Need Post-Divorce Support?
Feeling abandoned in more ways than one? Here’s what to do when your friends are no longer there for you.
alk about compounding a tragedy. Through divorce, your longtime relationship comes to an end. You need the love and support of friends like never before. You need some to listen, some to advise you—and someone to go out with you. While some friends naturally rally to your side, others pull away. These “deserters” may have only one thing in common: They’re all still married. “We had all kinds of social gatherings as couples, and girls-only events, too, like jewelry parties or going out to a club,” says Lori Vest, 44, of Troy, MI. “I felt close to all the women and they all, no exception, became unavailable to me after my divorce.” Vest’s all-too-familiar tale may summon the expression, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” but the key to dealing with camaraderie reversal lies in understanding the abandonment, and then taking steps to save standing relationships while forging new ones. That’ll help you feel on solid ground and ready to fully participate in your newly single life, with your support system in place.
Why it happens
Being dumped by friends in your time of need may come as a shock. You
think, How could they do this after all that I’ve been through? Sadly, their reasons make a twisted sort of sense.
|“Once you realize someone isn’t going stay friends with you, don’t take it personally—just move on.”|
They’re scared. “Your friends may fear that divorce is contagious,” says LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D., a Florida-based psychologist and social worker currently researching the relationship problems of strong women. “When you and your spouse split, you spark self-examination in other couples, who may realize they’re not so happy.”
They want to be fair. “Friends don’t want to take sides—you versus your ex,” explains Chicago-based divorce consultant Deborah Moskovitch, author of The Smart Divorce: Proven Strategies and Valuable Advice from 100 Top Divorce Lawyers, Financial Advisers, Counselors and Other Experts. Rather than be forced to choose between you and your former spouse, they may ostracize you both or, even more painful, choose one over the other. “My wife got custody of the friends in the divorce,” says Lee E. Miller, 48, from Morristown, NJ, who was married for 20 years.
They’re in a couples-only club. “In our Noah’s Ark society, married couples may prefer socializing in even numbers,” says Moskovitch. A third wheel can make a dinner party feel unbalanced and uncomfortable. Oddly, however, individual members of a couple may also give the cold shoulder. “I used to play poker with the guys from the group of couples we socialized with,” recalls Miller, author of UP: Influence, Power and the U Perspective—The Art of Getting What You Want. “A little while after the divorce they just stopped calling to invite me.”
They don’t think you’re fun. Ahem. Well, right now you’re not! You’re going through a traumatic experience, and it occupies your thoughts, dominates your conversation and may even affect your appearance. But, as shallow as it may be, people generally want their leisure time to be light and pleasant.
They see you as a threat. Perhaps the worst case of social mutiny is friends who view you as a spouse stealer or someone whose wicked single
ways might lead their partner astray. “The success rate of marriage hovers around 50 percent—that’s a lot of people striving for happiness,” points out Wish. “The last thing a married couple may want around is a newly single person who might suddenly seem appealing.”
|Steer clear of ex-bashing among new friends.|
What you can do
By taking action, you may be able to rebuild rapport. Above and beyond that, you can (and will!) develop a new social network.
Be proactive… “If friends appear to be rejecting you, tell them how you feel and ask them to maintain the relationship,” says Denver-based clinical psychologist Patricia Covalt, Ph.D., author of What Smart Couples Know. “Assure them that you are not a threat to them in any way. If they’re emotionally intelligent and were true friends, they’ll hear you.” But don’t push it. “Call old friends only twice. If they hedge or are unavailable, don’t call again,” says Pat Nowak, author of The ABC’s of Widowhood. “Tell them that you are available, invite them to call, then leave the next step up to them.” As Miller puts it: “Once you realize someone isn’t going stay friends with you, don’t take it personally—just move on.”
Expand your social circle. “At the time, I felt so abandoned and hurt, though as I thought about it more pragmatically, I realized what a drastic decision divorce is,” says Vest, who was married five years. “It’s a full-scale change, and who’s to say whether the old friendships would work in your new life?” Ask people for a friendship fix-up—an introduction to single people they may know. Try activities that intrigue you and involve interaction with others—join a knitting club, go to a wine tasting, take an exercise class, do volunteering. Yes, you’ll fly solo at first, but that’s liberating. “Make a pact with yourself that you won’t leave an event until you’ve spoken to three new people,” advises Wish.
Reconnect. In addition to finding fresh friends, get back in touch with pals from your past—a college chum you lost track of, a cool coworker from an old job. Think of family members you haven’t spoken to in a while—even if they live far away, a phone call or email exchange will make you feel less alone.
Speak civilly of your ex. Avoid slamming your former partner. “Tell married friends they’re free to remain friends with your ex if they wish,” says Kathy Stafford, author of Relationship Remorse. “Also, don’t pump them for information about your spouse.” Steer clear of ex-bashing among new friends, too—you have better things to talk about.
Seek guidance from a pro. There are lots of reasons to see a therapist and/or join a support group while recovering from a divorce. One you might not realize is it takes the burden off friends. “If you’re going through a hard time, your mood will be down for awhile, so it may be best to get professional counseling,” says Paul Dobransky, M.D., CEO of www.womenshappiness.com and www.doctorpaul.net. “That way, you’ll have better energy to give friends.” And they can then be there as friends for you, not therapists—a win-win situation for both of you.
Nina Malkin is the author of An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle.