6 Things NOT to Say to Someone Who is Divorced


By Amal Killawi and Zarinah Nadir

Divorce is never easy.

But it’s the reality for 50% of American couples and 31% of American Muslim couples.  With these statistics, you’re likely to have friends or know people in your community who have been divorced or are currently experiencing a divorce.

Divorce is often a time of monumental hardship and change. Many people do not know how to convey their sentiments when learning about a divorce.  Comments are usually well-intentioned, but can be grossly misplaced. In honor of our brothers and sisters who have experienced marriage dissolution or are currently in the process, we present a list of the top 6 things not to say to divorcees.  These statements are based on real-life experiences shared with us.

1. “Are you sure?”

Unless this question is posed by close family and friends or persons involved in the mediation process, it is highly inappropriate, offensive, and intrusive.  If people were unsure of their decision, they would not have shared the news with others.  Additionally, for some people, divorce may not have been their choice or decision to make.  People are likely to be under a great deal of emotional stress, and asking them about the uncertainty of their decision is disrespectful of their journey before separation.

2. “How long were you married?”  And upon finding out it was a relatively short period – “Oh, well, at least it was short.”

Marriage duration is not an accurate indicator of the value of the relationship, the length of the healing process, or the legitimacy of the marital experience. Whether the marriage lasted for 5 months or 5 years, it is important to acknowledge the significance of this loss.  The end of a marriage often also symbolizes the end of the dreams, aspirations, and life plans of the couple. Additionally, it is important to realize that regardless of the duration, some people may have suffered through distressing trials in their marriage.  The last few months could have been a living nightmare.

3. “I saw it coming all along.”

Since when has “I told you so” ever been a sensitive comment?  Unfortunately, some people use these opportunities to reveal their intuitiveness about a person’s marital problems.  Although they may consider it to be a statement of reassurance – that one should not be upset because the relationship seemed destined for divorce anyways – it is just plain rude and insensitive.

4. “Who filed for divorce? Did you go to court?  What did you get? Who has custody?”

For Muslims in the United States, divorce is often both a civil and religious process.  These processes can be lengthy and draining emotionally and financially.  Practice caution when asking questions about the divorce process.  Take the lead from the divorcee before entering into a conversation. If the person doesn’t share, don’t probe.  These are personal questions and may still be contentious.

5. “But you were such a perfect couple!”

Or any variation of this such as, “But he is such a nice brother!” or “She’s such a religious sister masha’Allah!”  There’s no such thing as a perfect couple or a perfect person.  It is important to remember that people’s public personas can be very different behind closed doors.  No matter how well we think we know others, there is nothing comparable to living with another person in a marital relationship.  Statements that pass judgment should be avoided because the reality is we do not know.

6. “May you get remarried soon!”

Not everyone who has experienced a divorce appreciates a du`a’ (prayer) for a speedy remarriage.  While prayers are important for a person going through hardship, keep in mind that certain prayers expressed during this time may not always be appropriate.  Some people do not wish to re-marry for some time.  Additionally, some divorces are as a result of traumatic experiences such as domestic abuse or infidelity, and divorcees may very well be fearful of re-experiencing this trauma in a future marriage.  It’s better to focus your du`a’ on helping them to adjust and move on, instead of praying for another marriage!

So then, what is appropriate etiquette?

  • Follow their lead.  Recognize that some people may want to talk, while others do not. Respect their preference.
  • Express empathy. Say, “I’m sorry about your divorce. How are you doing?”
  • Offer support and encouragement. Simply saying, “Please know that I’m here if you need anything” can go a long way.
  • Stay silent. If you don’t know what to say, silence is golden and acceptable.
  • Be sensitive to their needs. Make them feel included despite their change in marital status.
  • Honor their journey. Grief is generally a part of the healing process as people learn to adjust to life after separation.

Remember, you may encounter someone at any stage in that process. By practicing sincerity and utilizing common courtesy, we can be more mindful in our interactions with people undergoing a time of reflection and change.

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36 Comments

  1. Murad says:

    Assalamualaikum, divorce is one of the things which Allah (Swt) doesn’t like and the people doing it just for their desires are cursed especially if they have children (as far as I know with my limited info since I didn’t experience marriage yet).

    So I don’t agree with the article completely. People have the right to question to ex-partners’ acts of destroying families. Marriage is not a game and it’s half of the deen. So muslims should always try to be patient with their partners before making this cursed decision (my comment doesn’t cover people who have islamic reasons to divorce).

    • NY-D says:

      waarb,

      I respect your opinion and all. However, one time there was a sahabi that came to the rasool pbuh wanting a divorce from her husband because he was so ugly that she couldn’t look at his face let alone live with him. And the rasool pbuh gave her a divorce. Wa Allahu Alem.(someone please correct me if I’m wrong)

      So I don’t think you can just give generalizations like that. However, the couple should try to stay together but I don’t think that they’re cursed if they leave each other.

      I do, however, reccommend that any problems should be taken to a sheikh or someone with the appropriate knowledge.

      Wa Allahu Alem,

      waarb

      • Murad says:

        Thank you for your reply and Jazak Allah al khayr NY_D.

        Actually I used “cursed” term for the people who destroy their family structure with simple reasons. Otherwise divorce is a halal (or ugliest mubaah) right in Islam when required so please don’t take this as a generalization. :)

    • trie says:

      i agree with u..patience is needed in a marriage..
      we know happiness doesn’t always exist in a marriage, sometimes disappointed due to the lack of affection,or something else… which important is how to respect each other and keep our commitment, n should remember that nobody perfect…

    • as says:

      How do you not agree with this article?

    • Mohamed Ismail says:

      Dear Murad,

      Assalaamu ‘alaikkum! But when I saw this article, I felt that it is too necessary. We may not need in the Eastern side of the world but western world it is necessary. I appreciate the writer for having this article. I have been there in US for just 18 months. If I were not there, my comments might be like yours.

  2. UmmSarah says:

    Murad, I kind of see what you mean. Divorce has become such an easy things for Muslims in America. We all know that divorce is allowed in Islam, but the way trend is moving, one can almost think that it is probably encouraged in islam. People are divorcing right and left at the drop of a hat. Some women are taking off on their own children and men fighting over custody of infant children with mothers.
    Really, divorce is such a light issue? There is hardly any community effort towards this issue.

    • Murad says:

      Dear sister Sarah,

      Jazak Allah al khayr. Day by day divorce is becoming a sociological issue here in Turkey and I think people’s wrong marriage criteria + lack of Islamic knowledge are some main reasons of this problem which is a planted bomb under whole community structure.

      So I think questions before the divorce are important to save the family structure especially when people could take this decision by temporary anger feelings.

    • Experienced says:

      I think the people tht talk about muslims divorcing left and right are completely ignorant and insensitive. Nobody, whether Muslim or not, WANTS to get divorced—it is a very traumatic experience, and even if the spouse whom you are divorcing was abusive and you know its the best to leave him, the divorce is still extremely painful. i think it speaks volumes to your arrogance that you actually believe ppl get divorced easily. when i was going through my divorce, I had one “friend” repeatedly ask me if im “sure” as the article said. it made me SO ANGRY…the fact that she thought she somehow was more concerned or put more thought into MY marriage than I did–the fact that she actually asked me “did you really think about it??” I felt like saying “No, I didnt…I didnt think about how this would affect MY life…I didnt think about it at all…thank you for pointing out that its an important decision that needs to be carefully deliberated over.”

      I am shocked by the arrogance of the Muslim community sometimes.

  3. Maryam says:

    Amal, awesome article mashaAllah and much needed discourse for our community.

  4. NY-D says:

    oh and please forgive me for my shortcomings. JAK

    waarb

  5. TRUTO says:

    This article was obviously not written to adress the value of healthy relationships nor to support divorces in our Muslim communities. It simply teaches the etiquette of our reactions to a situation in which a divorce occurs and how we should be considerate towards the feelings of our Muslim bros and sisters.

  6. J says:

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    This is just a personal opinion, and I don’t know anything real.

    Muslims are not like Christians. Divorce at one point was a stigma for them, and that is not how it is for us. Divorce is a benefit to both sides when they see they are clearly incompatible and for the sake of their sanity should part ways. There is absolutely no reason for a person to torture themselves for a lifetime because their community will find it distressing. The problem today is not divorce, but the reaction to divorce, and the fact that people see that since one man had a problem and divorced the woman, the woman must be incompatible to all men and vice versa. The other problem is when people have children, they seek revenge with their spouse and pretend like they’re doing everything for the child, when in fact they’re doing everything that will hurt the child.

    Personally, for the sake of children, I wish couples would wait just a year before trying to have kids. There’s a lot to learn about each other within a year, and then if you see flaws that you can’t live with, at least your child doesn’t pay the price. I much rather support an amicable divorce though (even tho that is sadly rare), over a child growing up in the middle of heated arguments.

    I’m pretty sure Islamically, if the mother is fit to be a mother and is caring, she is allowed to maintain custody of her children until they are at least seven. Fathers should not be fighting over custody and should be giving their children what is best. Of course, fathers should be granted visiting rights and there should be compromises made wherein the father is still a father. If we followed the Quran and Sunnah tho, we wouldn’t have problems we have as far as custody goes.

  7. Seth says:

    Divorce is such a tragedy for the individuals involved and for society. I don’t think there is a simple solution to this. People make mistakes.

  8. Mike says:

    Its a subject which must treated with high respect. While I agree there is too many easy ways to get a divorce. Its not fair to blame on the people. The problem stems with people thinking marriage is this golden valley of heaven. It is not. I have seen a successful marriage from a objective position with two kids, in-laws, and cousin living in the basement. The cousin would me. The husband and wife had to struggle daily with life, kids, parents who are old and opinionated and top it a relative that hadn’t seen for last 6 years. Both worked hard to keep each other stress factor down. Both realized when they upset each other and tried to do something to alleviate it. Both realized unless they kept each other happy the marriage was going fail. I saw that and realized myself what seesaw marriage was and when I got married it will not be easy as I thought. Its a damn hard job.

    Stress of family, kids, work and culture all affect a marriage. These days there is more stress on us then ever.
    Not everyone can stand that stress and not its Allah’s, husband or wife fault. Its just life. Its the way it is.

    What I do blame is adultery. Get out before you doing someone else. Marriage is working leave; don’t start doing the nanny and blaming something else…

    Also if you are gay; have the courage to stand up your parents and say your not getting married. Don’t ruin somebody else’s life when they find you with your lover.
    I never thought it would a problem in Muslim society but shockingly enough; I’m hearing quite a bit of it.

    Bottom line life is tough and we fail. And sometimes just not anyone’s fault. Maybe George W. Bush and Republicans for ruining the economy and the world and the Democrats for being chicken living off of corporations while proclaiming to be for the working man.

  9. K says:

    According to Imam Magid, that hadith about divorce being hated by Allah (swt) isn’t authentic. I just wanted to put that out there since it can make people feel guilty about divorce unnecessarily. Allah knows best.

    • Murad says:

      Dear K,

      I can’t remember the exact sources related with the topic. But I’ll be pleased to add some sources after a small research in my language. (sorry for translation errors)

      1) “For Allah (swt) divorce is the ugliest thing among halals” (Ebû Dâvûd, talak 3; ibn Mâce, talak 1 .)

      2) “Allah curses to the taster men and taster women who often change spouses” (el-Hindî, Kenzu’l-Ummâl IX/661; Suyûtî, e!-Câmi’us-sağîr H. No. 3288 (from Taberânî))

      3) “If any of the women wants to divorce from her husband without any incompatibility, that woman can’t take the smell of the paradise” (Ebu Dâvud, Tirmizî, İbn Mâce, İbn Hibban)

      4) An Neesa -130

  10. sisterbismillah says:

    Looking at the comments here, it seems to me that people are a little ignorant of what it is even like being divorced. Don’t speak on a divorcee’s behalf if you haven’t gone through it!

    Working in family law, there are so many people who end up having children and get divorced because of one spouse is harming children and the spouse too, in incomprehensible ways ( sexual abuse, physical abuse, substance abuse, battery, etc) in our own community…where does it say anywhere in the hadith or Quran that they are cursed? Murad that is very very judgemental of you. People don’t understand divorcees unless they have to go through the process.

    Sometimes divorce is better for the children too, especially if one of the spouses is abusive and the better parent fights for custody and gets it.

    And sometimes marriage is a tragedy and divorce is a blessing…if someone is married to a fornicator or alcoholic and they did not know about it, or an abuser, or someone who emotionally abuses, then divorce is actually a blessing for the victim. Some of the commentators here make it look like it’s a disaster…that’s not so.

    My friend got divorced and the few years she was married I never saw her smile once. she was a very happy person. Now everyday she is thankful for her life she left the marriage she was was in ( it was abusive, manipulative marriage). God didn’t say live in misery and oppression…I have a friend whose husband made sure she would never have a proper meal at the end of the day…would you say “stick it out” for the kids?…that is so heartless and judgmental. I think the trend is going up because people are heartless, unsupportive of those who are true victims.

    Sometimes people saying sorry makes it worse… you are sorry that I am now living a healthier life? Sometimes divorcees don’t need empathy; they need to be empowered.

    • Murad says:

      Dear sisterbismillah,

      I didn’t experience a divorce but I know what it’s like in the eyes of a child.

      If you read my comment again you’ll see that we are parallel in our thoughts. :)

      PS: I added hadith sources above.

    • NAS says:

      Well said mashAllah. There is definitely a balance to aspire to. Don’t run out of the marriage when it gets a little rocky. And know when to run when it starts to get dangerous (physically, mentally, spiritually).

    • Anonymiss says:

      Well said sister! And to add to that, for those who say ‘stick it out for the kids’, have they ever considered how difficult it is for children to grow up seeing a parent in a miserable relationship, watching their parents fight all the time, or witnessing emotional or physical abuse? That, to me, is a lot harder to have to go through then seeing the parents separate and lead (inshaa Allah) happier lives.

      This is not to say people shouldn’t be patient. But it’s not for anyone to judge whether or not the divorcee was ‘patient enough’ or tried hard enough. You weren’t part of the relationship, so you aren’t in position to pass judgment on people.

  11. divorcee says:

    Good morning,

    Divorce is very painful. Please don’t judge. No one wants the marriage to end. When the pronouncement is made, the body trembles and you go into a silent shock. And you cry in anguish like waves once in a while. For years.

    If you want to help. Just be supportive and understand that it is hard for the couple. No blames, no taking sides. The dreams have crushed. Like a businessman who’s business just collapsed, understand his dreams and effort and favourite passion have just crushed.

    Do not assume that because 50% end in divorce that all divorces are due to simple easy way outs. If you have daughters married to physical abusers, mental abusers, verbal abusers would you consider her weak? Or non working husbands expect to be treated like a king but the wife works and houses, feeds and schools the children for decades.

    Divorce , like death, is a loss. Please treat those who lost something with kindness and never judge.

    I love this article because the reactions from non family is often malicious first if not kind.

    • Murad says:

      Dear divorcee,

      May Allah give you khayr and help you always. I should add that I agree with the advices of sister Amal and sister Zarinah for after divorce behaviors towards divorcees.

      And I choose to stay silent about their destiny (unless they ant to share) since ex-partners know what they lived among themselves.

    • MSB says:

      Salamualaikum, may Allah grant you peace and mercy from Him, divorcee.

      Seek a counsellor, as soon as possible. you NEED one. If you need hug from friends, please request them and am sure when parents fail to understand in such situations, friends do help you with what you want.

      Learn lessons from, if this event brought you closer to Allaah. Hate the deed and see if you could write 70 excuses for yourself. Find someone to speak otherwise your diary would help.

      Its never individual fault but we fail to notice Mrs Gadafi/Mubarak within. Time to crush egos and know its Allaah who control the hearts and we merely have option to request his forgiveness. If you feel like crying say what Musa said in 28:24 , Alayhi salam, and cry before Allaah. I am not a woman so I may never be able to feel how it is like feeling lost in such situation but be strong, world is ahead waiting for you to rise and shine. I am not a woman, how it would feel if you have lost a child ( who would be waiting for you in jannah). Know that great sahaba and salaf also did get divorced. Take some project you always liked to work on. Do you think some of the good things your spouse help you initiate, who is now considered divorced, would not receive ‘sadaqa jariya’ from you continuing learning from it? Don’t just stop doing the noble act , like learning language of Allah, just because you don’t want Him/Her not wanting the benefit. its rizq.

      Its easier said than done but speak to whom you consider as friends. Its a remedy. Who knows that actual private blog you started ( would start ) could cause your healing, as all blogs offers as side benefit to its writers. Its going to be slow and uphill battle so choose forgiveness if you seek same from the Most merciful, because His justice would be very very swift when it would come for that.

      Consider ‘empathy’ for husband as well. What must have been feeling like him as well.

      continued…

  12. Mariam says:

    Subhan Allah..what a great article.. Alhamdulillah i am a new divorcee.Divorce was a blessing for me and when it was finalized I couldn’t be more grateful. My marriage was built on deceipt from my ex and his family.Divorce was my way out and Subhan Allah I did istikhara for the marriage and istikhara for the divorce and I’m content with both results.No remorse, everything is for a reason and “khair” comes enveloped in so many different covers.I am thankful for those who advised me to hold on on having children,but I don’t mean it’s a mistake to ask for divorce when children are involved. Allah made us dignified with our faith and he is the God of love and compassion. If there is no love and compassion between the couple, what’s left? Going through a tough divorce, one lesson I learnt was that “la hawla wala quwata illa billah” manifested itself massively. I was only saved by Allah and I am so thankful and so hopeful. I think one of the blessings of Allah to sayyidina Mohamed pbuh was uniting him with sayyda Aisha whom he loved and cherished,Jazakum Allah khair and unite you with the righteous spouses and create loving bonds between you.

    • Murad says:

      May Allah give you khayr and help you sister Mariam.

      May Allah gift all Muslim partners the bond of Islam rather than temporary nafs desires.

  13. Afzal says:

    Assalamualikum,

    May Allah protect the all the sister’s and brother’s.

    Few things I wanted to express here
    * One should take simplistic approach to life. We are temporary in this world, our final goal is Paradise and meeting Allah SWT. To avoid problems in life, that should be the drive force of our actions.

    * Have complete trust in Allah. Allah is all aware of what we do, if we are a following what he has ordained for us, surely he will not for sake us.

    * Having said that, divorce is not the end of the road. Have trust in Allah that this time you are gonna find the right person.

    SubhanAllah, I proposed one such good practicing sister for marriage, expressed the willingness to support in her endeavors. I did that as I already knew she is a hardworking Sister. And sister took like more than a month not to go forward with it. If I had a chance to convey this sister, I would tell her it is not the end of the road there are good practicing Muslim brothers out there. So have trust in Allah.

  14. FA says:

    How is this article not needed in the East? Just because women in the East are sometimes forced by their families to stay in bad marriages, it doesn’t mean that it’s right. I think this article had some very great points and I think everyone should read this!

  15. Megan Wyatt says:

    SubhanAllah, thank you for this article. There are sisters who were divorced in my community who were PUBLICLY questioned in front of others about their reason to divorce. Talk about horrible manners. People are just so darned curious to know the “nitty gritty details,” and when they don’t have any, rumors pop up. It’s a shame.

    I agree %110 with the article that those who have gone through a divorce are suffering a loss,and a brother or sister should be simply supported like any other test someone is going through.

    The west might make it legally easier to get a legal divorce these days than the past,Islamically, it’s always been “easier” then here. It only requires one single word to be uttered in the case of talaq from a man(different then khula’ from the women) and then it’s done. No long paperwork proceedings.

    Even without assualt, etc, Islam does permit divorce for other notions, such as incompatibility, and as stated, no one should attempt to judge a situation from the outside.

    The best thing I can recommend for single Muslims is to be clear on why you want to get married in the first place, who YOU are, and who you are looking for, and what is your vision of marriage in how you will give (not just take.)

    Many people get married for the wrong reasons, and this alone, can create a slippery foundation in marriage which leads to divorce (wanting to escape parent’s control, trying to get rid of haram habits, trying to replace a lost love interest, getting older, being pressured from family, because their friends are having pretty weddings, etc…)

  16. Anonymous says:

    I think all divorcees were asked these question in one way or the other! I know exactly how it feels when they pray for another marriage! JUST DISGUSTING! People get more depressed than the divorcee – I hated that!!!They don’t realize that this is a blessing. When I went through my divorce, my entire world got upside down. It took me 3 years to recover from that and they would think I am still in love w/that person. wow!!! They would not understand I am just trying to figure out, feel myself, find a way out. Only ALLAH knows what we go through in the deepest of the night and day. Alhamdulillahi Rabbil a’lamin for making me go through this divorce. May ALLAH put HIS mercy, peace and tranquility in the hearts of all those who are going/went through these difficult times and replace w/something that’s best for us! Ameen.

  17. TruthMuslim says:

    Is it a coincidence that while I am in the middle of studying about divorce statistics, I click on one of my Facebook updates that sends me here to read about more divorce?!

    Don’t get me wrong- this is a very insightful article MashAllah =) As a yet-to-marry sister, I can’t help feeling more fear and intimidation than excitement for my future marriage. Nevertheless, I think it’s beneficial that our Muslim community is proactive in discussing the failures of marriage, and how to prevent or approach them. Keep up the good work!

    May all our fellow Muslim sisters and brothers be granted harmonious and blessed marriages, Ameen!

  18. FDivorcee says:

    Assalaam alaikum dear brothers & sisters
    My personal experience of marriage/divorce has made me who I am today by the Mercy of Allah Azawajal.
    Prior & during my first few weeks of marriage i was engrossed in the Dunya did very little for my Akhira. Allah azawajal loves us all so much that sometimes to bring the Ruh back home we need to be hit hard and boy!! was I hit. I wont go into the details but i perservered in my marriage for 3 years hoping for some change but in the end i realised that through the journey if marriage be it one that was filled with mistrust & betrayal. It was me, myself & I who had betrayed my oath to my Lord & yet they continued to be guiding me through. Through a marriage that I knew was going to end in divorce i found my home. Allah azawajal carried me through & led me to one of the greatest Awliya in our time & my love for my Shaykh, my beloved messenger sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam & my Lord ever increases with each passing moment, if I had not gone througj my marriage/divorce who knows where my Nafs would have led me to.
    Divorce is painful but we must learn from it & i always say Alhamdulillah to everything today as an act that makes even the Throne shake has today been my strength in building my relationship with my Creator. They are the most merciful the most compassionate. I actually dont mind talking about my divorce as i use it as a lesson, a piece of advice for others that its not all bad post divorce & patiently perservere & you will reap the rewards both in marriage & divorce. Alhamdulillah wa shukrulillah!!

  19. lost hope says:

    assalam alaykum ummah,

    the two muslim groups most harassed are the divorced and single/never married sisters…sigh.

    may allah (swt) make it easy for the divorced muslims to find peace during their difficulties, and make it easy for the single muslims to complete half their deen, insha allah.

    shukran + wasalam.

  20. deartalal says:

    Assalam’OAalikum,

    Iam Witness of this whole scenario. Since i married a Relative who lives in USA becomes divorced. Iam so much relax on my decision and this articles helps me alot. please put these type of articles more on your website.. Cheers Jazakallah

  21. Kirana says:

    Other responses are:

    “Well at least you don’t have children.” You don’t know whether the divorce is actually in fact related to this issue, or complete inability to have children, which causes the parties a lot of pain. Or the grief of one of the spouses – usually the female, the one with the biological clock – that the dreams she had harboured of a family life by now, is lost and perhaps be too late to try again.

    “But he/she was such a sincere revert!” this is similar to variations of #5. This is one of those instances where the divorce is probably NOT a light choice, or a choice at all, and is an emotionally extremely difficult test. divorce is hard enough between two people who already hate each other. it is beyond words to explain how hard it is for two people who still love each other.

  22. Adam says:

    What is the issue of saying “Talaaq” three times? If on says it in a single sitting, does the marriage get nullified?

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