What to say (and not to say) to a divorcee

PHOTO courtesy of jinterwas on FLICKR

A year and a half into divorced life, I’ve managed to accumulate a list of the most annoying things every divorcée hears, from, “I never liked him anyhow” and, “Did you try therapy?” to my personal favourite, “My brother’s sister’s fourth wife’s cousin just remarried with seven kids. If it can happen to her, it can happen to you.”

When it comes to divorce, people want so badly to say the right thing, yet most have no idea what that thing is. As a result, many choose to remain silent for fear of hurting someone who has already endured so much. I’ve heard it a number of times before: “I want to help, I just don’t know what to do or say.”

Allow me to let you in on a secret: You don’t have to say anything. I know you’re sorry and I know you didn’t want this life for me. No one wants to see me and my children go through the pain of uprooting our lives and starting over. Let’s face it, unless you’re my lawyer, you’re not happy that I’m divorced.

‘Don’t ask me for my thoughts on my ex starting to date again while I’m sitting at a wedding’

Woody Allen once said, “Showing up is 80 per cent of life.” You want to know how to show support to a friend going through a divorce? Show up. Whether it’s dropping off a meal, sending over cookies for the kids, texting for a playdate – just be there. At a time in their life that is filled with loneliness and often isolation, your presence and effort will be welcomed and appreciated.

Recently, my kids had a PD day and I decided to take them out for lunch and a movie. As we were leaving, a neighbour came up to me and said, “I just want to tell you how impressed I am with how you’re handling your children, sitting here and so under control.”


His kind words acknowledged my situation and addressed my struggles yet did so without mentioning the “D” word. I thanked him and told him how much his words meant. A compliment has the power to display your empathy without showing sympathy. If actions are too difficult or just not possible, never underestimate the power of a well-thought-out compliment.

And if you’ve read all this and are still hell-bent on discussing my divorce, at least take timing into consideration. Don’t start asking me how the divorce proceedings are going while I’m standing at the bus stop with my child at hand. Don’t ask me for my thoughts on my ex starting to date again while I’m sitting at a wedding. Don’t ask my why I got divorced when we’re at a friend’s birthday party.

On second thought, don’t ask me that, ever.

Next time you see that new divorcée and want to say something, tell her how great she looks. Tell her how you admire her strength. Tell her you want to go for coffee. Take out your phone and make a time and date right then and there. Saying you’re there for someone isn’t half as important as actually being there. Do what you can, do it with love and empathy and it will never be the wrong thing. 

Daniella English, author of The Not So Single Life blog, is a single mother of four and a communications student at York University. She can be reached at [email protected]