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5 Least Helpful Things You Can Say to Divorcing Moms

Divorce can be ugly, and I'm not even talking about vindictive wives and raging husbands. Sometimes, family, friends and acquaintances are harsher than soon-to-be former spouses. When I broke the news to my parents, the assumptions flooded in. Was someone unfaithful? Is he hurting you? Even if either of these had been the case, these questions are uncalled for. Even worse were the questions and comments from my ex's family and friends.

Still, I responded.

At the time, I thought honesty was more important than preserving my own dignity. I have since changed my mind. I love and respect myself too much now to indulge others' greedy curiosity. It has taken me nearly 30 years of life to realize I can set up boundaries and say, "I'd rather not talk about that."

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I wondered if my divorced friends had received a similar backlash, so I asked my social network. The responses were gut-wrenching. Here are the five worst things you could say to someone going through a split.

1. "There's an infection in your relationship. You need Jesus."

Sent as a Facebook message to me from one of my ex's friends, this gem is an excerpt from several paragraphs of pure vitriol, thinly-veiled as concern. I'm not sure if it's just a lack of common sense or blind indoctrination that drives religious people to say things like this. To the well-intentioned Christian bystander, I offer this: your divorcing friends don't need a theology lesson, they need your love. Spend less time studying scripture and more time in the world, finding compassionate ways to help those who suffer.

For all of the rest of you, I genuinely suggest you get bent.

2. "How could you split up your family? You might as well let your kids play in traffic, for what this will do to them emotionally."

This comment is projection at its worst. Also, it is false and unhelpful.

How do you know what my child was like, emotionally, while we were married? For example, now that I am separated from my ex, my daughter is no longer exposed to daily shouting matches. Instead, she sees my healthy interactions with my new partner. She sees how we disagree respectfully and resolve our problems without raising voices. She sees a man who shares in domestic duties and income-earning. In addition, divorce has made my ex more responsible—so she's seeing a better version of her own father.

It's an insult to someone's intelligence to put forth the obvious fact that marriage isn't supposed to make you happy.

It is far healthier for her to learn all of this than to role-model staying in a toxic relationship out of some archaic sense of marital duty.

3. "You need time to learn to love yourself."

In some cases, this statement has merit (we've all known someone, or been someone, who leapfrogs from one bad relationship to another without examine why it never works out). However, it's not for other people to decide how much time you need to recover from your divorce. And it's definitely not cool for other people to analyze how much you love yourself—how could anyone possibly determine that but you?

4. "Marriage isn't supposed to make you happy. You can't just give up on a commitment you made."

The implication that marriage is "supposed" to be one thing or another is idiotic. Sorry, religious folks, but there is no universal definition of marriage. If you think there is, your universe is very small.

People of all cultural backgrounds get married and for many different reasons. Many people marry because it's romantic and fun to get everyone together in a room and show off how cute the couple is. Others marry because they "want to spend the rest of their lives together," and the closest thing to proving this unprovable sentiment is by marrying that person. Some marry for economic reasons or legal reasons. But happiness? You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks signing a piece of paper is going to make them happy.

It's an insult to someone's intelligence to put forth the obvious fact that marriage isn't supposed to make you happy.

Regardless of your beliefs, marriage isn't supposed to make you unhappy. The statement above was directed at a friend of mine who was getting out of an abusive relationship. By asserting that it's better for her to suffer through abuse rather than "give up on her commitment" and get a divorce, you are invalidating her existence, and you are as cruel as her abuser.

4. "No one's going to look at you the same."

Ah, the old "damaged goods" moniker. It's a hard truth, post-divorce, that people don't look at you the same. But on the bright side, that's how you know who to remove from your life. To give a positive example: I have a Christian family member who I was certain would treat me differently. However, she is just as kind to me now as she was when I was married. She acknowledges my present partner and has never openly passed judgment about my divorce.

[A]nyone who has gone through divorce knows that the black-and-white model rarely applies.

By contrast, some of my ex's family members, who once admired and loved me, have now referred to me as "the heathen bitch," incorrectly assuming that my atheism was the cause of my divorce. To those who don't look at me the same, I offer you this encouragement: I don't look at you at all.

5. "Do you see what you've done to him?"

This only furthers the nonsense that men are babies who need women to care for them. It's common for outside observers of a divorce to vilify one partner and deify the other, especially when one initiates the divorce against the other's will. It seems to help detractors' mental narrative to put people in boxes: this one is good, this one is bad.

However, anyone who has gone through divorce knows that the black-and-white model rarely applies.

This comment is especially damaging to women who have disproportionately carried the burden of their ex-partner's emotions, and who are just beginning to value themselves after a codependent relationship. "As if his well-being is my responsibility," says one friend, who had this slur aimed at her.

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I, too, am recovering from four years of assuming the weight of my ex's basic adult responsibilities and emotions. Sometimes I slip into old habits with my new partner, taking on his struggles and to-do lists as my own. But he stops me, if I don't stop myself first.

All this is not to say I think you, dear reader, would say any of these things to your divorcing friends. My hope in sharing this list is that you'll find some comfort knowing other divorcing women have moved beyond the slander and staked out a happier path in the wake of the ugly.

Or, at the very least, I hope I have inspired you to begin practicing the art of telling offenders to go and ... er ... engage in a little self-love.

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