What to Say When a Friend is Divorcing

Your friend has just told you that he and his wife are getting a divorce.

What do you say?

If you’re like most people, you can’t find the right words. You want to say something comforting, but you don’t know what to say.

Make no mistake, saying the right thing to a friend who has just announced a pending divorce is difficult. However, your friend

gray haired, plaid shirts, contemplative, somber

The right words in response to bad news provide comfort and support your relationship

knows you’re made of stronger stuff and that’s why he has confided in you. He’s counting on you right now, so it’s time to step up.

There are five parts to a good response that will bring comfort your friend.

First, you have to balance positive statements about the soon to be ex-spouse with being supportive for your friend. Avoiding sounding like you’re taking sides when both of them are your friends is a lot like being a double agent. Just remember, there are always three sides in a divorce: his side, her side, and the truth that lies somewhere in between.

Second, finding just the right words to comfort someone who has just said, “we’re getting divorced,” is never easy, largely because you’re probably looking in the wrong place.  Your first impulse is to think about what you want to say. When you’re searching for the right words, first put yourself in his shoes and let yourself feel the pain of his words. Then look to your heart. Ask yourself, ’how do I feel?’ and be open to your own feelings.

Third, be honest about your intentions regarding confidentiality and impartiality in any on-going relationship with both your friend and his wife.

Fourth, telling others about a decision to divorce is incredibly difficult. Your friend has chosen to share this information with you. It is an honor and signals the strength of your relationship and the value your friend places on you. Acknowledge that truth.

Fifth, this is not a one-time conversation. A divorce takes time, and healing from the loss of the marriage takes longer. Even if the divorce is a blessing and agreeable to both, it is still a loss. 

You want your friend to know that you are available if he needs a sympathetic ear, and chances are good that he will, if for no reason other than not everyone is as kind and as capable of being a good friend as you.  

Put the 5 Together 

By remembering these five parts, it’s easier to form your response.

You might say something like this:

  1. I’m so sorry to hear that the two of you are ending your marriage.

  2. I can only imagine what this is like for you and your wife and my heart hurts for you.

  3. I’ve known you both for a long time and count you both as friends. Be assured that I will treat anything you or your wife tell me with utmost confidentiality and respect.

  4. I am honored that you have chosen to share this information with me.

  5. Any time you want to talk, I’m here for you.

Of course you’ll want to adjust this for their particular relationship and family circumstances. For instance, if they have children, or if you know they have been struggling to turn around a failing relationship, you’ll want to acknowledge those things. To make your response personal, use the names of both spouses, if you can. Obviously, if you don’t know his wife, you can drop the references to her in part three, however keep the other references to her in parts one and two.

2 More Examples

It’s not at all necessary to express your response in the same order as I have outlined it here and you can expand or shorten any portion to fit your needs.

For instance, you might simply say:

“I know that telling people about your decision must be really hard and I am shocked that my two good friends are calling it quits. Anytime you need a confidential ear, or just want to grab a drink, let me know.”

If your conversation is suddenly interrupted, or something else prevents you from responding appropriately, then you may need to say, “I want to talk with you more about this, can I catch you later?” Do this only if you really must and of course you must actually follow up just as soon as possible, within hours, in person or by telephone.

Life Is Honest, Open and True: Finding the right words to comfort a friend who has just told you he is getting a divorce is hard. Include the five parts in your response and your response will reassure and comfort him that you are the friend he thought you were.

Thanks to my reader who asked me to address this situation. If you have a situation you’d like me to address, please let me know in the comment box below.

Related Posts: Divorce Talk 

At Least You Had a Choice

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Start Talking

A Random Act of Kindness

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