Picture the following scene.
You are at the wedding of a good friend. Picture yourself following behind the newlyweds as they hold hands and walk down a path or roadway away from you. You and all their other guests, their significant family members, and friends, are following behind the couple. Consider yourselves travelers on the road we call ‘life’ – offering friendship and support to the happy couple.
As time passes people will come and go naturally in the group of friends. Changes to the group are normal as friendships wax and wane.
Now picture the couple becoming angry at each other, dropping each other’s hands and walking towards different sides of the road. This action represents, in my analogy, the initial marriage breakup and separation. As the couple becomes separate entities, the road gets wider and starts diverging. Now single, they can each choose their own direction.
As the friends and family of the couple, following along behind them, where will you walk? Who will you follow? Will you hesitate and stop following? Initially most good friends and family try to stay in the middle of the road. This is a difficult place to be as the road widens. What kind of friend are you? Where would you walk and how would you behave?
Let us examine the available choices. History, values, beliefs, and interests will all impact how you behave.
1. Middle of the Road: Friends stay unbiased and keep both friendships.
- Remaining friends with both parts of a couple is difficult in an acrimonious separation and divorce but easier if things remain amicable. Good friends try to remain fair to everyone and do not judge. This is not an easy path to take or stay on, but wonderful for the long term if it is doable.
- Often if asked to step to the side of one ex-partner, these friends will change into the other ex-partner’s lane as they feel their wish to be friends with both has been dishonored.
2. The Lane Change: Friends pull to one side to support ‘their’ friend.
- Old pre-couple friends, some individuals, and couples will start to step to the side of the road of whom they want to support or stay connected with. Separation and divorce can be polarizing, especially if it is not a mutual break-up. People may take moral sides or just prefer one person of a couple.
- Sometimes one ex-partner may not want to maintain friendships and may ignore or rebuff friends offering support. They do not want to justify their decisions or be judged and may not value friends at the time of the split. (Spoiler alert – this is often regretted later.) Thus rejected friends may end up changing lanes and remaining friends with the more receptive ex-partner.
- Family members are often pressured to be on one side only and, although painful, this is not necessarily personal. Family may not always choose family, especially if put under pressure.
- Judging one ex-partner to be ‘in the wrong’ will make some choose sides swiftly.
3. The Slow Down: Friends take a wait and see approach.
- Some friends may become scarce. These friends do not want to put in the energy during hard times. They may be fair-weather friends who do not stick around when the environment is not all sunshine and roses and they may show up again when the sun returns.
- There is some social stigma attached to being single. Couples and single people have different interests so some relationships will change, as they just do not invite their single friends to couple activities. Seems unfair, which it is, but if they feel uncomfortable the new single may feel uncomfortable too.
4. The U-Turn: Friends decide to turn around and walk away.
- Divorce is a difficult thing to watch and some friends do not want to deal with it or do not know how to deal with it. These friends may be there at the beginning but vanish when things get difficult.
- Insecure couples fear a breakup may be contagious and see a newly single person as a threat. The less secure their marriage, the more uncomfortable they will be and the faster they may disappear (ref: Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends, by Dr. Bruce Fisher and Dr. Robert Alberti).
- Culture or belief systems in some do not allow for marriages to end, so these friends will quickly judge their divorcing friends and walk away.
5. The Ditch: Friends that disappear.
- Some friends, hearing of your separation, immediately ditch you and vanish into thin air. They have no contact with either you or your ex. These people may just feel uncomfortable. Do not take every lost friendship personally. Other people may be having personal issues and avoiding friends in general – not just the separating couple. We never know what is happening in someone else’s life or mind. Let friends go as they choose. They will return on their own time if your friendship is meant to be.
6. The Swerve: Friends veer back and forth supporting no one.
- Some ‘friends’ pump each ex-partner for negative information, badmouthing their ex-partner to encourage more. They then either tell everyone that will listen all the personal details that were not meant for public consumption and worse, they may then take the info back to the ex-partner and play the couple off against each other. This behaviour can do major damage. I discovered some of this happening during my own separation while comparing concerns with my ex. These ‘friends‘ were immediately no longer friends with either of us.
7. Rubber-neckers: Gossipy Bystanders.
- A few friends may intensify their friendship to get a closer look at the damage caused by the breakup. When the ‘accident scene’ is cleaned up and everyone has moved on, they will be nowhere to be found. Seeing other people suffering makes them feel better about their own lives.
- Each ex-partner usually does deserve some support. Life can be slightly easier during a divorce, for everyone involved if both partners keep some supportive friends. You should be grateful when this happens, even if it means losing some friends.
- Loss of friends and family is really is a sad reality of a separation and it should not be viewed as a competition.
- Try not to take it personally. You may not have much to do with some decisions friends make.
- Time often makes it easier to be at least friendly acquaintances with the friends that went with your ex-partner. If you have children you will probably run into them occasionally.
- The upside of separation and all the change is that new friends will appear that will have no investment in the past. This new friendship can be less complicated and be a release from the tensions of friends that are invested in the past.
- One of the best aspects of going through a separation and divorce is learning who your true friends are. They are the ones that think you are worth both the energy and time they invest in you when things are rough. These true friends will help you when you really need help. These friends will become more and more obvious! Like Oprah Winfrey said,
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
Below are some other blogs on friendship that may be of interest:
If you are having trouble managing your separation, or are worried about a friend or family member, please contact me.
I do offer a simple strategy session to see if my coaching is a good fit for you. Please call, or email, so we can discuss how you, or your friend, can benefit from coaching.
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