Friendships Change After Divorce

  • Mutual friends have difficulty navigating divorced couples.
  • "Friendship custody" is often decided based on gender.
  • Some of your friendships will end, and you have to find ways of accepting it.

"Sometimes, lines in the sand are drawn, and people are asked to choose who they would wish to remain close to."

We, as members of society, have had to deal with awkward moments and conversations. These uncomfortable pauses in time when someone addresses you with a question or comment that causes anxiety and discomfort can cause a moment of panic, especially if it is addressing some of the white elephants in the room, such as your divorce or your ex-spouse.

A spouse can find themselves ingratiated into a group of your friends, tying them all together and adding their own spice to the recipe of the friend group. As a member of the group, you can get used to them being there, adding their own jokes or stories to the conversation, so when they are no longer present, it can feel like something is missing in the group. Many can feel like the dynamics are incomplete and can leave the group at a moment’s notice to join the ex-spouse in support of them.

The scenarios

Sometimes, it’s not intentional. Some people might start as friends with you and find themselves get closer to your ex-spouse over time. When the breakup and divorce occurs, they can’t help but gravitate toward the person they feel close to. It doesn’t mean they feel anything less toward you or your friendship. It just means that they also feel something towards your ex-spouse and want to be there for them, as well.

Sometimes, it is intentional. Sometimes, lines in the sand are drawn, and people are asked to choose who they would wish to remain close to. That can often be from the ex-spouses that are divorcing. It is a practice similar to that of divorce itself; where the dividing of property is applied to the dividing of social groups and friendships, to the point where one ex-spouse can say that “…what’s mine is no longer yours.”

Sometimes, in an effort to stay neutral during the situation, a friend or friends will exit stage left and disappear from the situation. They’ll stop hanging out with the group, due to wanting to remain loyal to both parties. Others might remove themselves out of fear of “catching divorce.” Studies from Brown University have shown that there is an increased likelihood of going through a divorce when a friend has gone through the process. Luckily for those divorced, this is a risk many see as worth taking.

In keeping up these appearances among friends, a divorced individual may be trying to distract themselves by seeking the support of friends. Some look to friends to distract them through an activity like grabbing a drink, going to dinner, working out, shooting hoops, or just watching television. These seamlessly average activities mean the world to someone going through a divorce. It shows them that people care and are there to support them through this tough time in their life.

Downs and ups

Keeping up with appearances among friends after going through a divorce can seem like an unattractive task, and sometimes, it can be. You can feel like you’re doing the dishes or folding laundry, simply by being near others who are too uncomfortable to ask personal questions about your well-being. Your mental health takes a leave of absence, and you feel the weight of the experience slowly driving the walls inward until you feel so isolated in your own feelings that can no longer imagine anyone ever understanding the experience.

However, being around people can be the cure for the soul. According to Mayo Clinic, adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of depression, high blood pressure, and an unhealthy body mass index. Adult friendships also are the source to longer lives, according to studies. Harvard studies have also found that social connections relieve harmful levels of stress.

Friends for all?

Despite what an ex-spouse might think or feel toward their former significant other, these benefits to social interaction and friendship extend to them during this difficult time in their life, as well. As challenging as it may be to consider their needs and feelings after the harsh divorce process, wishing them ill health is not productive and doesn’t accomplish anything. They need that support around them too, even if that means some of your mutual friends.

Sorting friendships among you and your ex-spouse can often be divided into two categories, according to Psychology Today: Friends before marriage (FBMs) and Friends Obtained While Married (FOWMs). According to the research, gender seems to be the defining characteristic that divides FOWMs. Many people outside of the couple use this division to get out of friendships with someone from the couple that they consider toxic or dysfunctional.

Friends dump friends frequently, and it can cause a lot of inner turmoil for the dumped. Acceptance won’t come easy, especially for someone already having to accept a divorce and all of the losses that come with it, according to The Huffington Post. It’s important to see how many of your relationships you can salvage and how often you’ll be able to keep up the appearances necessary to maintain the quality of a social life needed for your overall health and happiness.

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