He's taking custody of our mutual friends

Dear Toni-

I'm a soon to be divorced, childless female in my early thirties. My almost ex Andy and I have been married for four years but together for over 10. Our relationship has had many ups and downs and eventually some deal-breakers emerged that led us to this difficult decision. Divorce is hard--there is no way around that and even when it is amicable there are losses, regrets and wasted years. What I didn't really anticipate yet am struggling with the most is the estrangement that is happening between me and a number of our mutual friends. When Andy and I met we both had our own circle of friends. Over time, his friends became mine and vice versa--and one of the great things about being married has been our social group.

However, once we began telling people about our decision to divorce, a number of "our" friends have been taking sides- mostly his. I have tried to talk to him about this and have asked him if he has been sharing personal details or communicating in some way that it would be hard for him if they remained friends with me. He usually offers a weak denial that leads me to believe he is not being completely honest with me. I have been very careful not to disclose much to our mutual friends and have never even hinted that I expect anyone to choose sides.

Since talking to Andy about this has not been helpful, would it be a good idea to approach a couple of these people to explore how they are feeling about the split and whether they plan to maintain friendships with both of us once the divorce is final? I fear that if I do nothing, I will end up virtually friendless. This can't be a unique situation for folks who divorce, so I'm hoping I can benefit from your experience working with it. --Being divorced By Friends

Dear Dear Being Divorced By Friends,

You are correct that divorce is painful--no matter how amicable it is, someone always gets hurt. Not all collateral damage can be anticipated as you are now discovering--and nothing tests friendship quite like having two mutual friends divorce one another and then having to negotiate a balanced way to remain connected to both. This is what your friends are likely struggling with--and even though they are "mutually" held it's likely that the attachments they have to you and Andy as individuals are not equal.

Therefore, it is a good idea to speak to them directly and a good place to begin is with those friends you have known the longest and/or have the strongest bond with- pre-Andy or early Andy ones may be best. You should also consider speaking first with those friends who seem the most neutral and have remained consistent in their behavior towards you since the news broke. Ask them out individually to lunch or for coffee as this discussion will be easiest in a one-to-one setting. Structure any questions you have or comments you make in a very open-ended way, which avoids asking leading questions that appear to be seeking a specific answer and could put the other person on the spot. Don't make any assumptions about how they are feeling, what they are thinking or any mention of other friends and their distancing behavior towards you. Try instead to ask for help in how you could talk to your group about this and what steps you might take that would help make this easier on everyone involved. Ask for suggestions on how they think you should handle future get-togethers or functions that you and Andy will both be at. Inquire as to how they think your group might feel about you going/not going when you know Andy will also be there. Ask if there is anyone else in the group that they think you should approach and talk to about the divorce and seek suggestions on how to handle any potential estrangement and fall out.

By asking open-ended questions, avoiding any negative comments about Andy or your mutual friends--and showing a sincere interest in making your post-divorce relationships work for everyone, you will help your friends to avoid feelings of defensiveness and/or disloyalty, which can lead to taking sides. You will also be demonstrating sensitivity to the difficulty they face by being in the middle--and whatever tales they may have heard about your marital wrong-doings will take a back seat to the caring and willing friend and soon to be ex that you show yourself to be.

(from September 2014)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

"Is my husband having an affair?"
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"Emotional Estrangement"

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Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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