Divorce lawyers work hard to split assets fairly after a marriage ends. But there's one valuable part of a couple's life that's hard to split and that is their shared friends. Friends often feel they have to choose one over the other. And if they do maintain friendships with both parties, social events can be messy and awkward if both are invited.
One couple who handled this matter in a spectacular fashion is Charles Bronfman, the former chairman of the Seagram Company, and his wife Bonnie who decided to divorce in 2011 after just three years of marriage. As the New York Times reported, to announce their split they planned an elegant cocktail party and sent out engraved invitations to 100 of their friends. The invite stated, "As we change the parameters of our relationship, our mutual admiration and caring is constant." They wrote that they looked forward to continuing their relationships with everyone and signed it, "Fondly, Bonnie and Charles".
Most couples don't divorce with the same degree of civility or the means to throw a glittery bash that assures friends that everyone is happy and on the same page, and there is no need for anyone to choose one person over the other.
All too often, the issue is not discussed at all. Divorced people may find themselves suddenly losing friends or not being invited to parties and dinners. People can feel hurt, pushed out or socially isolated. If the couple does end up maintaining mutual friends, new stresses loom such as will the ex be invited to a social event? Will it be awkward especially if he or she has a date?
Following are seven tips to help couples navigate the gnarly challenges of splitting or sharing friends after divorce.
1. Talk about it. Figure out exactly what you want and talk about it with your ex if possible.
2. Accept the Losses. Some friendships will come to an end. Your ex's closest friends probably won't want to keep you as a friend, just as your closest friends won't stay friends with your ex.
3. Split or Share? If you can, discuss with your ex whether you will split your friends or share them. Try to come up with a list of relationships both of you want to keep.
4. Agree on Rules. Try to agree on basic parameters on how to move forward with shared friends. For instance, don't use friends as weapons. Don't speak ill of the other or try to alienate people against the other.
5. How It Will Work. Figure out how to be around the ex socially. How do you feel about being around the other after a divorce? What if one or both is dating?
6. Communicate With Friends. Speak directly with mutual friends. Realize they probably don't know how to stay friends with both of you and will probably welcome some input. Do they invite both of you to social gatherings? What is everyone's comfort level?
7. Stay flexible. Know that as time passes, the feelings you have now will change. It is possible, particularly if you have children together, that both will eventually be more comfortable sharing friends and socializing in each other's presence.
But what if you and your ex are not on the same page, mired in conflict, unable to even discuss the topic of how to handle friends? A woman I know, Deanne, tired of stressing over the social fallout of her divorce, decided to tackle the issue head on in the following letter which she sent to all the friends she shared with her ex:
Dear (friend's name):
I want to thank you for all the help and support you have shown me during the difficult and sad time of my marriage ending. I realize we are now entering a new period where our relationships are being reconfigured. I want you to know I deeply value you and want to maintain our relationship. I do recognize that you may feel that you have to choose one of us over the other when arranging social events. I want you to know that it is not necessary for you to feel the need to choose should you wish to maintain friendships with both of us.
However I know there are potentially awkward social situations that might arise. I want to address this so that we can all feel comfortable as we move forward. I know in time, once the dust is settled and we are past this time of healing, it may be easy for me and Brian to be around each other, even with new partners.
Right now I'm not ready to be around Brian, with or without a date, in a casual setting. Perhaps we can agree that, if you invite me to something where he will be present, you will let me know in advance so I can decide if I want to attend. I hope in time this won't be an issue.
Lastly, please do invite me to social gatherings even if I am the only single person there. I need you guys and love to be with you. Looking forward to lots more fun together.
The end result? Some of the friends responded well to the directness of the letter. A few contacted her and assured her they would be sensitive to her requests and felt relieved it was being put on the table since they hadn't known how to handle socializing with both of them. A couple said they loved the letter and actually felt closer to Deanne because she had opened her heart. In a handful of instances, she was met with silence. Those friends had either decided to align with her ex-husband or were uncomfortable with the whole topic of divorce and sidestepped the issue altogether. The best result of all? Deanne herself felt resolved. As she put it, "I spoke my mind and that feels good. The letter separated my true friends from the rest. And I feel relieved now that I no longer stress over every social event wondering if there will be an awkward encounter with my ex."
What are your experiences with managing friendships after a divorce? Please share below.
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