What is the role of a friend or family member when someone they care about is getting divorced?
Divorce is a loyalty test. It's all too easy to fail that test even when you think you are acting in a friend or family member's best interest.
Case in point: Years ago my husband and I became accessories to a marital split. At the time we owned a two-bedroom condo in Boca Raton and invited Frank and Roberta and their daughter to spend Christmas week with us. Our four-year-old was thrilled to have her friend for company, and up until that horrific evening when the sky fell in, Frank and Roberta were the perfect house guests.
In the afternoon the adults lounged by the pool while the two girls played with their Barbies. The children had been getting along famously until they started arguing about what I can't say. One of the older residents complained about the noise and said loud enough for us to hear something about parents who can't control their kids. The next thing we knew Roberta and the man were in a shouting match.
We made light of the incident, only Roberta was still carping about the old man when we went out to dinner. Then, when Bonnie accidentally spilled a glass of water all over her mother. Roberta slapped her across the face. Clearly Frank was fed up with Roberta's behavior. He exploded. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Roberta shot back, "You never take my part. Like at the pool."
"That does it," he screamed. "I want a divorce."
Speechless, I watched Roberta spring out of her chair. I waited, then followed her into the bathroom.
"Did you hear him?" Roberta asked. "He wants a divorce."
"Oh, he didn't mean it," I said. "He's just angry."
"Well, it's okay with me. Can't you see what a weakling he is?"
I held my tongue, dreading the return to the condo.
I made up the hide-a-bed in the living room for Frank. Roberta sequestered herself in the guest room with Bonnie. My husband and I took our daughter to bed with us. Through the thin walls we could hear Bonnie sobbing.
What were we going to do? Ask the couple to leave? Play possum? Sit the two of them down and try to sort things out? My husband and I decided to wait it out.
Frank disappeared before breakfast. Roberta stayed in her room. My husband and I decided to take the children to a water slide park. We kept adult problems at bay with cotton candy and ice-cream. When we got back to the condo Frank and Roberta were waiting for us. They'd gone to the mall. Gleefully, Roberta showed off her new Louis Vutton handbag and they presented us with a set of alabaster elephant bookends.
No apologies. Nothing said about the night before.
I have to admit I breathed a sigh of relief when the couple left a few days later. The friendship withered and died. I learned that the couple divorced; Frank remarried; Bonnie lived with her father until she was shipped off to a relative. Roberta had died of a drug overdose.
My husband and I did not want to get caught in the crossfire. We would have done more if we were asked for advice --- lamely, perhaps, either one of us might have suggested the couple go for marriage counseling. Clearly it is unrealistic to expect friends and families to make a real difference if individuals are set on separating. We can show support by not going into our foxhole, but no one wants to get entrenched in a couple's problems.
Accessories to divorce walk a fine line. There is no such thing as neutrality. You can't be in two camps at the same time. As I said before, divorce is a loyalty test.
I'd be curious what others think their role is when friends and/or family members seeks advice. I welcome your comments.