Living: Under Friendly Fire
Navigating the division of friends after a divorce can be tricky. Here are a few pointers as to how to find your way through the battlefield.
Did you see that old movie “The War of the Roses?” What a horrifying picture of a couple who were literally willing to die — and did — over “stuff.” Neither was willing to let go of the material accumulation of their legal union, and their tenacity in that pursuit led to their demise. The movie was a chilling look into the extreme emotional limits that can be triggered when a divorce occurs.
Our society has plenty of experience with marriages failing and divorces occurring. We know the stats and as a culture, we really don’t see divorce as the shameful anomaly it was even 50 or so years ago. In those times, a divorced person could have worn a scarlet letter emblazoned on their chests or have an etched “D” on their foreheads to warn others that this was a damaged person, unfit for the union of marriage and the companionship of a partner. Tsk, tsk.
Now? Well, not so much! It’s commonplace, frequent, not unusual, expected, accepted, and well tolerated by society. We hear of it so often I think we forget how emotionally painful and exhausting it is for the divorcing couple and their children as well. We don’t offer much formalized support when someone divorces; there are few casseroles delivered and generally no flowers. Yet there has been both a death and disillusionment, and there is grief work to be done.
Along with houses, cars, children and loads of “stuff” (I think the lawyers term the stuff “property”) that has to be divided and dealt with in some definitive manner, there is also the question of the people who have been accumulated along the marital way. Who gets custody of them?
I’ve never seen a divorce decree that dealt with that custodial issue, so we must assume the division of friends happens without the benefit of a formal writ of sorts. It seems to me, as I have observed hundreds of divorces in the 30 years I’ve been in practice, that there are a couple of “norms” that seem in place.
Each partner retains the friends they had prior to meeting and marrying the ex-spouse. No one seems to argue much about this, seeming to accept: “Well, you had them first.” It can become complicated if the parceled-out prior friends have become attached to the soon-to-be ex and would like to remain friends with both. Caveat: Unless the divorce is totally a joint decision and both parties are actually happy about their parting, staying friends with both is not an option until all the legal and emotional dust has settled. Those who were there first need to stay put for the immediate future unless above requirements were met. After the papers are signed and the emotional wounds have somewhat healed, you can make tentative steps to explore if the friendship with the ex is possible.
The friends the couple have made and enjoyed because of and/or during the marriage, like neighbors and other people met through developmental phases of coupling, such as joining a church, country club, birthing classes, gym activities and so forth, now this can get tricky. Women will generally stick together and often pronounce to their spouses “I am standing beside Mary and I expect you to also. If you talk to John, I will take that as a personal betrayal. He is a rat’s @#%^ and deserves to be shunned.” And vice-versa, though neither party may have truly done anything other than grow apart, not work on their marriage, or decide that it was time to move on. There seems to be some kind of gender loyalty that prevails — unless flagrant abuses were committed; then the guilty one loses and the victim retains the friendships.
There are always exceptions because people are only predictable most of the time. Again, since divorce is too commonplace among us, most folks accept the situation and adjust accordingly. It is no longer “shocking” and “unbelievable.” Really sad isn’t it?
Family friendships almost always stick to their mutual DNA, proving that blood is thicker than legally-sanctioned unions. There may be distant cousins wherein blood as thinned out enough that no one really cares since no friendship actually existed. Occasionally, when there is a universally-accepted villain, bloodlines may prove disposable and again, the victim retains.
However, the “custody of friends” issue is handled, remain aware of the children’s feelings and their attachments. They generally have no influence in the outcomes unless their parents remain sensitive to them. While we certainly are a society with a high divorce rate and are adjusted to its prevalence, this doesn’t mean we should forget the lost promise and expectation the two folks who married once had. Maybe a casserole isn’t in order, but a hug or a kind word might be just the right thing to do.