Sixty years ago, it was relatively rare to hear of a couple divorcing; but, in recent years, few people get especially rattled when they hear about acquaintances, friends, or family divorcing. They may be sorry or confused, but I doubt too many people grab their chests and gasp when they hear of a couple calling it quits. However, just because divorce is more common and widespread now than it was before doesn’t mean those getting divorces feel less pain.
It’s easy to assume couples in the separation process passionately hate each other and that’s not always the case. Sometimes a couple tries everything they know to have a successful marriage, but still feel hopeless. Some marriages consist of someone who is trying to work through problems and another who has given up. Occasionally, couples go through a tragedy together and then split up because they are too heartbroken to find the strength to work through the pain (e.g., death of a child, etc.).
Regardless of the reasons couples get divorced, it’s important that we not overstep our bounds. Most people have an opinion on the subject of divorce and when those opinions get forced upon hurting people, they can do far more harm than good.
- Shame on you. This phrase usually comes from self-righteous people. No matter what we think about divorce in general, it isn’t okay to try and heap guilt on anyone going through a divorce. Chances are they are already feeling guilt. They may be wondering if they tried hard enough. They probably worry about their kids and how they’re handling the change. But even if they feel great about their decision, it’s not our place to make them feel guilty. If you believe your friend or family member has made a hasty decision and you want to talk to him or her about it, go and do so with a loving attitude. No one is won over by haughtiness, anger, or a wagging finger. It’s not easy to have these kinds of conversations with friends and family, especially if they are so angry and “done” that they don’t want to hear what you have to say about potential reconciliation. But if you believe that you should go and speak to them, pray first, make sure your attitude reflects the God you serve, and don’t go away feeling like a failure if he or she doesn’t want to listen to you. Perhaps after a cooling off period he or she will want to consider your concerns, but in the meantime, don’t spew condemnation on him or her.
- He (or she) was a horrible person! Have you ever wondered, “How can she love a jerk like him?” or “Why does a sweet guy like that put up with a nag like her?” From the outside looking in, we can see a lot to disapprove of in others’ relationships – especially when we love one of the people in the relationship. We have to remember that our hearts are not attached to that jerk or nag we have labeled, but our friend’s heart is. He or she has been though a lot with this person and though we’re ready to scream good riddance and have a picture burning party, his or her heart is still raw.
- Not too long ago I spoke to someone who was going through a divorce that could have been labeled as a long time coming. His family and friends were locked and loaded, ready to spew a lot of colorful opinions about her and how she had treated him; but, he still loved her. He didn’t believe there was any hope for reconciliation, but even though he’d been emotionally beaten for so long, he still didn’t want to hear the world bash his wife. We think we’re affirming our friends when we bash the losers that caused them pain, but could it be that we’re just making it worse?
- Brantley Gilbert has a song called You Don’t Know Her Like I Do and the chorus reminds me of how we see our friends’ relationships differently than they do. Consider these lyrics:
- You don’t know her like I do.
You’ll never understand.
You don’t know what we’ve been through.
That girl’s my best friend.
And there’s no way you’re gonna help me.
She’s the only one who can.
No, you don’t know how much I’ve got to lose.
You don’t know her like I do.
- Remember to look at your friends’ situations through their eyes instead of immediately jumping into the “What a Jerk” game. Like always, the best support you can give them is a listening ear, a ready shoulder, and the comfort of knowing that they can count on you even if the rest of their world seems to be crashing around them.
- Don’t let him or her know you’re hurt. We aren’t kids, so let’s not play games. If a friend gets hurt, it seems logical to tell them to be strong so his or her ex won’t be given the satisfaction of hurting that person. Yes, if her husband left her, or his wife left him, there is going to be pain. It is wise to recommend that they keep their business off of Facebook or other social media, but don’t suggest that they play mind games. She shouldn’t feel the need to roll on a fake smile when she goes to pick up the kids from their dad’s house. He shouldn’t pretend to be dating already just to spite his ex-wife. Though I don’t think we should encourage our friends to be around their exes when they are sobbing and out of sorts, we don’t need to encourage them to get revenge by pretending to be happier without them.
- Aren’t you glad you don’t have kids? or Aren’t you glad your kids are too young to remember this? “Um, no. I wanted kids and now my marriage is ending.” “My kids won’t remember the actual divorce, but they’ll always have to live with divorced parents.” In general, I’d recommend not trying to use the kid card to make the situation seem better. If the couple doesn’t have kids, that might be a source of contention and regret. In fact, it may have been one of the issues that led to their divorce. If they do have kids, chances are they are both already struggling with guilt (most parents struggle with guilt at some time or another) and reminding them of their children’s well-being could make them feel worse rather than better. If you think it’s necessary to discuss the topic of children, you can say something like, “Your kids will be okay because they know they’re loved.”
- You’re an awesome catch! You’ll be married again before you know it! “If I’m such a great catch, why did my spouse throw me back?” “If I’m such a great catch, why couldn’t I make my marriage work?” “How do you know if I’ll be married again soon? And how do you know I even want to get married again?” Grieving the loss of a marriage can feel like grieving the loss of a family member. No, he or she didn’t die, but he or she is gone nonetheless and when someone loses a spouse to divorce, there is a sense of rejection that isn’t there when someone loses their spouse to death. There is still a level of adjustment that has to be made before divorcees are ready to think about dating and remarrying. It’s okay to remind your hurting friends that you love them and think the world of them, but resist the temptation to talk about their date-ability while their wounds are still fresh.
- Did you guys try counseling? “Counseling, retreats, home study courses, meditation – we even read the entire Mars/Venus collection.” Even though it’s not meant this way, a statement like this can be received as if you are asking, “Did you try putting a Hello Kitty band aid on that gunshot wound?” Obviously, I think counseling is beneficial (since Eric and I serve pre-engagement and premarital couples that way), but there are better and worse times to recommend it to a friend. If a friend tells you that her marriage seems to be in a rut, you may want to ask, “Have you considered marriage counseling?” But when your friend is curled up in her chair with a tear-stained face and trying to come to grips with her new reality, that’s probably not the time to ask her if they tried counseling. Asking it this way sounds like another way of asking, “Did you try hard enough?” If your friend and his or her spouse are separated, and you believe counseling could benefit them, you may want to ask if he or she would be willing to consider counseling with his or her estranged spouse.
- Were there problems with money? Sex? In-laws? Sure we want to know what caused our friend’s marriage to dissolve, but is it really our business? No, it’s not our business unless he or she makes it our business. When we’re emotionally close to a friend, it feels natural to ask intimate questions; yet, in this case you should wait until your friend opens up. You can surely say, “I’m here for you when you’re ready to talk about it,” but prying up front can seem invasive. “Does she really care about me or does she want to know what happened so she can go tell the rest of the ladies at work?” If you are close friends, chances are he or she will tell you what happened. Just give him or her time to open up. Talking about it may be too painful at first.
- Make sure your kids know what he or she did to you. An angry ex may already want to hurt his or her former spouse and certainly doesn’t need your help thinking of ways to do it. In fact, it may take all the resolve in his or her being to exchange shallow pleasantries at soccer games and birthday parties. Since your friend is going through an emotional upheaval right now, you need to help steady the situation, not add fuel to it. He or she is already tempted to infiltrate the kids’ ears with all the evils of the wicked ex, but that wicked ex is still those precious babies’ parent. It won’t help their healing process or your friend’s healing process if he or she badmouths their mom or dad in front of them. When kids come of age, it is appropriate for parents to share minimal details with them about the circumstances surrounding their divorce; however, even then, it’s not okay to denigrate the children’s mom or dad.
- Have you joined a dating site? Hold your horses! You wouldn’t ask a friend to play in a softball game a few days after he broke his leg, would you? Asking friends to jump back into the dating game shortly after getting divorced is kind of like asking them to play a game of hopscotch after a leg amputation. Let your friends have some space to breathe and time to heal before suggesting dating sites, singles groups, or blind dates.
- One day, he or she will be sorry and come crawling back to you. We can’t promise this and our friends know it. It’s fun to fantasize about him or her crawling back and begging forgiveness, but chances are… this won’t happen. What you can tell your friends is that eventually the pain will lessen and they will get a little stronger each day. You can tell them how sorry you are that they have to go through this. You can show them they are lovable by sticking by them and letting them glean from your strength. There are so many good and true statements we can make to our hurting friends. There is no need to speculate and raise hopes.
Maybe you can’t imagine getting a divorce so you’re struggling to understand how your friend could be giving up. Chances are your friend couldn’t have imagined getting a divorce when he or she was first married either. I’ve found out from experience that a surefire way to invite trials into your own life is to judge someone else’s situation. Pray for your friends. Be there for your friends. Encourage your friends. And if they ask you your opinion on divorce or they ask for Bible verses about divorce, you can be ready to share.
In all the situations we’ve discussed in this series, it seems like the response most hurting people are looking for is, “I’m sorry and I’m here for you…” not a magic word that will take the pain away… not a new perspective that will suddenly make everything okay. Just the simple, powerful gesture of friendship and commitment – that is what hurting people need from us. (Did you enjoy this series? Please share it with your friends!)
How would you encourage a friend who is going through a divorce?