Responding to, “I’m getting divorced”

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I’m going through a divorce. It is a process and not a fun process. It is stressful and costly. When I tell people I’m going through a divorce, inevitably the tell me a variation of:

“I’m so sorry that you’re getting divorced.”

This automatic response puzzles me. Don’t they understand that divorce isn’t the problem! Divorce is the solution to the problem!

Lets see other automatic responses in some hypothetical situations.

  • You’ve been unemployed for a while and you just got a new job:

    Response: “Congratulations!”

  • You just got back from the dentist and got a cavity filled:

    Response: “Ouch! Are you okay?”

  • You just had some surgery:

    Response: “Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help?”

  • A tree fell on your house and you’re getting your house repaired.

    Response: “Oh my god! Was anyone hurt? Do you need a place to stay?”

Notice in all these instances, the focus is where it should be–on the person suffering the trauma. There isn’t judgment and there is generally a willingness to offer help.

What People are Really Saying

Of course, when people give their version of the automatic “I’m so sad” reply, they are sending several messages. Some of these might include:

  • The “I didn’t really know you very well” message:
    “It is very sad that my vision of your happy marriage is over and now I’m forced to deal with the reality that your marriage was bad enough that you wanted to get out of it.”
  • The “What about the Kids” message:
    “I think your kids would be better growing up in a home with conflict. And, even though I don’t know what the conflict was, I know your children would be better off in this conflict than going between two happy homes.”
  • The “What about me” message:
    “I’m in a terrible marriage and I’m sticking it out and see how happy I am. You should be more like me.”
  • The “What about me” version 2 message:
    “I’m in an unhappy marriage too, why can’t I get divorced too?
  • The “Religious” message:
    “God will punish you for this!”

Like most things people say, the focus of all these messages is not on the person divorcing but on the person responding.

My Proposed Response for your Divorcing Friends

So, you say, “What I am supposed to say to my friend who is divorcing?” Well, if you don’t care about this person, say whatever you want. But, if you actually care about this person, you might try a variation of:

“Congratulations! I am sure this was a difficult step to take and it must have taken courage to move forward like this. Thanks for telling me. I would love to talk to you more about it you would like. Let me know how I can help.”

Its that easy. Now go do it next time someone tells you they are getting divorced.


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