Here’s one job you didn’t expect when you got divorced: teaching your friends what to say to comfort you. They need to know: Sometimes saying nothing is the best direction to take.
On Sunday, Grace, Susan and I plunked ourselves on our beach towels on the windswept sand at Stinson Beach, just north of San Francisco. Glorious sunshine, wild surf, and that fresh ocean sea scent. The perfect change of scenery for our beleaguered divorced buddy.
Last week, the gavel had come down on Susan’s divorce. She was terrified, confused, and feeling very alone.
Gloria put her arm around her as she cried. “Don’t feel bad,” Gloria said. “You’ll find someone else before you know it. Look at you. You’re beautiful, accomplished, and strong. You’re going to be OK. Just give it time.”
It sounds like the right thing to say. It wasn’t.
Gloria was trying to fix it. That was the last thing Susan needed. In fact, it was contributing to her depression. She simply needed to cry – to grieve – and to talk about it, over and over again, and have her friends listen.
The greatest gift after a divorce is listening. Tragically, no one teaches us how. We are taught to offer solutions, instead. Why? Our society values action and results, logic rather than emotions. A logical solution masquerades as an escape from emotional pain. The well-meaning friend thinks: “If I offer reassurance and a plan, she’ll feel better.” Not necessarily true. Of course, no one wants to watch her friend cry. It’s uncomfortable and painful for everyone. We want to kiss it and make it better.
For Susan, she needs to feel the pain to heal. There are no quick fixes. She needs to talk about it, write about it, and do it repeatedly. That’s the way the brain processes the divorce emotions – abandonment, fear, and sadness. Her pals might have to listen to her story many times, without remedying it or painting a perfect end picture. Their comments, after listening, must validate how she feels, not fix it.
Here are six common clichés about divorce depression and healing. Tell your friends what not to say.
Tell your friend that you know she wants to help, but these platitudes can intensify the hurt. Then, tell her you’d like her to listen without suggestions unless you ask for them.
What you’d like to hear from her is, “I can only imagine how hard this is. I know I can’t fix it for you, but I’ll be here for you and I’ll listen.”
In the long run, one or more of these cliches may actually be the right direction for you. However, the decision to take action must come from within you, not from outside sources.
Talking about your divorce is critical as you heal. A good therapist or coach will guide you, but he or she will not tell you what you need to do. Only you know that. Keep talking to friends, too, but discern whom your audience will be, and educate them. It’ll take the pressure off you both.
Help your friends help you by telling them what not to say.