We have all most probably encountered it at some stage in our lives – who do we stay friends with after a couple divorces or separates?
The text book answer is to stay friends with both parties of course but that’s a mighty tall order to fulfil as we are dealing with human emotions and judgemental attitudes here as well.
Fortunately I think that most normal friends witnessing a couple of family splitting up can actually see both sides of the coin and actually do stay away from taking sides.
However, in the real world the divorcing couple will normally expect you to commit to one side or the other and this pattern often establishes itself way before the final separation or divorce. This is due to our blame culture where we often ignore our own responsibilities for the situation we find ourselves in – it’s always someone else’s fault – black & white, when actually there will be many shades of grey that overlap and it is often not until many years later and upon a lot of reflective thought that we suddenly realise that we were actually partly to blame for the failure of that relationship.
So, how do friends handle the initial expectation from one part of the divorcing couple to now ignore their former partner? It can be really tough for friends of separating partners – you know, who do you invite to the family party – him or her – can you invite both? – what will happen if they both meet at the daughters wedding? – god forbid but what will happen should each one bring a new partner? – The scenarios are endless.
Having experienced several friends now go through divorce and separation proceedings and each one has found its own set of issues, I can say that there is no set advice or guidance in the form of a one size fits all answer.
However, there are a few outline framework procedures that I would certainly adopt in order to ensure that your former couple remain friends long after the divorce or separation.
Firstly – always try to balance being sympathetic and understanding to your main friend but without actually agreeing to any of their own conclusions regarding blame etc. – remember your only hearing one side of a very unbalanced perspective. This ensures that you do not reinforce your friends biased viewpoint and you can still remain impartial – very important. This may require exemplary diplomatic skills but if your conscious of this fact can actually be quite challenging and rewarding – its like being tested yourself.
Secondly, make it clear to your main friend that you may still see or respond to their former partner from time to time after the divorce or separation for obvious and practical reasons. Most of our lives are intertwined these days with other stuff such as the sharing of the school run or business contacts for example. It needs to be made clear by way of simple inexplicit references with your normal conversations that this will happen. This signals to your main friend that divided loyalties are not actually that simple to divide in the manner that they may be thinking. It also ensures that you are not accused of being a ‘Judas’ and losing the confidence or friendship of your main friend when they find out that you have had contact with their former partner.
And thirdly, never, ever say what you really thought of their former partner even if you think that having empathy with their feelings will help them over this period – Just remember that a high proportion of separating couples do actually end up getting back together again & releasing a load of sympathetic venom last month will stick in your reunited friends throat like barbed wire and your relationship with them both will never be the same again.
Within these three basic guidance rules will be a whole host of anomalies that will occur that will need careful thoughtful planning on what your responses will be for each individual case of a divorcing couple. It wont be easy – it never is especially when dealing with a high emotional content. But trying to frame your responses within these three basic guidance rules should ensure that your friendship is retained and remains flexible for most situations that may occur over the coming years.