Thursday, December 5, 2013

Things Not to Say.

When someone tells you that their husband/wife/partner left them for someone else suddenly without any warning signs at all, here are some things it's probably best not to say out loud to that person.

"C'est la vie." 

"There really weren't any signs?"

"Let's be honest, there are much worse things that could happen."

"It happens to all of us."

"Thank goodness my spouse and I are past the stage where that happens."

“Well, you never know what goes on between a couple.”

"It's always for the best."*

"No, really, you're sure there weren't any signs?"

Anything related to the spouse's religious faith (or lack thereof).

Or...perhaps the worst: when someone who has heard about it says nothing at all to you.

I know a lot of people don't really know what to say to someone when they hear about this kind of thing, or when they run into the person who's been left for the first time after the news has broken. I understand that people are generally just trying to do their best. Or maybe they aren't really thinking through what they are saying and are just scrambling to say something. I just try to let these things slide. And I get that truly acknowledging that this kind of thing can happen is terrifying. I probably wouldn't have believed it was even possible before it happened in my life. Of course it's easier to minimize the degree of pain or to believe that I missed the signs than to accept that sometimes people have a light switch flip. They fall in love with someone else they just got to know, choose the excitement of the "new," and then leave their marriage one day without any warning.

It's hard to know what to say when all that hangs in the air. But I would have just rather heard a sincere: "I'm sorry. I have no idea what to say." I mean, what can one say? The truth is, there aren't really words to describe what this feels like and the degree of devastation is pretty incomprehensible until you've been through it yourself. So I cut people some slack because I know that these people mean well. But these kind of statements are ones I will avoid in the future with anyone who is recovering from abandonment by their life partner.

And I do want to highlight the fact that some people are exceptionally good at responding to this kind of situation. They do a lot of listening and avoid statements that minimize the degree of pain. They check in on me regularly and invite me to do things with them. (Some friends even got together and bought me a plane ticket to go to Chicago for a visit....mindblowing.) I had friends who made sure I was eating in the early months (and even now sometimes). They call and send cards and emails of encouragement (that I re-read when I need an extra dose of strength). And I will forever be particularly moved by the people who heard the news from elsewhere and then went out of their way to contact me to check on me. Some people who were not even in my inner circle stepped up in my darkest time of need and helped carry me through. I will always be grateful to them for their sensitivity and support. They got me through the first weeks and months. I am so grateful for the overwhelming support I have had in these last five months. I know I have people who care about me and who love me and that makes all the difference.

*This one is not too bad because, yes, it is better to not be with someone who could unilaterally make the decision to just walk away from a life-long commitment with no warning. But I would not have taken this one well in the early weeks or months. Thankfully I heard it more recently and had done enough healing to be able to be objective enough to appreciate its truth.


  1. Are those all things people have actually said to you? Because if so, my god. I'm so sorry. Those are some pretty awful and insensitive things to say! I don't always know the right thing to say either, but I figure the offer of hugs and a reminder that I'm thinking of you (or whoever it is that's going through a hard time) is usually a pretty good way to go if I'm at a loss for anything else.

    1. Hi canadianchia,

      Yes, these things were all said to me during th last five months. Thankfully, I know that the people who said these things mean well and that none of these comments came from anyone with bad motives/intentions. I think hearing about this kind of thing from a couple that you would not expect it to happen to is pretty destabilizing. In fact, some people said that to me...that they had looked to us as hope that they could find love too, so when this happened...well...I think the shock reverberated pretty far. My assumption is that this kind of thing is destablizing and then when they see me or run into me, well, they try to come up with something to say. And they try to deal with their own emotions, and the natural thing is to protect yourself and to tell yourself that it couldn't happen to you... So, this results in comments like this I guess. :)

      I think your approach of hugs and the reminder that you arethinking about your friends is perfect for difficult situations!

    2. And I should clarify that most of these comments came in the context of longer conversations. So it wasn't always like I shared the news and these comments were the first things out of people's mouths. Though "C'est la vie" was in the context of a very short conversation of five minutes or less with someone I don't know well, and several of the others were passing comments of acknowledgement by people who had already heard the news from the grapevine.