Friends and Divorce Part 1: Who Gets Custody?

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Unfortunately, these days, divorce is all around. Most of us know at least one person, if not ourselves, who has gone through it.

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If you are a friend of the couple going through divorce, things can get awkward, to say the least. You might not know what to do or say. You might not know how to navigate the pair… if you hang out with one, should you try to even it out and hang out with the other at some point, too? If you’ve known one of them for much longer, does that person automatically become the one you “end up with”?

And for those of you IN the divorce. These friendships can burn. Your feelings might be unintentionally hurt, or you may wonder why some of your friends don’t contact you as much. There is usually a very awkward time when everything is fresh and brand new. The wounds of divorce are still open and the scars haven’t begun to form yet.

We’ve been through it and we know plenty of others who have, too. Based on our own experience and the questions/concerns/thoughts of those we’ve talked to who were either going through divorce themselves OR friends of the divorced, here is a little list of advice for all parties.

DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY

FOR THE FRIENDS: Especially not right now. When a person is in the throws of their own divorce, they might not have the emotional room for one more person.

Sorry, not even you.

The pain they are going through may be too deep or too new to be able to process. Or perhaps they are only processing with a therapist, or a sibling, or another close friend who for whatever reason is the right person for them in the moment. Divorce changes everything, and a really good friend will know when to give space. Maybe the fact that YOU are the person they used to see often with their ex hits too close to home and right now you are a trigger to their psyche. 

A year or two later, they might not even be aware of all the texts you sent that went unanswered or voicemails you left that went unreturned. They were in survival mode. 

FOR THE DIVORCED: Some of your closest friends might not know how to behave around you. They might have unanswered questions (that you may or may not be ready to answer). Perhaps they’ve heard rumors, but nothing from you directly. 

They could even be grieving for you. 

Bottom line is, unless the communication has been clear and direct, people don’t always know what to do or say and sometimes distance is okay. Don’t take it personally. 

DON’T STAKE YOUR CLAIM. 

FOR THE FRIENDS: This can be hard, but unless you have a clear boundary already set – AKA, one of the divorced is your best friend since kindergarten – then it’s really best to be friendly with both parties. Unless there was an affair (or two or three), or someone was abusive, etc, you might not have a “reason” to dislike either of your now divorced friends. 

Try as best as you can to be neutral. Remember, we are adults. The couple getting a divorce might even be friendly with each other again some day. Kindness or neutrality is way better than rudeness or hostility. 

FOR THE DIVORCED: We are not high-schoolers. Therefore, it is (in our opinion) totally inappropriate to lay claim on a human being. Don’t do this to your ex-spouse. Divorce can bring out the worst in people… but try not to let jealousy of friends and insecurities about your place in your friendships cause this kind of toxic behavior. We know of a women who literally said, “Do not talk to {this friend} anymore. I want her to be my friend, and she can’t be yours.” Not okay. 

Things will happen naturally, and your ex has every right to speak with other human beings – even the ones you think you now control. 

This applies ten fold if there are children involved. Kids can sense this sort of thing. Don’t put them in that position. Adults should be respectable, behave themselves, and allow for their kids to navigate an already new territory without any inappropriate boundaries for their other parent. 

DON’T LET YOUR TOXIC EX CONTROL YOU (ANYMORE!)

FOR THE DIVORCED ONLY: See above. If your ex does “stake her claim”, guess what? You don’t have to obey. 

Talk to who you want to. Connect with those you still want to stay connected with. Look toward your future, not your possibly unhealthy and controlling past. (But hey! Maybe the ones you are “banned” from talking to aren’t folks you necessarily want to keep around, anyway.) 

KEEP YOUR CLOSEST FRIENDS AND KEEP THEM CLOSE. 

FOR THE FRIENDS: If your closest friend is getting a divorce, you probably already know what to do. Come over on a hard day with a bottle of wine and some fancy cheese. Drag them to fight night at your house. Offer to take a walk. Listen to them AGAIN, while they cry or curse. Work out with them in their basement. Make the rounds to all of the free “first week” yoga classes near you. Offer to accompany them to church, or even the grocery store. Do all you can within your own capacity to support this person.

FOR THE DIVORCED: Let your friends love on you. (Guys, this applies to you, too.) Try not to close up, lock your doors and turn out the lights every single night. Let them in. You will need them in your roughest moments, no matter how painful it is to talk or process. Tell them when you need them, and let yourself be vulnerable. Your friends will not laugh at you. They most likely will appreciate the honesty of your current state and act in your best interest. 

BE HONEST AND DIRECT

FOR THE FRIENDS: We are all about honest and direct communication. This means saying hard things. LIKE, “I’m so sorry for what you are going through. And honestly, I’ll miss the four of us getting together for our once a month dinners.” It might mean crying together. It might mean saying, “I do not at all agree with what you did. But I can still be here for you now.” It might mean saying, “I truly think you need help. Do you want help finding a therapist?” 

It could also be, “I’m throwing you a party because this is the best thing that’s happened since the day you got married!”

FOR THE DIVORCED: Sometimes we get sick of talking about our sad stories. During the weeks and months surrounding divorce, it can feel like a tunnel, filled only with the “D” word and all that goes with it. You might dread going to grab a drink with your friend because it means talking about your divorce or your ex yet again. This is when it is okay to say. “I want to talk about anything BUT my divorce. Can we make that a thing tonight?”

If all you need to do is call that friend and talk ONLY about your divorce a week later… so be it. It’s a strange time of life and we really have to navigate it to the best of our abilities. 

SO… WHO GETS THE CUSTODY OF THE FRIENDS?

The answer to this clever question is fluid. It will be awkward. It will be hard. It will be weird to figure out what’s going on some days. But the dust will settle and friendships will come out looking different than they did before. 

Some friendships you thought were solid will crumble. 

Other friendships you thought would never amount to more than acquaintance-level will blossom and grow like you never imagined. 

And other friends will circle back around and make a way for your future….. which we will get to in PART 2. 

1 comments on “Friends and Divorce Part 1: Who Gets Custody?”

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