Divorce and Friends

Q: Dear Dr. Hurd, I am going through a difficult divorce. It’s not about money, and we have no kids. It’s about friends. Many of our friends are shunning one or the other of us, with no reason or explanation. It’s confusing and hurtful. Some of the “friends” doing this to me were people who originally knew me, and not my husband. What can I do, if anything? Or is this a normal situation to go through after a divorce?

A: If by “normal” you mean “reasonable,” I’d say no, this isn’t reasonable. But it is typical.

There are two things you have to consider here.

One, your friends are not mind readers. They haven’t necessarily been through this before. They’re not sure what to do when two of their good friends break up. Most people are not independent thinkers. When confronted with a dilemma, instead of thinking it out, they either try to ignore it or hope it will resolve itself. No, this isn’t ideal or mature behavior, but it’s the way most people are, including possibly your friends. Out of regard for the connection you once enjoyed with them, you might consider approaching each of them individually. Say something like, “I know this must be hard for you too. Can I tell you what I consider some reasonable ground rules here? I’m not trying to impose anything on you. I just want to clear the air, and make it easier for both of us, if I can.”

What ground rules might you suggest? That’s for you to think about ahead of time, and run them by each of your friends individually. For example, you might say, “I don’t mind if you invite my ex- to some parties/events without inviting me. That’s probably best for everyone, at least in the first year. After that, who knows? Frankly, I will be hurt if I’m never invited at all. I hope we’re still friends, and I want to stay friends.” You might bypass the party invitation issue altogether by simply initiating things to do with individual friends or couples separately.

As you can see, the issue isn’t about ground rules so much as clearing the air.

I heard of a couple in my town recently who broke up, and sent out an email to all of their good friends. The email told them of the breakup, and also cleared the air about some of the matters I just suggested. This led, in at least some cases, to individual friends getting together with one or the other party to talk in more detail about what was happening. Some of the friends got even closer as a result of the breakup, and it was all because of this general “send to all” email.

I’m not saying that your style has to be email, or anything else. What matters less than the particular approach you take is that you take the lead on clearing the air.

Now for my second point. Don’t be a victim. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Isn’t it bad enough that I’m going through a breakup? Now I have to expend energy for my friends, too?” Yes, you do. Your friends didn’t ask for this breakup. You and your husband did. If you made another big life change, such as moving, you wouldn’t expect your friends to know your new address and phone number without your telling them, would you? Then how can you expect them to know exactly how to handle your divorce, when they’re friends with both of you? I understand that a highly mature and proactive friend will come to you and say some of these things first. Frankly, most people are not this mature and proactive. However, they still might make worthwhile friends.

Anybody who rejects such an overture is not really your friend, at least not any longer. That’s OK. Nothing lasts forever, and even your marriage reached an end. Endings are not tragedies; they’re simply endings.

It’s as much a beginning as anything else. Think of yourself as a pioneer. Your breakup is painful, but also an opportunity for a new beginning, at least in your personal life. Yes, you will lose some friends. You might even lose all of them. You might not lose all of them at once, but you might ultimately outgrow them all and move on to bigger and better things. Or, you might keep some friends, and they’ll be stronger bonds than ever.

It’s all going to be new, and you’re going to have to get used to it. Don’t view this as a bad thing. If you view it as bad, this will taint everything you do and say. Others, including your existing friends, will sense this and back away. It’s a shame, because none of it needed to be so. Watch your attitude, and go on the initiative in your behavior. Be both vulnerable and considerate. What doesn’t kill a friendship will make it stronger than ever. The ones that go by the wayside probably should have done so anyway.