Divorce is painful. Of course, it’s most challenging for the couple and children going through it, and it’s essential to stay focused on your family in this difficult time.
But it’s also good to be prepared for the ripple effect a split can have and how it may affect your post-divorce relationships and social life. Numerous prominent studies have examined friendships’ changes when a couple splits.
Friendships form throughout life in all sorts of ways. When two people marry, each typically brings certain friends to the marriage—perhaps some that become close to both of you. There are those true-blue friends we’ve had since childhood and some we found in college or early career days. Then there are the friends—individuals and other couples—you make as a pair, bonding through shared activities, the neighborhood, your jobs, or place of worship, and once you have children, school, sports, and so forth.
All of these types of friends can be deeply interwoven in your life as a couple, the happy center of your social life, with profound emotional ties all around.
And so, in a time that already feels lonely and isolating, when you need all the support you can get, it can be very distressing to find that there’s fallout in your friendships as a result of your divorce.
There are intense emotional dynamics all around. For newly divorced singles, hanging out with coupled friends may seem like a reminder of what you’ve lost. Or you may feel insecure about your friends’ feelings or support.
Unfortunately, the end of your marriage can also create painful awkwardness among your friends, who can feel pressure to take sides or choose between you and your ex, even if they love you both and want to remain neutral. The dynamic can be especially tricky with your coupled friends. One study, in particular, found that only in about one-third of cases did a non-divorcing couple stay friends with both exes in the divorcing couple. Sadly, some shared couple friendships dissolve entirely. But not always for the reasons you imagine.
For your married friends, your divorce can raise uncomfortable feelings and fears about the stability of their relationships. And these concerns are not unfounded. Divorce contagion is a real phenomenon. Research has demonstrated that a friend’s divorce dramatically increases the chances that a couple will split—one study found the likelihood increased by 75%, or 33%, when it’s a friend of a friend.
Friendships with individuals or singles seem somewhat easier to maintain. Even so, group events and activities can become challenging for a time. Your social calendar may seem to dry up when your old crew no longer knows who to invite. Will asking both of you cause tension? Will inviting one of you make it appear they’re choosing? Will it be awful if one of you brings a date? Established gatherings and events, like poker night, Friday happy hour, and holidays, are suddenly fraught for everyone, especially if you and your ex can’t stand to be in the same room. Your friends may feel stuck between terrible choices: choose one of you or lose you both.
The good news is that there are positive steps you can take to ease the tension and preserve friendships.
Don’t badmouth your ex to your shared friends.
You know who your own most intimate friends and family members are, with whom you can share everything. But when it comes to spending time with mutual friends of you and your ex, keep it positive.
Communicate with your ex-spouse about expectations regarding friendships.
Discuss how you’ll navigate social events, agree on some behavioral guidelines (don’t speak ill of each other or force friends to take sides, whether you’ll attend the same events or take turns attending things, etc.). Most likely, you’ll each keep your own closest friends, and they will more or less lose contact with your ex.
Be open and frank with your friends.
Explain those agreed-upon ground rules to the friends you share in common, who will likely appreciate some guidance. You might tell them you understand it feels awkward right now, but you value their friendship and would like to have them in your life moving forward, and offer reassurance that you don’t expect them to take sides.
Keep the divorce as peaceful as possible.
While it’s true that an amicable divorce is difficult to achieve, a bitter split and contentious court battle can make the process more grueling for everyone—and the fallout may last longer. For many couples, the more they communicate and collaborate in coming to mutually agreeable terms, the better, and the sooner they can begin rebuilding their lives, including friendships.
At SFLG, our goal is always to keep your divorce process as amicable and straightforward as possible. We utilize negotiation and settlement techniques to reduce the amount of contested litigation, resolving cases without a trial whenever we can. A resolution that’s the product of mutual compromise is often more satisfactory to our clients than a judge’s verdict and can be more cost-effective, as well.
By Debra Schoenberg