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How to Talk About Divorce (Or Not) with Deborah Tannen

If someone close to you is going through a divorce, you may not know what to say. Do they want to talk about it? You want to be helpful, but it can be tough to intuit what they need. For some, opening up about their divorce is healing. Others would rather talk about something else—or do something active. So, what is the best way to communicate with friends and family members about how you can best support them?

Deborah Tannen is a New York Times bestselling author and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University. Her work focuses on how the language of everyday conversation impacts relationships, and she is best known for You Just Don’t Understand, the book that brought gender differences in communication style to the forefront of public awareness. Deborah is a frequent guest on national media, including The Today Show, PBS New Hour, Oprah and NPR. Her work has been featured in Newsweek, TIME and The Harvard Business Review, among many other publications. Deborah’s latest book, You’re the Only One I Can Tell, explores the language of women’s friendships.

Today, Deborah joins Katherine to discuss the positive and negative aspects of communicating with friends and family around the divorce process. She explains the concept of metacommunication, describing how you can best support friends who are going through difficult circumstances. Deborah also shares a gentle way to deal with someone whose talk is unhelpful and addresses the dynamics between mothers and daughters around divorce. Listen in for Deborah’s insight on why some value talk while others are cautious of it—and learn how to accept differences in communication to best serve the people you love.


How talk serves as the basis for women’s friendships

How unhelpful talk plays into our fears about divorce

Why some value talk more while others are cautious

The value of metacommunication in difficult contexts

Why a specific offer is better than ‘anything I can do’

How to gain an awareness of conversational styles

Why activities can be just as healing as talk

How to deal with a friend whose talk is unhelpful

The dynamics between mothers and daughters around divorce

How the opportunity to divorce recognizes women’s humanity

Why friends feel rejected when crises are kept secret

The healing power of talk in difficult circumstances

The differences among male and female best friends

The role of talk in making people feel understood


Deborah’s Website


The Center for Understanding Conflict

Miller Law Group

Katherine on LinkedIn

The New Yorker’s Guide to Collaborative Divorce by Katherine Miller

Email katherine@westchesterfamilylaw.com

Call (914) 738-7765


You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships by Deborah Tannen

You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tannen

You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen

You Were Always Mom’s Favorite! Sisters in Conversation throughout Their Lives by Deborah Tannen