Who Gets Custody of Your Friends?
Divorce usually means dividing up part of your life that you and your partner once shared. Issues like who gets what, how much time children will spend with each parent and other matters can be handled by lawyers or through the court system.
Unfortunately, neither the legal system nor an attorney can decide for one important asset the gets left out of the divorce process–your friends. Losing friends during a divorce can be as equally hurtful and confusing as losing any other important asset.
Friends are often a primary source of support and comfort during a divorce. And divorce is one of the times you need friends the most.
So how this valuable group ends up dividing can harm or help how well you cope and recover from your divorce. Divorced people may find themselves suddenly losing friends or not being invited to dinners, parties or other social events.
Most people report that some friends disappear while going through a divorce. People can feel hurt, pushed out or socially isolated.
Sometimes, both parties can maintain the friendships they cultivated as a couple, but that’s not always the case. If both you and your partner are friends with another couple, some or even all of the shared friendships may dissolve.
Double dates to dinners, sporting events and films will most likely end immediately. You may even find it difficult to remain friends with even one individual within a shared friendship.
Spending time with a newly divorced friend may make couples feel uneasy if they were friends with both partners in the relationship.
WHY FRIENDS FLEE
It’s pretty common for people who are going through a divorce to look around and suddenly feel like many of their friends have headed for the hills.
Why does it seem that when you need them the most, so many of your friends disappear? What are the reasons that this often happens?
Divorce Reminds Other Couples of Their Fears.
Divorce and the possibility of changes it offers can feel dangerous to married people. Friends can get frightened when long-term couples part ways because it will often make them question their relationship.
As scared and vulnerable as you feel being newly divorced, your married friends have their own set of fears that may get acted out. If you and your spouse split up, does it mean that they might as well?
When people feel unnerved they tend to close ranks, thereby ending friendships.
You are Seen as a Threat.
As someone who's recently divorced, you may now be viewed as being eligible to many of your married friends, which can cause them to become threatened and invitations to cease.
Unfortunately, divorced women usually suffer the most because of the old-fashioned and misogynistic stereotype that a single woman is out to “steal” other women's partners.
Loyalties can be Divided.
You aren’t the only one who is having conflicting emotions dealing with your relationship ending–your divorce can make your friends feel conflicted as well. Other couples will be nervous about how things will turn out and whether they will be able to keep both of you as friends.
Couples will often feel uncertain about whether they should be loyal to you or your ex, and may even disagree with each other about what should be done.
Your Friends Feel Helpless.
Your divorce can make your friends suddenly feel awkward and helpless. They will often assume that nothing they do or say can help you, or that you would rather be left alone during this difficult time.
The result? They end up doing nothing and saying nothing, pretty much putting an end to your friendship.
Your Friends are Busy With Their own Lives.
They may not be ending a relationship, but your friends still lead busy lives with their own set of problems. Unfortunately, sometimes people get so caught up in their own lives and situations that they neglect their friendships with other people.
You may also discover that some people feel like they need to avoid what they perceive to be negative events or have no desire to deal with anyone’s issues but their own. It is better to let these types of people go.
Once the dust has settled and your mutual friends have decided to choose–or not choose–who to maintain their friendship with, there will still be work for you to do. You'll need to evaluate what friendships you're left with, determine the category they fall into, and act accordingly.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR FRIENDS
Even though you're going through a tough time, don't forget that friendship is a two-way street.
Like any relationship, friendships constantly change and require work. Keeping all of your friends may not be possible. But there are things you can do to make sure the friendships that mean the most to you don’t end.
It can be challenging, but it is possible to maintain your mutual friends, even while limiting contact with your ex.
When your friends make it known that you have their support and can rely on them to be around, make sure to let them know how much you appreciate them for doing so.
Remember to speak up and tell your friends how important their support is.
Express Your Thoughts And Feelings
Discuss your feelings about the breakup and how it would feel if you ever run into your friends along with your ex.
If you want to avoid your former spouse as much as possible, let them know that you are going to want some time away from him or her because it would be difficult emotionally for you to see them unexpectedly. Talking with your friends will help them understand the situation better as well as respect your boundaries.
Understand Your Friends Feel Uncomfortable as Well
Should they take sides? If your marriage can end, does it mean theirs will too?
What if they say the wrong thing? Having a couple close to them getting a divorce can bring up mixed emotions in people.
These emotions can suddenly cause them to feel awkward and uncomfortable around you or your ex. Let them know that this is okay and that you understand.
Don’t put Your Friends in The Middle
It’s up to your friends whether or not they will continue to stay friends with your ex-partner. Most of your mutual friends will want to keep both of you around.
Don't expect or demand that your friends take sides; it’s not fair to them. Respect the choices that these mutual friends make.
Don’t attempt to sway them one way or another–whether you agree with them or not, it’s ultimately their choice.
Keep Gossip to a Minimum
Don't be disrespectful when talking about your ex or the divorce around your mutual friends.
Talking about an ex neutrally isn’t always easy, but remember that if you overshare and talk about how horrible she was in the bedroom or how he didn’t make as much money as everyone thought he did, the negative chatter will most likely come back to bite you.
Mutual friends can feel awkward if you're being rude about your former spouse. Try to be as respectful as you can.
Unfortunately, some people live for other people’s drama and may continue the friendship under pretenses. Be careful about how much information you reveal.
Remember that people who encourage you to or enjoy trashing your former spouse are often the same types who will talk about you to your ex!
Ask If Your Ex Will Be Present
It is perfectly fine to ask if your ex is going to be attending any parties, dinners or sporting events that you have been invited to.
They should understand and not take it personally if it's easier for you to decline an invite because it is healthier for you at this time to stay clear of your ex. Running into your ex without knowing ahead of time that this is a possibility will only make things awkward for everyone involved.
ARE MUTUAL FRIENDS POSSIBLE?
Do you want the best of both worlds and not have to choose? For acquaintances, you don’t have to. You can still have lunch out or meet somewhere for a cup of coffee.
But for those close friends, the ones you feel the most comfortable with, those you can tell almost anything, the situation is different. You not only need those friends around, but you also need to know that they can be trusted no to talk about you behind your back to your ex.
Communicating clearly and as soon as possible about the nature of the newly shifting relationship between friends will make it easier for everyone. It can be as simple as assuring your mutual friends that even though you and your spouse are separating, you want to maintain their friendship and will try your best not to have them choose sides
TALKING WITH YOUR EX
Although it isn’t necessarily easy, talking with your former spouse is one of the best ways to maintain your mutual friendships and figure out what both of you want. Some things that will help:
- Set Rules. How do you feel about being around each other socially? Could you handle seeing them at a party, but don’t want to spend two hours sitting near them at dinner? What about if either one of you is dating? Try to agree on some basic parameters when dealing with mutual friends. Agree not to alienate your friends or use them as weapons against each other.
- Share or Split? Try to come up with a list of relationships you both want to keep as well as whether you will truly be able to share friends.
- Losses Happen. Some friendships will inevitably end. This is especially true of any friends you had previous to your relationship. Most likely your spouse’s close friend won’t feel comfortable maintaining a friendship with you, just as your closest friends won't stay friends with your ex.
- Be Honest. Speak frankly with your mutual friends. This helps prevent problems from popping up in the future. Most likely, they're unsure of how to remain friends with both of you, so your input will be welcome. Let them know the ground rules you and your ex have laid down. What is everyone's comfort level? Some newly divorced people tend to dislike spending time with couples because it's too painful to be reminded that they are no longer part of a couple.
- It Isn’t Just About You. If your children and your friends’ children liked to play together before the divorce, then it is important to try to keep your friendships just as strong as it was before. Divorce is hard enough for children to adjust to. Both you and your friends need to consider the needs and feelings of everyone involved including your kids.
- Remain Flexible. It may be a cliché, but as more time goes on, the things you are currently feeling will change and grow. It is certainly possible that eventually both of you will become comfortable sharing friends and hanging out in each other’s presence.
Building and maintaining friendships takes effort on everyone’s part. Divorce will often reveal who your real friends are. In some cases, you may need to be the one that decides that it is time to split up with mutual friends.
Sometimes the break up of a marriage can quickly end friendships that were already on shaky ground. Use this opportunity to get out of any toxic or one-sided friendships you’ve been meaning to ditch for a while.
How things work out after a divorce is often a good indicator of how the friendship would have ended anyway.
You might choose to end a relationship with mutual friends if you have communicated what you need from them but feel that your frame of mind isn’t being respected.
Even having your friends stick around may cause difficulties that didn’t occur to you. Sometimes keeping mutual friends can be hard because they remind the recently divorced of their own failed relationships.
HOW TO COPE
- Let Go. People will often feel conflicted when dealing with friends that were once a couple. They may end up taking sides even without meaning to by severing a friendship with one of the people in a broken relationship. Although it can add to an already painful situation, it is still a good idea to move on from friends who aren’t there for you.
- Find New Friends. Part of divorce is moving on from a relationship, which can also mean making new friends. Getting a divorce means your lifestyle will change, and you may find that you have little in common with the people that you used to hang out with.
- Seek Help. Talking to your friends is helpful, but sometimes talking with a counselor or therapist during a divorce can take a huge weight off your shoulders. This gives you time to maintain your friendships and not feel like you are burdening them too much with your problems. Counseling also makes it easier to cope with the stressful situations that accompany divorce.
Splitting up mutual friends can decrease much needed emotional support, precisely when it is needed the most. Often one of the reasons that couples have relationship problems is because they don’t have enough individual friends to help them establish a firm emotional foundation.
No matter how a relationship is going, it is good for a couple to have their interests, hobbies, and friends. Your divorce can change your life in ways–negative and positive—that you may have not thought. A devoted and loyal group of friends will help you cope.
Before you consider divorce or separation, speak to an experienced family law and divorce attorney to discuss your case as well as your options. A divorce lawyer can act as both a counselor and a sounding board for you during this stressful life event.
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