How Divorce Affects the Friends

It’s sad but true, and it happens all the time: A couple gets divorced. There are no kids, and it’s not about money. The problem is that their friends take sides: They shun one of the partners with no explanation. A website reader is going through this right now. She’s confused and hurt because some of those friends were people who originally knew her and not her husband. She asks me if this is normal.

Dear Reader, if by “normal” you mean “reasonable,” I’d say no. Nonetheless, it is typical for people to take sides. Friends are not mind readers, so they haven’t necessarily been through this before. They’re not sure what to do. Unfortunately, many people are not independent thinkers, so when confronted with a dilemma they either ignore it or hope it will resolve itself. It’s not ideal or mature behavior, but it’s the way many people are.

Out of regard for the friendships you once enjoyed, you might consider approaching them individually. Say something like, “I know this must be hard for you. Can we come up with some ground rules to clear the air, and, if possible, make it easier for all concerned?” You might suggest that you don’t mind that they invite your ex- to some events without inviting you. Tell them that you’ll be hurt if you’re never invited at all, and that you still want to stay friends. In fact, you can bypass the invitation issue altogether by simply initiating things with individual friends or couples. The issue is primarily about clearing the air.

A couple I know who recently broke up sent an email to all of their good friends to clarify some of the matters I suggested above. Some of the friends became even closer, and it was all because of this group email. You can choose your preferred avenue through which to do this, just so it breaks the ice and makes everyone comfortable.

Don’t be a victim, and 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?” Well, yes, you do. Your friends didn’t ask for this. If you made any major life change, such as moving, you wouldn’t expect your friends to know your new address without your telling them. It’s the same with divorce. The occasional mature and proactive friend will come to you and say some of these things, but frankly, most people are not that mature and proactive. But that doesn’t mean they’re not your friends.

And if somebody rejects your overture? That’s OK. Nothing lasts forever. Endings are not tragedies and are as much a beginning as anything else. Your breakup is painful, but it’s also an opportunity for a new beginning. You’ll lose or outgrow some friends. The ones you keep will be stronger than ever. And just because you are divorcing doesn’t mean you’ve lost the ability to make new friends who can accept the new you.

No matter what you do, it’s all going to be new and different, and the sooner you get used to it, the better. If you view it as a bad thing, it will taint everything you do and say. Your friends, both old and new, will sense this and back away.

Divorce and breakups are always sad, but in order to keep up your social activities, you need to adjust your attitude. Give your friends some room to cope by being both vulnerable and considerate. What doesn’t kill a friendship will make it stronger than ever. And the ones that go by the wayside probably should have done so anyway.



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