Divorce–What to do when friends get in the middle
Every middle schooler knows the drill. Boy likes girl. Boy asks his best friend to ask her best friend if she likes him. A
“yes” means he talks to her. A “no” means he treats her like she fed Ebola virus to him.
From the first moments boys and girls begin to notice each other, they drag friends into the middle.
Especially when adults drag friends into their divorce. Or, friends insert themselves.
The game “telephone” demonstrates the problem. In the game, a message is whispered to the first person in a circle of people. Each person in turn whispers the message to his or her neighbor. The fun of the game is seeing how the message changes as it makes its way around the circle.
Not so fun in real life situations.
Problem 1: Effective communication requires direct communication
Honest, fruitful communication happens when one person talks directly to the person who needs the message. When couples drag friends into the middle–asking friends to talk to their former spouse or asking what their former spouse is up to–messages get garbled. Miscommunicated. Changed.
Spouses who depend on these find themselves acting on the miscommunication. Which leads to more conflict.
Be more mature than a middle schooler. Talk to your spouse directly about what you need to tell or learn from him/her.
Problem 2: You lose friends when you need them the most
Communicating through friends puts friends in the middle. Few want to be there. Especially, the good ones. At the point you need them most, friends pull away to avoid the awkwardness.
Instead, of putting friends in the middle, focus on talking to them about what you need as you move through divorce. This can include:
- Practical arena. Can they provide rides for children to activities, occasional meals, or help with household chores as you juggle single parenthood and losing the person who filled some of the house roles?
- Emotional arena. Can they be a shoulder to cry on? You will only want one or two of these. Not everyone wants to know your business. For the sake of your children and your future, not everyone should know your business. But, you also need somewhere to vent. Choose one friend who will be available and supportive, who will be discreet, and who will tell you what you need to hear.
For everyone else offer, “We are keeping the issues of the divorce between us and the professionals helping. You can support the best outcome by letting this stay private. Thank you.”
- Social arena. Can they continue to include both spouses in social events as appropriate? For couples who have engaged deeply with friends as a couple, divorce can be a double whammy. Losing a spouse. Losing a social group because friends don’t know how to pick. Encourage friends to continue to include both.
You can work with your spouse to determine if and when you both attend. You’ll find a rhythm that works over time. Just don’t ask friends to set it for you
Problem 3: You flounder emotionally when friends assume permission to gossip to you about your spouse
Divorce means you are beginning a new life. New goals. New direction. New challenges.
The worst possible use of your time and energy is to dwell on what is happening with your former spouse. Especially if it tears you up inside.
If friends assume they should be in the middle and want to dish the dirt on your ex with you–they really aren’t friends.
One phrase can help.
Assume a facial expression of confusion and disapproval while saying, “And, why are you telling me this?”
This one question:
- stops them in their tracks.
- makes clear you have no interest in dwelling on your former spouse’s activities. You have your own life now.
- forces the person to examine their own motives.
True friends will learn their lesson. False friends will leave. Both outcomes benefit you.
As you move through divorce, friends can be your most important resource. Or, your biggest problem. They stay a key support when they stay out of the middle.
For more insights on how to manage divorce well, please call The Resolution Center at 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We look forward to serving you.