In the spirit of ‘open and honest’ communication, a la The Bachelor, I’d like to get into a couple things I struggle with when talking about The Situation (Divorce, Trauma, Abuse, Etc.).
Some of these things genuinely annoy the hell out of me, and some of these things I realize are well-intentioned and possibly just poorly timed.
Let’s start with the Genuinely Annoying:
That’s not abuse that’s abandonment. Do I really need to spell this one out? Abandonment is abuse. Moving on.
I hope you and your husband work things out. I just spent an hour explaining that my relationship was emotionally abusive and that’s what you came up with? Obviously that’s not an option, so thanks but no thanks for your well wishes. It’s creepy and weird and you obviously A) don’t believe me or B) weren’t listening.
Did you pray about it? I know I’ve covered this before. Yes, I prayed. Yes, it’s confusing. Trust me, it confuses my understanding of God just as much as it confuses yours. However, the timing of this question can be completely inappropriate. I’d love to get into the faith-based philosophy of it all, but can we bring it up in such a way that doesn’t makes it seem like I could have prayed my way out of abuse?
Everyone makes mistakes. Thanks, cool. Next time I get manipulated into staying in a shitty relationship I’ll thank you for the wisdom.
As least XYZ didn’t happen to you that happened to me. Seriously? This is Communication and Validation 101. If you’ve invited me to talk to you, please just listen without comparing my experience to yours. We don’t need to be sitting around competing for Who’s Trauma Sucked Most awards, we need to be listening to each other. I’d love to hear to your story, if you can try to respect mine.
Those are the biggies. Moving on to the more well-intentioned comments that have the potential to land wrong.
I’ll preface this discussion by saying I understand that divorce is uncomfortable and sometimes there’s no right response, and I absolutely appreciate each person who’s offered support in the way they know how. However, I would like to clear a few things up, so maybe we can grow a little in future.
Phrases to Avoid for Healthy Communication with Your Friend Who Is Struggling:
What happened? Okay. This is an interesting one, because it’s kind and a good conversation skill to be able to ask open-ended questions. I do appreciate it. However, I don’t necessarily appreciate the timing when I say things like, “He just wasn’t good to me” or “He was abusive” or “It just wasn’t healthy” and I get “What happened?” in return. I just told you. Here are some additional bullet points, because inherently I’m a nerdy note-taker that prefers structure:
- Asking this question at the wrong time puts me in a place where I feel like I need to provide proof that yes, in fact, my understanding of abuse lives up to your expectation, and, yes, my pain is valid.
- I do not appreciate the skepticism or how small it makes me feel to simplify my experience into some version of, “He hurt my feelings.” If we were to talk about physical or sexual abuse I wouldn’t have to provide a laundry list of facts. It’s just in this vague, mysterious world of emotion that I have to somehow paint a picture to strangers that no, I’m not crazy, and no, I did not make this up.
- I also do not appreciate the sigh of relief when I mention cheating or STDs. The tangible presence of medical fact gives people something logical to latch on to, something clearly clearly clearly WRONG so, sure, that makes my story easier to process for everyone else. Sometimes I feel like I have to bring it up just for that reason. However, I promise, without a doubt, this is no where near what cut the deepest. The emotional and psychological games were a thousand times worse, and I wish that was enough to swallow on its own.
At least you’re young. Again, yes, true. What am I supposed to say to this, though? Cool, my ovaries haven’t shriveled into hopeless little raisins. And there’s a potential I’ll be able to date someone someday without needing Botox. Awesome, right? Also awesome, I get to jump headlong into the miserable world of dating that I THOUGHT I GOT TO AVOID. Shit, I see enough people in my life struggling to meet decent guys as it is and, on top of that, I thought I already had it figured out! I certainly am not enjoying having my life un-figured out, even though, yes, I am only a baby bird at the age of 27. For the record, this whole shit-show has been infinitely more painful than I thought it would be, and I don’t think age makes that more or less legitimate.
Yes, I’m feeling a little sassy, so I’m sorry. To be fair, I will present some helpful alternatives to having a healthy conversation with your next heartbroken friend.
Do you want to talk about it? This gives me the freedom to say, politely, no thank you, or yes, please. It doesn’t leave me needing to present facts to prove a point, I’m not immediately positioned on the defensive, and I get the sense that you are kindly ready to listen. I am grateful for that and, truly, genuine conversation is healing.
Yes, you were abused. Validation is always appreciated, and the first time someone did this it meant the world to me. She looked me in the eyes, put her hand on my knee, and said the words out loud that I’d been playing with and hiding away. She allowed me to begin processing what had actually happened, in real life, and acknowledged that no, it was not just in my head.
What did that experience look like for you? An appropriate follow up question to the previous comment. This lets me know you appreciate that there are many faces and dimensions of abuse, you believe me, and you are a safe place for me to expand.
How are you doing? Even if it’s been a long time, this one is always awesome. It’s been 14 months since I left my marriage, and I’m still sad sometimes. It’s normal to still be sad. It’s also normal to be happy, or excited, or nothing at all. Whatever it is, consistent follow-up is always cool.
Be there. In general, (not always! Writer, here) actions are able to convey more than words. Baked goods and wine go far. Sitting together with coffee, watching Bachelor in Paradise, going for hikes, whatever- its all therapeutic in its own way. And the presence of a good friend gives people space to breathe and talk organically, without diving into all too much all too quickly. Even better, things like that help life move on, new routines take hold, and fosters a sense of grounding normalcy. All super healthy and refreshing.
Avoid fishing. If you want to reach out, genuinely offer concern, or have words of wisdom, it’s all well-received. If you’re just fishing for the drama, that’s kind of a bummer, and I can usually tell the difference. Stay genuine, stay authentic. It’s more healing, especially to someone coming out of a relationship plagued by disingenuous behavior.
Some other easy comments generally always welcomed:
You’re not crazy.
You didn’t make this up.
I see you.
You are enough.
I’m sorry that happened.
Thank you for sharing your story.
And from me, to the rest of you, thank you for listening.