I have two good friends who are about to divorce. I know one party better than the other, but I love them both and it turns my insides to acid thinking about it. Even though I’ve been through it myself, I’m surprised. Even though I know you cannot tell a thing about a relationship from how they behave in a social situation, I’m still surprised. I’d love to stay friends with them both.
But it’s almost impossible not to take sides. I split from my husband three years ago and it was horrible. It’s worth reiterating just how bone crunchingly painful divorce is because rather a lot of people think it’s easy. Part of that pain is discovering that people you thought of as friends, feel that your divorce is catching. Loyalties go tits up. Some distance themselves, in reassurance that it’s not going to happen to them. One ex friend was particularly angry with me, I think, for not confiding in her, despite my protestations that I didn’t want to put her in a difficult position. In turn I grew to dislike her condescension, even though I could see it was a defence mechanism. Now, three years down the line, the dust has settled and I’m a lot tougher (tougher, as in resilient, not harder). I’m living very close to my ex, so our daughter can see her dad several nights a week. I love my partner, but my daughter knows she comes first.
During the very worst of it, somebody said to me, The only way out of it is through it. And now I’m out the other side, friends with my ex and not wrecked, it makes sense. But if you are just starting the process . . . .
I don’t know enough celebrities or people so rich that they can say ‘I’m off’ and do everything through their lawyers, but those I know who have split all say it’s the most painful decision they ever made. Remember divorce is no two on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale just below death of a spouse. The fact that divorce is more socially acceptable doesn’t make it easier.
I googled, when friends divorce and found some hilarious articles on how to stay friendly with both parties, including illustrations in case you’re not sure what ‘listening’ looks like. And after two weeks of hearing how upset he was from my partner’s point of view, I picked up the phone and dialled her number. And just listened. It was, of course, a totally different story. And my partner and I ended up having a weird row about it of the ‘he said, she said’ variety. At one point, I shouted: ‘So you’re saying she’s a liar?’
‘No – all I’m saying is that if you look at the FACTS . . . ‘
We had to agree not to discuss it with each other.
But how it actually ended rang an eerie bell. For my breakup, for my partner’s breakup, for the breakup of my two friends. In all three cases, the man was very aware that the relationship was bad, yet they tunneled along, hoping that things might get better of their own accord. Or being unable to actually bring up the issue. Until the woman announces she wants a divorce. Then the man starts brooding that the woman has been ‘planning’ this. Or you could say that since nearly 70% of divorces are filed by women, even though their income regardless of whether they work or are stay at home, drops by about 30% initially, it seems to say that women it seems that women are the ones who have the bollocks to call a halt to a wretched relationship.
During our row I pointed out that what men might call ‘just hoping it would get better’ can translate as, ‘I’m going to behave like a total shit until she leaves me’. Pretty mean as my partner had once shame-facedly admitted to being a total tool, showing up late and being a passive aggressive twunt until his then girlfriend had dumped him. But true. We had to agree to speak to and be sympathetic to the respective parties, but not talk to each other about it. So if your friends are splitting up, here are a few painfully learned tips.
The Samaritans save lives with listening. It’s a powerful thing.
Don’t offer advice unless specifically asked.
Ask your girlfriend out for coffee and round for dinner. Even if she refuses, keep asking.
Your husband is overweight and balding and she has heard all his stupid jokes before. So don’t hug him protectively and make ‘jokes’ about her being ‘on the loose’ as though she’s a sexual cluster bomb.
Shut up. Listen. Don’t judge.