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What you shouldn't (and should) say to a divorcing friend

When someone you care about is going through a divorce it's only natural to want to help. However, people often say or do the wrong thing either because they have a misguided notion about what is actually helpful.

Here's some advice from the experts (those who've already been down the wedding aisle and through divorce court) about what you shouldn't say or do:

1. Don't start unloading your feelings about what a jerk your friend's spouse is and has always been -- even if it's true. Instead, listen a lot more than you talk and concentrate on reassuring your friend that you're there and they aren't alone. Reassure your friend that there's no shame in admitting that the marriage isn't working -- it's healthier to move on than stay miserable.

2. Don't offer legal advice. You don't want to give your friend assurances or unnecessarily worry him or her. Every divorce case is unique in some way.

3. Don't be vague when you offer your help. Saying, "Let me know if there's anything I can do," isn't likely to get much of a response from someone who is overwhelmed or has a hard time asking for help.

It's equally important to know what you can say or do that really will help your friend:

1. Take a good look at what's overwhelming your friend the most right now and try to think of a practical way to help. Drop off a bag of groceries, mow the lawn or open your calendar and say, "What day do you need me to watch the kids so you can see the attorney?"

2. Agree that your friend's spouse has made some terrible choices, rather than saying that the actual person is terrible. That leaves room for your friend to express a whole range of feelings about his or her spouse -- not just the negative ones.

3. Try to help your friend deal with issues one at a time, one day at a time. Help him or her break down what needs to be done and organize it all into a list. See if anything on the list is something that you can do.

Anyone going through a divorce should seek the guidance of an attorney as soon as possible.

Source: Washington Post, "Don’t say these things to your friend going through a divorce," Rachel Walker, March 20, 2017

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