Friendship. It’s a crazy roller-coaster, isn’t it? Trouble is, it’s sometimes not easy to know how to help during the low points. We want to be supportive, but sometimes friends throw problems at us that we just don’t know how to handle.
What do you say, for example, to the friend asks you what you think of her new barbed wire tattoo, her too-tight clothes, or her much-too-young or much-too-old boyfriend? You don’t want to say too much or too little … you don’t want to tell the truth but you hate to lie. I can’t help you with that example (all my friends have excellent taste!) but I would like to help you out with what to say, and more importantly what not to say, when a married friend tells you she is separating from her spouse.
We never liked him
You might think this is a supportive thing to say, and I’m sure you mean it that way. But think about it for a minute … by saying this you’re implying that her judgement is very poor in choosing him in the first place. And also you plant the thought in her mind that all her friends have thought poorly of him (and of her by extension) and that perhaps you’ve all been talking about them! Aaauuuggghh! That’s not what you meant! Worse still – if they get back together you’ll really be in the poo. It’s very hard to recover from this.
What you really mean is that you are here for her … so say it that way… “I’m here for you. What can I do?”
You’ll meet someone else
I’m sure you hope she will. She probably hopes she will too. But she may or she may not. And anyway, now is not the time for her to be focusing on that. In a way, putting that expectation in front of her is almost adding pressure! She has so much to do before she’s ready to meet anyone that it would be better not to say this one. Just secretly hope for it for her.
What will you tell the children?
When you are closely identified with someone, it’s natural for your mind to race ahead to all the problems they will face. What will she tell the children? Where will she live? What will she do about money? And there are a dozen more.
She does NOT need you to crawl inside her brain and shine a light on all the worst and most terrifying ordeals ahead of her. She is doing her best to live with some unresolved problems for now, and your questions will only make her panic. Be careful that you don’t end up laying all your fears on her.
What she needs is for you to wrap your arms around her and bring her a cup of tea. Let her be the one to voice her fears if and when she wants to.
It’s probably for the best.
For the best? Seriously? The most awful experience of her life is for the best? Is that helping? Stop it.
It is hard to know what to say to people who are going through something massive, especially if you haven’t been through it yourself. Whether it’s a marriage break-up, a miscarriage, a bankruptcy … sure you might feel awkward and uncomfortable. But it’s always better to say something than to ignore it or pretend it hasn’t happened. Your silence will be noted and when your friend is back on dry land again she will remember that you weren’t there for her.
If you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, just say “I’m so sorry this is happening to you. How can I help?”