Words that Heal (or not) after Divorce

Dana Bennett

Dana Bennett

Joining the ranks of the newly single after nearly 3 decades is definitely a culture shock.  Not only do you have to start over, but you also have to learn to be single again.

Of course this means different things to different people.

For me, it’s about learning to be okay with yourself, whatever you happen to be, and wherever you happen to be going at any particular time.

A line from one of my favorite songs by Baz Luhrmann sums up my experience: “…whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s…”

My experience has included the difficulty my extended network of friends and family have had in talking to me about the breakup (or just talking to me in general) when I’m not letting all of the dirty details loose.

Some things just don’t need to be shared out into the universe, it’s best if time just lets them collect dust and be forgotten about.

This makes it sometimes quite awkward to talk, as they want to comfort me, but can’t do so without dredging up situations and details that either they don’t have or I have made it clear that I don’t want to talk about.  Finding normal is sometimes quite difficult when grief overwhelms the situation.  Although some of my friends and family seem to have quite the knack at not only talking to me as though things are normal, but actually helping/healing me through what they say.

Recently, I heard a statistic that there are more single people (not counting children) in the US than those that are married.  Suffice to say, each of us knows someone either going through or about to go through a divorce or breakup.

Here are some of the best things I’ve been told that actually are going a long way toward healing my wounded psyche: (feel free to borrow and use liberally with your people)

  • You look great, like a weight has been lifted off of you.
    –The caveat here is that this must be genuine.  You can’t just say this and call it into being if the person you are trying to comfort looks like crap.  Done correctly and said in the right context, this simple comment acts as a “at-a-girl (or boy)” for someone fighting their way back to sanity from a bad situation.
  • You are better off.
    –As with the first example, this echoes the healthy stance that the person going through the situation needs to model and remind themselves of on a regular basis.
  • Wow, I never realized you liked (or did, or were into) *blank* (hobby, etc)–that’s cool.
    words that heal

    Find the words that heal.

    –When you go through the emotional trauma of the breakup of a long term relationship, one of the big things you do is work on finding things that make you happy and feel worthwhile.  Whether it is a new hobby, or rekindling an old one, or trying something completely different from what you did in the past (and with the former partner), getting encouragement through recognition gives you the boost needed to continue on that path toward healing.

  • I can’t wait to see you (or do X with you).
    –I have to admit this one comment is the impetus of this blog post.  This was said to me by a person I’m dating, and I realized that I had not, in recent (or even long term) memory, had that said to me by a romantic interest.  It literally choked me up–happy tears.  I was even going to do a separate section for romantic interests and things that they say to heal, but in thinking about it through the process of writing (and explaining), I realized that even if a friend or family member said this, it works very similarly.   This one statement, simple though it is, validates a person, makes them feel worthwhile, desired, a part of something. This is, in my experience, the most painful part of the whole breakup experience–feeling UN-valued. This one small statement makes that go away in just 6 or so words.  I dare say it even packs a bigger punch than “I love you.”
  • You are loved.
    –This list would be incomplete without this addition.  Know that your grieving friend or family member will not, in the beginning, be able to feel this one as though it is meant, but it is something they need to be reminded of–A LOT.  Many times, the process of the breakup of a long term relationship leaves the person feeling UN-everything.  Validation and patience are needed, and these three words are a must in trying to help.

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The flip-side of the coin has to be addressed here.  There are some things that well-meaning friends and family are saying under the guise of trying to make me feel better that just simply aren’t working, and in truth, make me feel worse.

Consider this the “no fly” list:

  • He (she) doesn’t realize what they have lost in you.
    —This one is the trickiest of them all.  Said by the right person in the right situation, this comment is completely healing.  That situation would come from a romantic partner in a moment when they are fully involved and cherishing you–but this is completely NOT appropriate from friends and family.  When this comes from friends and family, it only fuels and sets up a victimology that is simply not healthy in the process of getting through the breakup.
  • words that heal

    Words that heal (not) – an apology?

    His (Her) relationship with the person they left you for will never last.
    —Wow, this one has just got “never say it” to your grieving friend written all over it.  It reeks of revenge and hoping that karma will punish the former partner(s).  I will admit in the anger portion of the process of grieving, this one definitely made me feel good for a time, but ultimately it is empty. It truly invalidates the pain and suffering the grieving partner is going through to say that what caused the grief is fleeting.  The grief is with you forever, it just dulls over time.  Whether or not the relationship of the ex spouse or boy(girl)friend is doomed should not be your concern in the healing process.  When friends and family remind you of this, they are not helping.

  • It’s just a mid-life crisis.
    –Sitting at the end of a 30 year relationship, hearing this as an explanation completely invalidates the grief and loss I feel.  That something as silly as a fabled “crisis” that men go through broke up what was supposed to be a lifetime relationship is completely ludicrous.  While I do admit that people tend to re-evaluate their lives long about middle age, the relationship had to have weaknesses already that caused the breakup.  Saying something is “just” when it supposedly caused the grieving partner’s heart and soul to be torn to shreds is completely insulting.  Avoid this platitude with your divorced and separated friends and family at all costs.
  • One day he (she) will realize what they have done to you and how they have hurt you and they will come and apologize.
    –In the early stages of dealing with a breakup of a long term relationship, the grieving partner longs for this one to be true–NOW.  The reality of the situation is that by the time this would actually happen (and many times it simply does not happen) the grieving partner should have moved far away from any place where an apology of any kind would make a difference.  Saying this to someone going through a breakup implies that there is a chance for reconciliation if the offending partner  would just *blank*.

Reality is if an apology like this worked, the breakup probably would not have happened to begin with.  Just like you cannot tell a pathological liar that they lie and expect that will cure their problem; a “one day” apology of this sort after a breakup of a long term relationship simply will never be enough to sooth anyone’s broken spirit or heart.

I would even go so far as to say that in my case, when (and if) that apology is attempted, it will be politely cut off and refused.

Truth be told, this type of apology does absolutely nothing for the victim and does little more than make the apologizing partner feel better about themselves or the situation.  Also, the breakup of a relationship is rarely just one-sided.

It took two to build the relationship, and it took two to end it.  While one partner’s behavior may have been more egregious than the other, no one person in a relationship is completely innocent.  Saying this to a friend or family member going through the grief of loss completely perpetuates victimology.

  • You shouldn’t be *blank* (dating, drinking, sleeping too much, etc.)
    –While I’m not advocating a total free pass on all the stuff that is bad for a person just because they are grieving, using words like “shouldn’t” are counterproductive to healing.  Everyone’s healing process is different, and sometimes something as simple as casual dating can give a needed boost in spirit and confidence.  But–if you find your grieving loved one really doing something that is counter-intuitive to healing, instead of passing judgment, try re-directing their attention to some fun activity or inclusion into some event or dinner.  Many times, the “acting out” behavior in adults is a call for help from someone not strong enough to admit they need help.

From Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen song comes a lyric to live by…

“……the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.”

 

Dana Bennett is an unassuming easy soul who as of late has learned to enjoy life for what it is…an experience filled trip through time.

She spent a ton of time in college, and lots of years teaching, only to trip upon business ownership and truly find herself. An artist with a healthy dose of computer nerd thrown in, she parlayed her talents into making the family business website help build their marine contracting firm into something that supported the family and let them enjoy a peaceful life on one of Louisiana’s beautiful bayous.

Always eclectic, entrepreneurial, southern to the core, and always ready for happy hour with the company of old and new friends, Dana embraces geaux-ing through her ever-changing life.

 

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