Anne was shocked and upset last week when a colleague turned around and said: “So who wanted the divorce? Whose choice was it?” She was taken back, because neither of them wanted the divorce! No one goes into a marriage “wanting” a divorce she thought. She said it shocked her because whilst, she was the one who said “our marriage is over” she had never seen divorce as an option at first. It wasn’t until, after many years of trying to make the relationship work, that she realized there was no hope of change and they couldn’t continue living as they were. Her children were her main concern but she agreed with her ex that they would wait until the school year was done before they told them. But she certainly didn’t “want the divorce” and this comment cut her like a knife. She wanted to blurt back “No one wanted it you idiot – and mind your own business” (or worse!) But instead she felt pressured to tell her all that happened and really regretted it after, as she didn’t want anyone at work to know her business. It was Anne’s first coaching session with me and we decided it would be a good idea to create ways to avoid awkward questions.
Anne is not alone in being asked inappropriate, personal or hurtful questions after separation and divorce. The fear of other peoples reaction to divorce can make some people so anxious they don’t want to socialize or leave the home. Sadly this can lead to a further isolation, at a time when they need support from others the most. So today’s article is dedicated to providing examples of ways to respond and avoid awkward questions.
This is really powerful when you first go public with your divorce and also useful for answering awkward questions. In the above example “Who wanted the divorce.” The celebrity response would be something like this: “It’s a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration.” If you and your ex can come up with a mutually agreed statement then you can help avoid gossip. I also recommend statements like the this because it helps friends, family and children feel like they don’t have to take sides.
Humor can be used to avoid answering a question by making a lighthearted quip or a self-deprecating joke. Humor can also be used to push aside the disturbing and hard elements of a question. For example in response to “What happened?” you could laugh it off and say: “If only we knew” or “No Clue” Another example Gary used when asked “Where will you live?” was “In a house with a roof and water I hope” If you want to use a humorous response you need to be confident and that isn’t always easy, especially during the divorce process.
Reflect Back Response
Reflecting back is where you put the question back on the person, find out why they are asking. It puts the spot light on them, especially if you feel their questioning is inappropriate. An example of this would be where you look them in the eye, smile and ask them a question. For examples in response to “Why are you getting divorced?” You could ask back: “Why do you want to know?” or “I am wondering why this question is important to you?” or “Will it make a difference if you knew?” The good thing about replying back with a question is that the conversation can easily take another direction away from the original question.
End Subject Response
If you have children you may hear people wanting to know about your children and the affect it has had on them. Hasan was told “At least your children are grown up” Dave’s boss said the opposite “At least your son is only 2 and probably doesn’t understand it all” In reality, the age of your children makes little difference. The problems they will face initially are just different and it’s still hard for all affected. In this case you may want to acknowledge their comments or concerns about you and the children but end the subject like: “Thank you for asking, were all doing the best we can thank you” or “The children are naturally upset, but were managing fine.”
I ensure everyone I work with has 1 or 2 blocking responses they can use and we rehearse them. As the worst thing you want to do at a social gathering or business event is to get angry, upset or spill too much and regret it later. A blocking response is where you as politely as possible, while maintaining eye contact and smiling (or at least not looking angry) assert that you won’t be answering that question. Use this whenever you feel that the question has crossed the boundaries of appropriateness or is too intimate. A blocking response is a response you can use for any questions that you don’t have an answer or don’t wish to answer. For example if someone says, “Whose decision was it?” you can respond with, “It’s not that black and white. We’ve decided we cannot stay married.” Or if someone asks, “So will you be moving?” or “Who will have the Children?” you might respond “We haven’t decided that yet.” Other examples could be “I appreciate your curiosity but I am not comfortable responding to that” or ” I’m sorry but I just don’t feel right sharing that information” Or “I’m not in the habit of answering questions that are so incredibly personal at work / social events.” Or “We agreed not to say anything to other people”
Divorce Coach Cautions – please be wary of
Nosy Family Members – It is you and your spouse who are the ones who are divorcing. So it is your right to keep private information private. Sometimes because it is family, we feel we must go into detail, but only share what you are comfortable with. Hasan didn’t want his parents to know the details of why his marriage was ending in divorce. He was still dealing with the shame, anger and disappointment himself and told his family very little. A week later he found out that his Aunt had started calling his wife Abeer wanting to know more and asking difficult questions. Hasan was furious when he found out, but so grateful that Abeer and him had agreed to not share details. Abeer respected and honored their agreement and thankfully their divorce stayed amicable. When you do go public with a divorce it is important to agree on who to say to what person.
Coworkers – guard against over-sharing details with them. The last thing you want is for your divorce to be discussed around the office. One of the most important things you need to do when you go through separation and divorce is to create a good divorce support team. A good divorce support team may include, a few close friends or family members, a coach, an accountant and a lawyer.
Gossipers – If someone chips into a conversation that they heard something about your marriage ending, avoid giving any further fuel to their fire in spreading gossip. For example if someone responds with something like. “Oh yeah, I heard she was obsessed with worked and didn’t do much at home.” Or “I heard he had problems with drinking and was out all the time.” Don’t rise to the bait and start bad mouthing your ex or call your ex, accusing them of saying such hurtful things. You want to know the facts and don’t assume it is definitely your spouse who has been talking about you or your marriage, it could be idle gossip. I have seen good co-parenting relationships destroyed when they think one party has been spreading rumors or telling the children lies, when they haven’t. Accusations and arguments between you cause further damage and are harder to repair. When you hear comments like this it is best to not react, as gossipers want a reaction, that is what they’re waiting for, so instead use your blocking response.
Remember It’s Often About Them Not You
Difficult questions often reflect more about the person who’s asking them than you – they may be having problems with their own marriage and may be trying to assess if theirs is also over or at risk. They could be trying to make sense of it, especially if you seemed like the “perfect couple” to them. The questions may also reflect their discomfort with divorce, I get that sometimes myself as a divorce coach. Occasionally people are uneasy at the mention of the word divorce for their own personal reasons, so don’t take it personally (easier said than done, I know!). Lastly, they may be trying to work out how they should respond to the news – whether they should congratulate or commiserate with you? So they are just trying to react in the way they think you want them to. As best you can try not to be over-sensitive and if you are upset talk to someone.
In summary, I recommend you create some answers and practice saying them with a close friend/ family member or coach. They can also help you brainstorm what questions people might ask, so you are totally comfortable in all situations. The more you prepare and rehearse what you are going to say, the less likely it is you will be caught off-guard and say something you regret later. You definitely want to prepare a huge list of questions Children may ask when you tell them about the divorce.
Remember, who you share what with is your decision. Defend this right!