Q: You suspect that one of your friends might be separated. How do you ask without being presumptuous?
A: It’s simple: Don’t ask; instead, open a conversational door that will give your friend a chance to tell you. Talk about what’s going on in your life, and then turn things over to your friend to talk about his or her life. Either the relationship is still alive, or it’s not. Even if your friend doesn’t make an outright proclamation — “Oh, we’re not together anymore” — you should be able to discern the situation from clues in the conversation. Are there mentions of doing things as a couple, or are the references to solo events? Listen closely — it might be something as minor as “we” went biking last weekend as opposed to “I” did it.
If you can’t resist the urge to ask, make the question a soft one. Not: “Have you broken up?” But rather, “I haven’t seen John for a while. How’s he doing?” Keep in mind that you’re touching on what could be a very delicate subject, and you don’t want to inflame the situation.
DENNIS WORK, founder and editor at Guyvorce.com
A: Being direct is fine; being insensitive is not. Asking, “Is something wrong?” is an example of the former. Blurting out, “Are you and Matt separated?” probably crosses a line.
Focus your concern on your friend, rather than on the status of the relationship. Saying, “You seem a little down. Is everything OK?” shows you care without being nosy. But if you don’t really care and are just curious, then you shouldn’t be asking anything at all.
Remember to respect your friend’s space. If she doesn’t want to answer your question, let her be.
KAREN COVY, divorce attorney and coach