Divorce and Friendships: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Divorce and friendships can be a tricky thing. Divorce brings out the best and the worst in people, yes, but they don’t make it clear enough that this truth applies to not only you and your partner but the people who make up your world—your colleagues, family members, and friends.
Divorce makes people curious: what do you think happened to them? Divorce makes people panic: you don’t think that could happen to us, too, do you? It makes people withdraw: she just has so much going on right now, and I don’t know what to say to her. And sympathize: you’re sure you’re taking care of yourself, right? And it’s all, for the most part, done with the best of intentions, but those intentions don’t make you feel any less like an ant under a magnifying glass waiting to get burned.
Divorce and friendships
And yet, there’s a part of us that still wants to be under that magnifying glass, burn marks or not, because ultimately, we want to feel seen and heard and understood in a time when we feel anything but. Some friends rally—they break out the wine and get you out of your home and give you a reason to laugh again—and others disappoint. Some friends view you and your Ex as a unit, and now that you’ve gone your separate ways, it’ll be hard for them to reconcile this new reality with their old one. When the latter looks at you, they can only see the old you. And you’ll feel like you can never measure up to a standard you set for yourself. You just aren’t that person anymore.
Then you’ll have friends who feel like the rallying kind but are most definitely not. These friends can be single or partnered, but in any case, they are usually unhappy. They perceive you as having been “brought down to their level” and want someone else to join their pity party, often times leading to conversations that are circular and counterproductive to your divorce recovery. And finally, you’ll have friends who disappear entirely (often the same people who withdraw: see above).
As we said, divorce and friendships can be a tricky thing. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, and only some of it is within your control. But some is better than none. And because you’re here, we know that you’re smart and brave enough to survive this—you already understand that getting a divorce means stepping into the unknown, but that, of course, doesn’t mean you can’t prepare yourself for what lies ahead.
What to expect
After divorce, the nature of your relationship with friends might be different depending on a few factors, like whether or not those friends are single or in a relationship themselves and how long you’ve known them, for instance. Most of the time we leave relationships with the friendships we brought into them—it’s those friendships we made together that can be harder to handle. Many people lose their couple friends after divorce, but roughly one in six divorced people have said they became closer to their individual friends.
There can be awkwardness on both sides of a friendship after a breakup. With couple friends, especially, they may feel like they are being asked to take sides or bad mouth your Ex when they’re not around, even when you’ve said nothing to make them feel this way. Divorce also has a way of causing people to look inward at their own marriage, putting strain on cracks that may already exist. Divorce can be contagious in that way.
For you, seeing a couple go on normally—doing simple things like being affectionate or cooking dinner together—can be triggering. Logically, you know the world has kept on spinning even as your own personal universe feels like it’s come to a screeching halt, but logic doesn’t make facing the truth any easier. Seeing other people’s happiness might somehow feel like another loss, until one day it doesn’t and you realize you’ve really moved on.
Maintaining friendships after divorce
If you want to maintain your relationship with a friend your Ex and you share, try reaching out to them rather than withdrawing, and don’t make them take sides. You might set boundaries with your friends when breaking the news of your divorce by saying something like, “I know [insert your Ex’s name here] is a part of your life, too. I want you to know that I won’t badmouth him to you or use our friendship as a weapon against him. Your friendship means a lot to me.”
But sometimes, divorce can shove you even further outside your comfort zone. Once the dust has cleared a bit, you might look up and find that your friendships aren’t as strong as you’d like them to be, especially your individual friendships. Use this time to reconnect and strengthen bonds you may have formed before and during your relationship. People will often surprise you, welcoming you back into their lives and allowing you to create something new.
How to start over
If you’re looking to form new friendships after divorce, you might start with pursuing what makes you happy—do things you’ve always wanted to try or something you already know you’ll enjoy (a hiking club, archery, indoor rock climbing, salsa or tango classes, trivia night, or book club, etc.). Maybe you are looking for like-minded women who are also committed to personal development or rebuilding their lives after divorce? Open yourself up to where and how you might find them. Sometimes you can discover like-minded women in local groups on platforms like Meetup.org or Facebook. Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet someone in a virtual group who’ll become a new friend?
But if you’re not starting over completely—you’d like to reconnect with an old friend, for example—you can usually begin with something simple, like grabbing a glass of wine and video chatting. It’s a good, low-pressure way of catching up and getting to know each other again before making plans to do something that’s a larger commitment. (Especially if you are still social distancing, or you don’t live near one another, or if extra time and money can be a challenge to come by.)
When you break the news of your divorce to friends, you’ll get a range of responses, most of which have less to do with you and the specifics of your relationship and more to do with whatever’s going on in your friend’s own life at that moment.
But whether your friends react with curiosity, sympathy, panic, or something else altogether, know that, just like you, they are likely trying their best. Divorce and friendships can be difficult to navigate, but those relationships are also so important in helping us get through life’s challenges. Try not to isolate yourself during or after your divorce. Find or create—and then sustain—a support system. No matter what happens in life, we’ll always be in need of a good friend.
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