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What (and What Not) to Say to the Recently Divorced

Jessica Carter - September 24, 2014

For Church members who have recently experienced divorce, it feels like the ultimate failure—marriages, especially temple marriages, aren’t supposed to end if you are doing your best to do what’s right. Yet, here we are—hurt, confused, and shaken to the core.

What (and What Not) to Say to the Recently Divorced

So, what should you say to someone who is recently divorced? Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you navigate some emotional landmines while still offering your heartfelt support.

#1. Don’t say: nothing.

I get it—sometimes people don’t know what to say. But avoiding me or acting awkward around me doesn’t help. When I’m talking to someone, it’s pretty obvious if that person has heard the news and is trying to act like he or she doesn’t know—the lack of eye contact, the shifting from one foot to the other, the unusually intense interest in the day’s weather, etc. Go ahead and note the elephant in the room.

Do say: “I’m sorry to hear about your divorce,” or some other simple, sincere expression of sympathy.

I know I’m divorced—it’s okay for you to acknowledge this life-changing event. In fact, I would prefer that you did. It doesn’t mean I want to dwell on it. It’s just a way for you to let me know you care. And if you follow with, “How are you holding up?” it goes a long way.

#2. Don’t say: “What happened?”

Divorces are excruciatingly painful and complicated. I don’t want to explain or defend my decision. Odds are there are details a divorced person wants to keep private—especially if children are involved. And odds are this is a decision he or she has agonized over for months or even years. Maybe it wasn’t even his or her choice, but the ex spouse’s. We can’t neatly summarize it for you, nor do we want to try.

Do say: “I’m here for you if you ever need to talk.”

This statement lets us know to whom we can turn if and when we do need to work through our feelings. If I take you up on your offer, you’ll probably end up with a lot of information and insights about the situation, so it’s critical that you keep everything confidential. Please don’t extend a listening ear if you know you won’t be able to resist the urge to share details with others.

#3. Don’t say: “I never thought you two were a good match anyway” or “I never knew what you saw in him/her.”

My whole world has just been turned upside down, and I’m already questioning my judgment on just about everything in my life. Obviously, at one point I loved this person deeply and thought this person was the best match for me. It doesn’t help to know that you never liked him or that you saw our divorce coming from a mile away.

Do say: “I hope you are both doing okay.”

Some divorced people may disagree with me here, but I don’t want people to feel the need to choose sides. The ex spouse is hurting too, and I appreciate it when people express concern. In fact, I encourage friends to reach out to the ex spouse—especially if that person is the one who moved out. He or she is living somewhere new and likely doesn’t have a support system in place. If you were a friend before the divorce, there is no reason you shouldn’t be one now.

#4. Don’t say: “At least you’re still sealed together.”

For two people who have decided they would be better off living separate lives, the notion of being sealed together for eternity is not particularly comforting. And even if we are still sealed, that may not remain the case, so such a comment could make things worse down the road. Better just not to go there at all. Period.

Do say: “You are a great person with a lot to offer.”

Our confidence is nonexistent at this point, so, yes, we could use a pep talk now and then. Be specific and talk about some of your favorite qualities about us. We could use the reminder, and some of the qualities you notice might surprise us and help give us hope for someday finding love again.

#5. Don’t say: “I wonder whose fault it was,” “I wonder who left whom,” or anything else along those lines.

I know it’s human nature to speculate, and I’m sure these conversations are being had between neighbors and friends, but please be careful about what you say—especially in front of your children. Just assume that anything you say will eventually be repeated to my children. And trust me, they don’t need to hear your theories on infidelity, pornography, finances, or anything else.

Do say: “I’m sure you’ll do what’s best for you and your family. Let me know how I can help.”

Please don’t judge us. Certainly mistakes were made by both parties, but you don’t have all the facts, no matter how much you think you know. Instead, give us the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of how we got to this point, we’re here, and we’re doing the best we can. If you do offer to help in some way, please make sure you follow through. Otherwise, it feels like you’ve thrown me a desperately needed lifeline and then yanked it away again. It’s much better for me not to plan on any help than to count on assistance that never materializes.

#6. Don’t say: “I heard your ex is dating someone who looks just like Cindy Crawford/Brad Pitt.”

As I mentioned earlier, our self-esteem is probably at an all-time low. We don’t need to know that the ex spouse is dating someone who is incredibly wealthy or looks like a supermodel. Nor do we need to hear that he or she is dating a different person every night of the week.

Do say: nothing.

Never repeat rumors about the ex spouse. And even if you’ve seen something with your own two eyes, keep it to yourself. No good can come of it.

#7. Don’t say: “I know a guy/girl who is divorced. I should set you up.”

You might as well say, “You have warts, I know a guy/girl who has warts, you’d be perfect together.” We already feel like damaged goods in the LDS singles market. Don’t make us feel worse by assuming that only another divorced person could possibly be interested in us. Absolutely, Mr. Divorced could be Mr. Right, but if divorce is the only thing we have in common, don’t bother. Please consider hobbies, personalities, goals, etc., and not just our marital status.

Do say: “When you’re ready to start dating, let me know. I have a great guy/girl in mind for you.”

The thought of diving back into the dating pool is terrifying. We are depending on our friends to introduce us to others we might click with—whether or not they have been married before.

#8. Don’t say: “I’m sure you just want to be left alone.”

Getting divorced feels like jumping off a cliff—and we need friends and family to be our safety net. Assuming we want to be left alone is almost a guarantee that we will fall even deeper down the rabbit hole. Check in on us from time to time and let us know you care. Even a quick e-mail or phone call

means a lot.

Do say: “Would you like to come?”

True, I have pulled away from friends and family and currently maintain a near-hermit lifestyle. I just need more time to heal. But please keep inviting me to join you, even if I keep turning you down. I feel like I don’t fit in—especially at church—so please continue to reach out and include me. I’ll accept your invitation when I’m ready.

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This piece of classic LDS Living content was originally posted in November 2011.

© LDS Living, November/December 2011.
Comments 11 comments

rickenrota said...

06:40 AM
on Nov 22, 2011

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The counsel in this article is very good. I HT a family that the mother and father were recently divorsed (husband is not a member). There are 2 children who are old enough to understand everything. The best thing is to do the things the article suggest, which in summary, is to show Christ-like charity and love to those in your life that need it. This is the real test of those who call themselves Christians.

elarue said...

06:52 AM
on Nov 22, 2011

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If you really want to rebel against the Twilight fad, name your child Elena or Stefan (or Damon). From The Vampire Diaries. ;-)

wsw said...

07:32 AM
on Nov 22, 2011

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Very good advice...but if you can remember divorce is like a death except your ex is still around. Each party go through the same stages of grief like unto a death. We all do not progress through them at the same rate even if others think you should just get over it and move on. If you can do nothing else...give a hug, a pat, a touch, or a smile to make that person who may or may not show it feel Christ's love. They are and always will be a son or daughter of our Heavenly parents.

rukiddingme said...

11:04 AM
on Nov 22, 2011

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Freakin Halleluha!!! Kudos for this article! What kills me in church is when people whisper being single mom when my kids are in the hallway, the discrimination upon my kids, and for being divorced OUTSIDE the Chuch. A new convert doesn't know the rules, duh!

playerpage said...

11:22 AM
on Nov 22, 2011

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"rukiddingme" is right, regarding new converts especially, but that sounds, hopefully, like something unique to her area and not Church-wide. (I mean, how ridiculous would that attitude be in an over-40 SoCal Singles Ward?) My concern is for the kids involved in the divorce. The article doesn't mention a thing about how to talk to a parent with kids, or to the kids, and you know as Mormons we are going to have a lot of them! From my own experience I have found it is best to emphasize to both parents that they keep whatever is going on between themselves and never involve the kids in an emotional tug-of-war or get them caught in the middle of an overt (or passive) fight. At the same time remember that children, even young ones, aren't idiots, and they know what is going on. You can't hide it and shouldn't try to because that will make it worse. Tell them about it, let them have their first reaction (which may include an all-night cry) and then DROP IT. Elder Maxwell once gave great advice on another topic that I have lived by my whole life: "Don't answer questions nobody is asking." Don't force the kids into "Family Counsels" or weekly updates on the subject. They will come to you in their own time and in their own way when they feel like asking questions. Then, don't assign blame, but don't feed them bull about "that's between mom and dad" or "someday we'll tell you." ANSWER THEM. My advice is for parents, obviously, based upon my own parenting. As a church friend or leader to a child, I would say: Just be there, and be a sounding board/listening ear. When it gets personal enough, judge it for whether they should direct something for their dad, mom, or bishop.

texas said...

02:29 PM
on Nov 22, 2011

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My wife of 35 yrs passed away unexpectedly and I became a single adult. In the last two years I have dated a number of single ladies - most have been divorced, some divorced more than once. Most of these involve a Temple Divorce or will when they remarry. For me this was an eye opener. I made several discoveries - divorced ladies are not 'damaged goods'. If they understand what worked and didn't work n their previous marriage and are ready to move on - they have great potential. Second (not criticizing - just stating an observation)In Young Women - the girls are taught about preparing for Temple Marriage - remaining chaste and virtuous, and marrying the young man who has returned from serving an honorable mission, getting sealed in the Temple and living happily ever after. In Young Men we are taught much the same thing - be worthy to go on a mission, serve the mission, come home and marry a young lady that is worthy to go the Temple and live happily ever after. The reality is simple - it doesn't always work out that way - and not much (usually none) effort is expending in YM and YW teaching us how to avoid a divorce, or how to effectively communicate with our spouse, or whether or not it is hormones or love that got us together in the first place. The single adult group where I live has been holding a series of firesides addressing divorce, how to get past it and move on. These have been wonderful and very informative. Additionally - in some Ward's divorced single sisters with children are looked upon as 'liabilities' - this is seriously wrong. Based on numbers I have been able to glean - approximately 25-30% of our adult - over 30 yrs old - church members are Single Adults. It is time to wake up and remember that we are children of our Father in Heaven, and that while some may have a few dents and dings from life - none of us are prefect - that is why we are here. It is difficult being a single parent with children, regardless of how the parent became single. Check with your Bishop - maybe there is a divorced sister or brother with children that could benefit from some attention, help,or service - not only during the holiday season - but all year long.

justsayin said...

08:25 PM
on Nov 22, 2011

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I'd like to echo a couple of things from the last paragraph: "Check in on us from time to time and let us know you care. Even a quick e-mail or phone call means a lot." and "please keep inviting me to join you, even if I keep turning you down. I feel like I don’t fit in—especially at church—so please continue to reach out and include me." I'm so tired of the phrase "Call me if you'd like to talk!" I don't WANT to talk; I don't want to EXIST! I'm devastated and don't feel worthy. Please make the effort to reach out to me in some way, even if you're rejected. Keep trying, as this is when I need your fellowship the most!

ezekeilrock said...

02:39 PM
on Nov 23, 2011

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I just wanna say hope I don't offend you with my comments as a guy who is looking into the mormon religion I can't even come close to the understanding of divorce as a sealed couple I have been divorced as a non member before I even looked into marriage for all eternity wow mind blowing. Please correct me if I'm wrong but I heard a comment on here you are still sealed as a couple in the next life so you can still get married again right. Again if these questions are too much don't ans me just ignore this just wanting to understand all this my understanding is your all brothers and sisters in the gospel sounds a bit incestuous forgive me if its rude. I appreciate the comments even for my divorce as a worldly male I love the way everyone has commented and supported on this site thanx very wise but also very different to what I am use too. Just one addition to my blog its a don't say harden up that's what I got from my friends.

ezekeilrock said...

02:42 PM
on Nov 23, 2011

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oh forgot the comment before my last does all that count if your not young.

ezekeilrock said...

02:44 PM
on Nov 23, 2011

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the comments from texas.

rubies007 said...

10:13 AM
on Jan 23, 2012

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Before I share my comment, I'd like to offer my condolence to TEXAS. 35 years? That's absolutely amazing to me...in a good way, AND you're back in the dating arena! I'm sure you bring a lot of wisdom to each relationship you enter into. I wish you the best! As a convert, I found each comment interesting as well as valid. I, too, am divorced, 12 years. I became a member in 2000. I have often felt that if I had been a member prior to my divorce, I think...no, I know...I would have the direction the gospel speaks about and still be married to this day. I know members, who have been married more than twice! They seem to be looking for this "magical" person they think exists outside of their husband/wife. I heard a friend tell her husband, that if he couldn't be the man God wanted him to be, then she'll find a man who is! How can any man compare to a demand like that....or even a woman?! I was shocked to say the least. I can see why he divorce her! Harsh, I know! We are given the gift of marriage, yet some of us treat it like it's returnable. We're so busy looking for "Mr/Mrs Right", that we forget to check if we ourselves are "right." How can one be seal to a spouse and kids and walk away from it? Don't get me wrong, there are reasons beyond one's control due to abuse. I truly hope, to one day meet that person that values marriage and family. I know he exist. I have no doubt. I wish I had this understanding before now...but at least I have arrived, and continue to keep growing! God Bless, All
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