When a woman comes to you in tears and tells you she is thinking about divorcing her husband, it’s a tipping point in your friendship: a door opens between you, and you are given an opportunity. You can step forward and enter into deeper friendship, or you can step back and let it close.
I’ve had several friends make this confession to me in the past decade. Often, the confession is made in a moment of frustration or fear, and it amounts to little more than words, but there were two times in particular that I recall with stinging regret. I screwed up, and I owe the two of you a long overdue apology:
I am so, so sorry about the way I responded when you told me you wanted a divorce.
The words were hard for you to say, small and broken in your mouth, but my response was altogether too easy to give. I’d been so programmed to believe “Marriage = Good” and “Divorce = Bad” that I kind of panicked when you told me, to be honest. My religious upbringing took over, and judgment disguised as advice came out of my mouth, as it is so often wont to do.
I launched right into a chorus of all the things I thought I was supposed to say in order to save you from yourself: “Oh, no, you can’t do that!”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, things were different between us, but in the moment, I was unaware of the damage I had caused, so I panicked, and I kept on talking. “It can’t be that bad, can it? Think about all the good things! Think about the kids! Everybody has flaws. He’s a good man, really, I’m sure he is. God never gives you more than you can handle. Marriage is supposed to be hard work. Don’t throw it all away!”
You were (both) crying even harder.
I am pretty sure I tried offering a hug at this point.
I knew that I had screwed up somehow. I just didn’t know how.
Then I even gave one of you a sympathy card with a picture of broken pottery and an inscription about Kintsugi, the Japanese art of using gold to make repairs to highlight the brokenness and make it beautiful—a metaphor for how I thought your marriage ought to be fixed.
And I had the audacity to do all of this without ever even asking you why.
I’m so ashamed of this now. You each came to me in confidence, seeking love and support, and I didn’t even bother to find out why.
I never knew if your husband was beating you or your kids. I never knew if there had been an affair, if he had bankrupted you, if he was doing drugs or had committed a crime. I never knew if it was something less concrete—irreconcilable differences. Emotional abuse. Mental illness. Some kind of trauma. Or something else entirely. I still don’t know. I never bothered to find out, either, because at the time, it did not matter to me. I simply could not fathom a justifiable reason for divorce.
You were in tears when you told me. The immensity of the decision was a weight on your shoulders that I did not understand—I see that now. You were completely tormented by the idea. You were in pain, and instead of offering you comfort, I’d stepped onto my soapbox to give you a good old-fashioned morality lecture at the moment you needed it least.
I have played your confessions to me over and over and over in my head with cringing regret, wishing I could go back in time and fix the damage I had done, imagining myself giving you a different type of response, one that involved a closed mouth and open ears—a thousand shame-filled should-haves.
I should have given you space to talk. I should have made myself available to you. I should have offered my shoulders and some tea and a box of Kleenex and given you the space to tell your story and be heard before I ever opened my mouth to respond.
The least I could have done was listen to you. I owed you that much.
If I had done those things, maybe our friendship would be different now. Less awkward when I see you.
Maybe we’d even be close.
One of you ended up getting divorced (and I never did find out why). The other one did not. But I see now that I did irreparable damage to each of our friendships. I never offered either of you the simple courtesy of listening to your side of the story.
I see now that you were not confiding in me out of a need to hear me weigh in on the morality of your decisions. I see now that you were simply trying to share your story with someone you thought you could trust.
I abused the gift of your trust.
I am so, so sorry.
I’ve had two more friends make the same similar confession to me since I’d bungled things with you, and I learned from my mistakes. I’ve tried to take a more supportive stance—closed mouth, open ears. They, too, had not made their confessions lightly. They had considered the cost. Their reasons were sound.
And most surprising?
They weren’t 100% on board with the idea of divorce themselves.
They weren’t looking for someone to talk them out of it.
They weren’t looking for someone to read them Bible passages or show them pictures of broken Japanese pottery to manipulate them into feeling a certain way.
They just wanted to feel like they weren’t alone during a very lonely point in their marriage. They just wanted to be seen and heard. They wanted a safe space to lay out the mess of their feelings, and I see now what an honor and responsibility it is to be chosen to help bear that burden.
Listening to them just talk has brought us closer together. It tipped the balance of our friendship the other way: forward, deeper, stronger.
I should have done this with you, my friends. It ranks among my greatest regrets. I hope that you are reading this now, and I hope you know that the damage I caused our friendship changed me. I have tried to learn from my mistakes, and I’m trying to do better.
Please accept this apology as my own golden attempt at Kintsugi. Perhaps there is still a chance that our friendship can be made more beautiful for having been broken.