My husband and I were newlyweds the first time friends of ours got divorced. My initial reaction when I found out was one of shock and concern. I couldn’t fathom the thought of anyone in my age bracket getting divorced already.
Now, over a decade later, friends are getting divorced left and right. And sadly, my initial reaction to hearing the news of another failed marriage is no longer shock and concern. My first thought now tends to be a more selfish one: How is their divorce going to affect our friendship?
Do I have to divorce my friends as they divorce each other?
We currently have two sets of friends heading toward divorce. One couple has been married for over 20 years. He returned from a year of geo bachelorhood to discover that his wife had become so proficient at living without him that she wanted to continue doing so. Fortunately, I wouldn’t consider her more than an acquaintance who happens to be married to my husband’s friend, so I’m not forced to choose between husband and wife.
That’s not the case with our other friends who live three houses down from us, a couple with whom we went on double dates and organized impromptu summer cook-outs. My husband is friends with him, I’m friends with her. But that proximity that was once so convenient and fun now complicates matters. Now every time Husband, who moved out months ago, comes over to our house to hang out, Wife ends up interrogating me the next day because she saw his car on our driveway.
We are stuck in the middle. The friends we once knew have morphed into unpredictable bombs of anger, resentment and tears -- a once loving couple who can no longer talk about anything but the transgressions of their not-so-better halves. As much as we warn them of our intentions to maintain neutrality, it’s impossible not to get caught in the crossfire of their battle.
So how do we handle it when our friends are going through a divorce? Here are 4 bits of insight I’ve picked up along the way:
1. There are two sides to every story. I typically hear the female version of the “why we’re getting a divorce” story, while my husband gets the male perspective. When we compare notes, it’s as if we’ve watched two different movies with the same cast. It’s very easy to form judgments after watching one movie but not the other. So try not to form judgments at all.
2. Keep your opinions to yourself. OK, I know I just said not to form judgments, but in case you do, keep those thoughts to yourself. Agreeing with your friend that her lazy husband’s unwillingness to put his dirty socks in the hamper is the direct cause of the dissolution of their marriage accomplishes nothing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer an ear for her to vent. She has a lot of emotional baggage to dump. But agreeing with all of her gripes isn’t your job as a friend and ultimately isn’t productive. (Not to mention the fact that all those agreements will come back and haunt you in the event that they reconcile.)
3. Establish boundaries. Yes, you can offer a shoulder to cry on. But at some point you need to set some boundaries regarding both your time and your comfort level with the information she shares with you. In my case, my friend started ringing my doorbell or calling to unload for hours on her days off from work, even though she knows that I work from home and she was interrupting my work day. After this happened several times, I finally explained that I no longer answer my phone while I’m working in the morning. I also expressed my discomfort with the phone calls she’s made to me in front of her children. She was often crying and discussing adult content that her kids didn’t need to hear. Now, she waits until her kids are out of earshot to call.
4. If all else fails, prepare yourself to lose one or both of your friends. I don’t think our friends intended to put us in a position to choose between them, and we would never choose one over the other. However, as my friend comes to rely on me more and more, our husbands’ friendship seems to be fading. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the next time my friend sees her husband’s car at our house, she’ll decide that it’s just too difficult to be friends with me because she can’t trust that what she tells me in confidence will stay that way if I’m socializing with him. Either way, I just don’t think it’s possible for all of us to remain friends.
I hate to think that we have to divorce our friends just because they are divorcing their spouses. But in my experience, it’s seems inevitable.
Have you lost friends because they got divorced? How do you handle your friends’ divorces?