What have been the most helpful (or unhelpful) pieces of advice you have ever received? There have been plenty of times in life where trusted people have offered me advice that challenged me and helped me grow as an individual. At the same time, there have been the less fortunate times where people offered advice that was less than helpful or plain insensitive.
One particular memory stands out. It was early fall 2015 and I was trying to decide whether to stay or leave my marriage. My then-husband and I opened up to another married couple and began to share the painful details of what was going on in our life.
I had dinner with the wife one night. After dinner, she said, “You know, you are supposed to stay married. You should only leave if he physically beats you or you are in danger of losing your faith.” I hurt, shocked, and turned away by her lack of care or sensitivity.
On the drive home that night, I was on the phone with my sister and told her the whole story. She reminded me, “Well Patty, maybe she is not a safe person to continue to share with.” In the end, I agreed with my sister.
For divorced Catholics like myself, receiving helpful or hurtful advice can be a tricky thing to navigate. In my own experience, I was fortunate to be surrounded by an army of friends and family who supported and loved me and helped hold hope for me on the hardest of days. Thankfully, the only negative experience I had was the one I just shared with you.
Whether or not a family member or friend agrees with the decision to get a divorce, there are certain things to say and not say in the moment.
DO ask how you can support someone
Be a good friend, listen, and show up. Genuinely ask how you can best support a friend or loved one going through a divorce.
Good things to say include asking how you can support this person right now, and how you can pray for them specifically.
DON’T ask if they tried counseling
Counseling is sensitive, highly personal, and to be honest none of your business. Making the decision to end a marriage is not one made lightly, people often have many different reasons. Regardless of the reasons, assume the best of the person.
Read more: What I Wish I Had Done When I Was Single
Trust their own personal judgment and discernment that they did everything they possibly could. Asking a lot of personal questions is not helpful. Instead, listen to their pain and sit with them in it.
DO listen well
Be a good, thoughtful listener. The family members and friends who listened the best were most helpful for me. Listening well means just that, simply listening. Don’t listen just so you can offer your two cents or a rebuttal. Be present to the person in front of you who needs the support right now.
DON’T offer unsolicited advice
Offer advice only when you are directly asked. Don’t make it a habit to say what you would do if you were in this person’s shoes, or tell them what you think they should do.
Butting into the conversation with advice that the person didn’t ask for can be painful and unhelpful. Men and women going through a divorce are just trying to do the best they can.
DO suggest the annulment process
If you were married in a Catholic Church, you are presumed to be married to that person until the Church proves otherwise. Encouraging a friend or family member to begin the annulment process sooner rather than later is a good idea. This is especially true if he or she wants to get married again someday in the Catholic Church.
Read more: Is An Annulment Just A Catholic Divorce?
My own experience of the annulment process was healing. I’m so grateful for the annulment process. If you are interested in learning more or beginning the annulment process, inquire at your parish.
DON’T tell them to start dating right away
If you were married in the Catholic Church, the Church still sees you as married, and dating should be the very last thing on your mind. Only when you receive an affirmative decision from the diocesan tribunal should you open yourself up to dating. You need time to heal and work through the previous relationship, and the annulment process offers that experience to individuals.
Divorce is hard and messy. If you know someone in your life navigating this pain, be their cheerleader and support. Consistently show up for them.