 12, 2009 at 5:25 pm

It’s definitely different for men than women. Typical response is “dude that sucks, do you need anything?” and from there it tends to go down a path of dark humor. One of my friends played Journey’s “I’ll be alright without you” or Neil Diamond “Song Sung Blue” every time I walked into the office for weeks.

I think “I’m sorry to hear that” is not a bad response. Sometimes divorce is for the best but it’s usually a last resort and it’s almost never easy.

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Deanna Leigh October 12, 2009 at 5:27 pm

I never had the fortune to experience divorce, however the Bio and I were together for upwards of 5 years after knowing each other for 15 before we split…the best thing someone said to me was, ‘it will never feel worse than it does right now. Just don’t forget to breath.’

On days when I looked at my pregger belly and wondered how I got there, I remember saying that to myself in the mirror and using it to move forward.

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Bad Mummy October 12, 2009 at 5:30 pm

I’m glad I’m not alone.

I was just thinking how often people say ‘I’m sorry’. I’m Canadian, so we seem to say ‘I’m sorry’ for every little thing, even if someone bumps into us and it’s not even our fault. So hearing it when it seems that life as you know it has come to an end…
.-= Bad Mummy´s last blog ..Happy Thanksgiving =-.

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Ms.V October 12, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Here’s what I did. An ex-colleague came by my house to tell me she is filing tomorrow.

I got out my file. Gave her a referral. Wrote everything down that she will take to her attorney tomorrow. I said, “I support you completely.” What else do you need?

Never EVER say “Are you sure you’ve done everything possible to save the marriage?” EVER. Because by the time I made the decision, I didn’t need anyone questioning me. In fact, I never went to that well again.

Gave my friend a hug, told her: You have two boxes. An emotional box, and a legal one. Keep them separate. Deal with your emotions APART from what you will do legally.

Boy, did I learn that the hard way.

Oh, and one more thing…Get all your bills, go online, create online accounts to EVERYTHING. If your ex is like mine, little bills and accounts that he neglected to tell….well, let’s just say….I saved myself over 4K because I had taken it upon myself to INFORM myself. Legally, before I didn’t have any right to those debts.

Be smart. Be there for your friend, and mad props to you if you can help while they’re in a fog…
.-= Ms.V´s last blog ..$$$ Love $$$ =-.

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Kelli October 12, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Haha. I heard “Its about time!!” I wish someone would have begged me not to marry him. But I think the best thing to say is “do you want to talk about it”– Sometimes he/she wanted it so saying sorry isn’t necessary. Why are you sorry if they aren’t? Ya know? If you keep it simple by asking if they want to talk… that opens the door for them to tell you how they feel. Good, bad, happy, sad, mad, etc.– In my case I was so glad to be rid of my good for nothing now ex-husband. So I didn’t want to hear “Im sorry” b/c I wasn’t.

-Just Keep it simple. Let them talk. If they want to.

-KS
.-= Kelli´s last blog .."Could be Worse" =-.

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Bonnie October 13, 2009 at 12:12 pm

“Can I pour you a drink?” or “I know the process is difficult, but I hope you are able to live the life you really want soon.”
Or if you are going out for fun with other single parents soon I always invite the person to join. It helps not to feel so alone. Though, I am remarried now to Guns, I still hang with my single mama friends. They are still way more fun than most married people and we can still talk about dealings with our exes.

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singlemomseeking October 13, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Bonnie: You know I love it when “my” remarried moms chime in. Thank you!!

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Erica October 13, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Ok – so I’m not EXACTLY going through the same situation. But long story short, I’m a single mom, got pregnant with a guy I was just dating and he doesn’t want to be involved. I’ve decided to have the baby, I’m nearly 4 months along now and haven’t heard a word from him in 3 months.
So now, when I tell people that I’m pregnant and they ask about the father, I get a really sad sigh from them with a big “I’m so sorry”. When in fact, I’m not sorry. This isn’t the most ideal way for things to happen, but in the end, this is what’s happening in my life and I want people to be happy for me and the path I’ve chosen. I guess just asking how someone feels when they tell you something so huge is a good way to start?
.-= Erica´s last blog ..How Did That Happen? =-.

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singlemomseeking October 13, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Erica: Please keep us in touch, okay? Let us know how you’re doing. Big hug.

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staciesmadness October 13, 2009 at 2:46 pm

I usually say something really dumb, sticking my own foot in my mouth.
.-= staciesmadness´s last blog ..Totally Ticks me off Tuesday =-.

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jason November 11, 2009 at 10:02 am

the best response i got when i told a friend that i was getting divorced was a real hug.

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Get Your Ex Back November 15, 2009 at 8:35 pm

I’d have to go with “I’m sorry to hear that” because I think it’s sad that the relationship had to end. Letting them know you are open to them talking about it might be helpful to them.

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