While we applaud Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s lovely letter informing, um, THE WORLD, of their thoughtful journey through separation, it got us thinking of how little is mentioned in the literature about separation and divorce on what to do about friendships.
Here, I’ve jotted down a few thoughts that might help you and your soon-to-be ex on how to ‘consciously friend’. And yes, we originated that term.
It is brutally hard to manage co-parenting arrangements during separation and after divorce. It’s painful divvying up time and belongings, homes and pets. Discussions of finances can send separating couples in to battle or hiding, licking wounds in deep, deep caves.
One often overlooked casualty of separation and divorce is the couple-friend, those married buddies you spent Saturday nights with, maybe going to a movie, having dinner, kvetching over your children’s shenanigans, or bemoaning the current state of American politics.
These connections often suffer, because unlike the purely personal decisions you and your ex might make, you’re not alone in navigating this area in the new landscape of your un-coupled life. Because those buddy friends have some decisions to make of their own.
And, it’s tough for them. Awkward. Divorce gives them the jitters. They’d rather not deal. Some of these friendships fade away, because no true effort is made on their part, or yours, to re-configure how to hang out.
Especially when there’s a lot of contention in a divorce, it’s hard for friends to know how to behave, what to say, how to support. Sometimes they’ll step up to the plate and ask. Other times they’ll avoid, which means they’ll avoid you. While couple-friends don’t feel like they’re choosing sides, often the spill out is to maintain friendship with the ex who’s the least ‘complicated’, who on the surface, at least, seems to be handling the divorce in stride, seems to be moving along in a ‘healthy’ way. Even if the ‘healthy’ ex might just be putting on a happy face so as not to lose connections.
So, the person who’s struggling honestly gets left in the dust.
And then there’s this ugly fact. It’s not unheard of, though rarely admitted to, that a wife or husband in a wobbly marriage may not want the newly single friend around as they represent freedom and availability. A spouse who fears their spouse has a roving eye may not want an attractive newly single pal around. Whether they think their spouse and friend would actually do anything is beside the point. But it brings up feelings they can’t manage. Unfortunately you, the attractive newly single friend, have to bear the brunt of their insecurities. Remind yourself this is their issue, NOT yours. If they’re a good enough friend, you could raise the issue and reassure them you’re not there to snatch their husband or wife away. If your relationship doesn’t allow for that kind of candor maybe it’s not worth salvaging anyhow. Move on and find a sturdier pal.
It is best when everyone can be honest about the awkwardness. Ideally a divorcing couple can be in agreement about sharing friends the way they (hopefully) agree to share their kids and/or property. Here are some suggestions for fostering an ongoing connection to your couple-friends:
1) Try not to talk about your divorce too often, unless something is really pressing and the occasion is appropriate for that kind of conversation.
2) Don’t make disparaging remarks about your ex, especially if you’re with friends who are trying to maintain relationships with both of you. But even with friends who are exclusively ‘yours’. It’s easy to fall in to a pattern of using friends for too much venting. Of course you have the need, and your good friends have the desire to support you. A little kvetching is okay. But don’t make it a repetitive habit. If this becomes the main activity of your time together, it will start to wear thin. You’ll find those great friends may not be seeing you as much as they used to.
3) Invite couple-friends to try some new adventurous activities with you. Obviously ones that don’t include looking for dates. Shows, sports activities, surf camp, puppet shows, whatever. Be creative. Be the change.
4) Even if, in your opinion, your ex is an evil troll who treated you like dirt, don’t expect your friends to feel the same way. Supporting you does not mean they have to join you in your deepest, darkest feelings.
5) Your divorce is a loss for them too. The times you shared together as couples mattered to them. They’re scrambling around trying to make sense of this new world order too. Be patient with them. Don’t expect unwavering support or constantly wonderful advice.
6) Set the sharing intention from the start. Send a letter with your ex to all your friends. Let them know it’s okay for them to maintain friendships with you both. Tell them you’ll harbor no grudges. Take this risk of honesty and your true friends will return the favor.