Saturday, November 1, 2014

What Not to Say: A Collection

There are certain times in someone's life where some serious shit is going down.

This is one of those for me. A few months ago, Adam and I decided to part ways. No details will be shared here, because it is not my way to air dirty laundry in public, but know it is amicable, and know that eventually, we will be ok.

Because of this major life event that is happening, I've had a lot of conversations with various people, and all of whom have had very different reactions. Dumbfounded, shocked, and stunned seem to be the most common. Apologetic, angry, depressed, are also common.  One very special person in my life thought I was joking, I reassured her I was not, then she joined the flabbergasted camp.

Everyone has their guesses as to why, but really it's no one's business. Coming through this has shown me that, even though divorce is much more common these days, many don't know how to speak to the person going through this, especially if it is amicable and no one has done anything wrong to make the other person leave.  This seems to be the biggest stumbling block for people.

Based on my experiences, here is a collection of things not to immediately assume or say to someone who is getting divorced. All of these things have actually been asked of me.

1. Asking if one of them is gay.

Amicable does not immediately mean that one of them is gay. If one of them is, kudos to them! But if the person you are asking is, and isn't ready to come out yet, you've just put them on the spot. You're asking them to trust you with a part of their identity that they may not be ready to share with you yet, if they ever do. And, given that you're asking them this giant question when they are already going through one of the hardest things they've ever had to, doesn't inspire much confidence in them to share that with you.

2. Affairs

As with many of the items listed here, it is totally possible that this is why a couple might be splitting up. But, again, it's none of your business if this is the case. If the person you are talking to is the one who has been cheated on, you're asking them to share something that is most likely humiliating to them. And, if you're talking to the person who had the affair, it's still probably not something they are going to share with you. Chances are that they already feel bad enough about it, and don't want to make it worse for the person they cheated on the next time that other person sees you.

3. Is it about kids?

Not everyone in this world wants to procreate, and that's ok. If it is about kids, that's about as sensitive a subject as you can get. What if they can't have kids? What if they lost a child and didn't share that information with you, but now, how do they explain it to you? They shouldn't have to. Now you've drudged up horrible memories for this person while they are already in a sensitive place. I know that's not what people are intending when asking this question, but you need to be cognizant of that before you ask if it's about kids.

4. I'm sorry.

You might want to apologize to them. That's a pretty normal reaction. Please keep it to yourself until you can discern whether or not that's something they actually want to hear. If it's the right choice, even if it's hard, and it sucks, somehow, you saying sorry may make the person feel like you're invalidating their choice, like in some way it was the wrong thing for them to do, even if it's not. The better thing to say here is to ask, "Should I say, 'I'm sorry'?" Then, if the answer is yes, feel free to say I'm sorry as much as you want.

5. Advice

Unless they explicitly ask you for advice, hold your tongue. No. Keep it in your brain. You may think you know, but you do not. You may think you're helping, but you are not. It is not your marriage, you are not in it, your advice is not wanted unless it is asked for. Period. End of story.

6. Asking for more notice

This choice sucks. This decision sucks. When you ask to have been given a sign or notice that something was wrong, you are making the situation about you. It is not about you. It is about the person grieving in front of you, asking for support. You may have wanted more notice, but it's too late for that now.

7. If the person says that they don't want to talk about it, don't.

If you feel the need to talk about it, ask the person's permission to talk to someone you trust about it, or go see a therapist. Respect their wishes. They are going through the roughest part of the storm, not you. You need to be there for them to have a shoulder to cry on, and for you to give your support to. If you don't think you can be supportive, tell them (nicely) that you don't support their decision and that they need to talk to someone else. It's kind of a dick move to say that to someone, but I would rather have someone say that to me than ask me eighty billion questions, trying to get me to talk about something I really don't feel like talking about.

8. Is there any chance of fixing it?

No. No. No. If there was, they wouldn't be telling you that they are getting divorced. Even if they end up fixing it, you asking won't make them think, "Oh, wow! You're so right! I can totally fix this!"

9. The right decision isn't the easy decision.

This decision sucks, even if it's a mutual choice to end the marriage, or if one spouse understands why the other spouse is leaving. It is a horrible thing to go through and amicable doesn't mean easy.

What someone who tells you this news is looking for is support, love, and understanding.

They're looking for someone who will ask, "What do you need from me?" or "How can I help you?"

That's what someone in this position needs.

"I'm here for you, whatever you need."

1 comment:

Amanda Lovegrove said...

It's been two years since my separation and subsequently, divorce, and I STILL get asked all these questions...even after I found someone new AND started a family with him. People suck.