As promised, we continue our divorce series while turning the focus away from what is not helpful to what may be. My last post on the subject is the caveat I hope you’ll apply to every subsequent “what to say” post. You already know the relationship you have with the person in your life who is struggling through a divorce. Don’t underestimate this asset. Divorce, while difficult and tragic and life-shaking, is not some bizarre out of world experience. It is a hardship like many hardships one may experience in life and can be approached, on your part, in much the same way.
That being said, I recognize that having the input of a third party who has been there and can tell you what it feels like on the inside of that particular prison is a very valuable tool. And one that I’m willing to provide, because when a terrible situation in your life can be used for good it’s a redemptive (and cathartic) experience.
This week’s post deals with our first suggested phrase, which is really a question: “do you want to talk about it?”
Sometimes we get caught up in what we should be doing for our friends to the point that we forget our friends can speak for their own needs. It is true that when going through a tough thing like divorce it can be hard to grasp what you need, much less put it into words. Which is why a simple question can be so helpful. Especially this one. Asking if your friend is ready for or feels like talking communicates two key things:
1) We can talk about it
2) We don’t have to
By putting the proverbial ball in their court, you’re letting them know that you are open to hearing about the issue at hand but you’re not going to press them for details about their situation every time you talk. It can be hard, as previously discussed, to know who among your friends can handle discussing the realities of your divorce. Even close friends may not be able to handle some of the issues you’re facing (and many others, who may or may not know the details of the situation but know how they feel about divorce in a detached and general way, will not be able to discuss the fact that you’re facing it at all). By letting someone in this situation know that you’re a safe place to either talk about it or not, you’re giving them some freedom and comfort they may not be finding many (or any) other places.
One thing to note about this question: you probably need to ask it more than once. When you’re going through a divorce it feels like it takes over your whole life sometimes. And it can make you really sensitive to the possibility of making your friends feel the same way. We will (generally) be careful about boundaries and not making you feel like a dumping ground for the baggage our crumbling marriage has heaped on us. So if you are able to offer more support through listening, continue to make that known.
When in doubt, ask.