Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dividing Up the Friends In a Divorce

In a divorce the children should come first. Divorce is hardest on the most vulnerable. Responsible and caring divorced couples do their best for their children.

For most people, after the children comes love. People tend to believe that the second most important issue for divorced people is the next relationship. We ask ourselves whether they will ever find love again, as though that is the solution to one of life’s greatest traumas.

We think this because psychologists see human existence in terms of love and family. Read any psycho textbook, you will find nearly all human relationships defined as a function of blood relatives and true love.

At times, they throw in a little peer pressure, but primarily they see us within the context of the family, current or future.

It feels natural to do so. It feels so natural that we do not even question it.

And yet, the psycho world is making a serious mistake.

If we look at the great ethical thinkers, we notice that they do not emphasize family. They certainly to nor grant a special therapeutic power to romantic love.

The Bible instructs you to love you neighbor as yourself. It advises you to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

It tells you to honor your father and your mother, but it does not say that you should love your sister or brother as yourself. And it does not tell you to do unto your lover as you would have your lover do unto you.

In the world of philosophy, the greatest ethicist was Aristotle. In his most important treatise on ethics to: friendship.

Not family, not lovers… but friends.

Why do the greatest ethical thinkers show us how to have good relations with our neighbors, our friends, and even nondescript  “others?”

For a very good reason. Your relations with your friends and neighbors depend primarily on good behavior. If you behave badly toward a friend or neighbor you will often lose that person’s friendship.

If you behave badly toward a parent or sibling, they will still be your parent or sibling. Family relations do not require best behavior.

As for true love, it is sufficiently blind that it is often insensitive to bad behavior. You can get away with more bad behavior toward your true love than you can toward your neighbor.

Ethically speaking, friends bring out your best. When you are feeling the worst, your morale depends on having friends who see you at your best and bring out your best.

Yesterday in the Huffington Post, Christina Pesoli drew special attention to the important role friends play for people going through divorce.

It’s bad enough to get divorced, but if the divorce costs you too many friends you will have that much more difficulty recovering from it, no matter how healthy you are.

As Pesoli points out, some of it you can control; some of it you cannot.

You will normally keep the friends you brought with you into the marriage, but others will often go with the money and the power. .

Nevertheless, Pesoli wants divorcees to know that they can also drive people away.

She writes:

While you don't have much say over which friends you get to keep after your divorce, you do have the power to drive friends away. Just try launching a campaign to convince them how terrible your ex is and see how fast your cell phone stops ringing.

If you show yourself to be mean-spirited and embittered, you will drive friends away. Most people don’t want to hear all the horror stories. They most especially, as Aristotle noticed, do not want to see you at your worst. If you shower them with negative emotion they will avoid your company.

There is no therapeutic value to belaboring a divorce. The sooner you put it behind you, the better you will be.

Pesoli explains that a divorcee can share the pain with one or two stalwart friends, friends whose loyalty is unshakeable, but that he or she should stop there.

When others ask, Pesoli recommends that you respond in two sentences:

"It's been hard, but I'm getting through it. Thanks for asking." Then change the subject. The less of your personal business you have floating around out there, the better off you'll be in the long run.

Let’s emphasize the point. The more you talk, the more you share, the more you will be putting your private life in circulation. You will make yourself a subject of endless gossip, to say nothing of pity.

If you don’t want the world to know your personal business, don’t put it out there.

This advice applies to many other situations. I’m sure I do not have to tell you what they are.

Of course, there are other kinds of friends, most of whom you do well to avoid.

Some friends, Pesoli says, leech off of your anguish to make themselves look better by comparison. They are more than happy to listen to your stories and often give advice that will make things worse. She calls them parasites.

In her words:

…they are not hanging around out of genuine concern; they're using your hardship as an elixir for themselves. Your problems make them feel better about their own lives. And your dependence on their friendship makes them feel more important.

They have, she adds: “… a vested interest in keeping the drama going.

Other friends are not really friends, but acquaintances, who suddenly, when seeing that you are in trouble, want to become best buddies.

These people, Pesoli says, are not really your friends. They are in it for the “entertainment value.” They see your life as tabloid material. It isn’t merely that you cannot trust them to be discreet, Pesoli adds. You can count on them to betray your secrets.

Keep your distance from acquaintances who get closer when you are in trouble.

Real friendships develop over time through an accumulation of gestures of trust and confidence. If a friendship does not meet that criterion, be wary of it.

And then there are the friends who disappear, the friends who seem to have written you off once you divorce.

Pesoli explains:

The temptation is to conclude that they are siding with your ex or they have somehow abandoned you in your darkest hour. But this kind of thinking simply reflects how much stress you are under right now.

The truth is you don't really know why they're MIA. Maybe it has something to do with your divorce, but maybe it doesn't. After all, as big as your problems feel right now, personal problems are not your exclusive domain. So, reach out to your AWOL friends if you want to, but if they blow you off, try to move on without reading into it. Friendships come and go over the course of one's lifetime. Maybe this one will circle back around, maybe it won't. And either way, that's okay.

Good advice for anyone at any time under any circumstances.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Also be careful of those who want to only share in your misery.
I know of opposite-sex "friends" who share their miseries, and it seems that they make up miseries in their relationships in order to commiserate...
For those who were used to commiserating immediately after their divorces, they can be used to getting sympathies from people with every hiccup...
Once in another relationship, they still may be "addicted" to that type of attention (and it usually is from the opposite sex)
It can be highly unhealthy for the current relationship, bordering on an emotional affair, with the risk of turning into a physical affair.
It just depends on how much attention that person is used to getting when he needs sympathy...
He may have really needed it during the divorce ("She is trying to take $$$!!!)
And now is calling and texting to cry about every hiccup (Can you believe she colored her hair brown this time!! She knows I like red!!")