This installment of “things it may (or may not, depending on the situation and your relationship with the person in question; please use your judgment) be helpful to say to your mid/pre/post divorce friend” will require a little unpacking. We’ve left behind, for the moment, items most likely to harm rather than help and have focused the last several posts on what will probably be an encouragement. This week’s suggestion is unique in that it has the potential to fall in both categories.
Our reflex when we see someone struggling with something is to cite examples of others who have overcome that same thing. In theory (and most often in practice) this is quite positive. We all like to think that if someone else has successfully navigated an obstacle we can too. In the early stages of what eventually became my marriage’s come-apart, I found every story I could about couples who had made it through and past the threats we were facing. I surrounded myself with the comfort of knowing that it was possible. Those couples were out there. And we could be one of them. I could be among those wives talking about the problems we used to have.
As you may imagine, however, past a certain point in the process, these stories were no longer comforting. Eventually they began to feel more like a chastisement. It went from “well, they made it so maybe we can too” to “they made it, why am I failing?”
Once there was no longer a “we” to hope for, those stories all served as a compounded monument to the shame and failure of I.
I couldn’t stay and try one more time.
I couldn’t be a martyr to the vows I made.
I couldn’t find out if next time might be the time it works out.
I couldn’t just pray him through it.
I couldn’t give my children a home with a mom and a dad who treated each other with love.
I couldn’t have faith that God would someday turn it all around.
But they could.
Stories of defeating hard circumstances are only encouraging while one still has hope of doing so themselves. And the reality is that, as an outside perspective on the relationship, you may not have a thoroughly accurate read when that shift occurs in your friend’s marriage. One day a story may be an encouragement and by the next it may already be taking shape as a taunt. And it may not be a strictly linear journey (in that hope and despair will probably each come and go until the outcome is ultimately and finally decided). So my advice, such as it is, on this particular methodology is: tread lightly. Be as sensitive as you can and read the room before deciding if this is the thing to share right now.
If you can’t decide, always remember that “I love you” and “I’m praying” and “how can I help out right now?” all go a long way.