So you are going through a divorce and your spouse is bashing you to all your mutual friends and neighbors. Suddenly your friends are found in an impossible position of being forced to take sides. Consider how similar this dilemma is to children of divorce who are caught in the middle of two angry parents that they love. Sharing with a good friend and family member is important however, slandering someone just to get friends to join with you against your partner is not healthy. Even if, what is being shared by your spouse is true, they have no business slandering you to your friends or coworkers. This creates painful loyalty binds for your friends. Some of your friends will try to avoid you both, others will feel caught in the middle while some will simply choose the friend to support and ignore the other.
Your spouse may be sharing negative information with your friends because they are in shock or because they are desperate for emotional support. Although the need for support is reasonable the poor judgment of putting your friends or neighbors into this position can be disastrous. Sometimes the negative sharing is intentional, vindictive, competitive and simply a selfish desire to add people to “his/her side.” Try to remember that the friends who know you will likely not believe the gossip anyhow. If your spouse has gone to mutual friends to get them to side with them it is important that you not do the same thing. Find one friend and let them be the person you complain to. It is best to leave all the other mutual friends out of the venting and gossip. This includes social media and never involve their workplace friends
Most friends caught in the middle feel very uncomfortable and would prefer not to be dragged into your drama. Unfortunately, that is not true about everyone. Those friends that will accept one side of a story as truth without their own experience may not be the most mature friends to have in the first place. Instead of resorting to the same bad behavior just reach out to your friends with the goal of having fun rather than giving them “your side of the story.” Avoid speaking negatively about the divorce or your spouse. When asked about the divorce keep it general and try to give a simple update. Rather than, “She is dragging her feet just to punish me!” try “The divorce is going very slowly.” Other examples of how to keep your friends out of the middle include:
“The divorce is his fault!” OR “We have both contributed to our marital problems”
“She is trying to take me to the cleaners.” OR “We are agreeing on the finances.”
“He wants to take the children away!” OR “We both love the children and want to be with them”
“She is bashing me with everyone!” OR “I don’t want to put you in the middle so I will spare you from the nasty details.”
“He says you are willing to write an affidavit for him.” OR “I hope you will not have to pick sides.”
Let your friend know that you value their friendship and that you have no desire to put them into the middle. Your friend should be allowed to love you both. You may want to even give them permission to signal you if you start to cross the line with negative comments about your spouse. They will recognize your effort and commitment as a sign of loyalty and maturity. This will make you even more valuable as a friend. It is ok to talk about your grief and your anxieties as long as you can do so without trying to make your spouse look badly. Friends can listen to this without having to take sides. Be very selective and find a friend that is not connected to your spouse so you can share all that you need to share.
Even though a divorce can be all consuming try to focus on your friend and their feelings and less on your pain. (This will help you to have similar empathy and impulse control for your child) You will end up possibly losing some of your friends but hopefully not all. Just try not to lose friends because you were the one who shared the nasty, boring details. Respect the awkward position they are in. They are mutual friends and likely hope they can keep both of you as friends. So find one or two good friends, and then seek a counselor so you can maximize your support without putting friends into the same loyalty binds that children are often forced into by people they love.
Susan Boyan, LMFT