When a Break Up Splits Your Social Circle: Losing Your Friends to Your Ex
It is always nice to see a group of couples socializing together – they share the same interests, enjoy each other’s company and spend precious time together. What happens when one couple in this group breaks up? Usually, people do not expect the situation to change. But it does. Losing your friends to your ex is a more common occurrence than one would think. Breakups oftentimes split up your social circle, as well.
To make more sense of the said discussion, imagine that in a group of friends, one couple consists of Kate and James. One day, Kate and James decide to get married. A year into their marriage, although there is no outward show of disagreement between them, everyone senses that something is wrong. Four months later, Kate and James file for divorce.
According to the psychologist Todd Zemek, when people break up, “it’s a messy period of negotiating emotional needs, and, often, it can lead to a whole social network falling apart. I’ve known some friends to advise a couple not to break up, in an effort to keep the whole system in place. … There’s a loss of what people had expected from their future.”
In the story above, if Kate and James are your friends, you might be devastated or even angry – as their relationship disintegrates, so does the relationship you had with them and those around them. The consequences of their break up become worse when there’s an added risk of conflict seeping into the relationship. Who gets to keep the friends and who will be losing their friends to their ex? Here are some examples of how this may happen:
- While you may want to invite Kate over for dinner, your partner may want to invite James. To avoid a fight between Kate and James, you don’t invite either of them.
- You may have to keep details of Kate’s new partner from James.
- You may find yourself the subject of a tug of war – Kate and James may refuse to ‘divide’ you between them. “It’s a case of emotional property,” explains Zemek. “And the reason it becomes so bitter is that they’ll need their friends more than ever now.”
The question to ask, then, is this: is it possible for your friendship with both ex-partners to survive their break up? Zemek says, “When a friend says, ‘I need to be close to both of you, no matter what,’ sometimes that’s just not going to fly for one, or both, of the ex-partners. If one of them is not happy with you being friends with their ex, ask if they’d feel better if you both agree it’s a topic you won’t discuss. The idea that friends have to talk about everything is not true.”
If you are Kate in the above story, you might find that your friends begin to take sides when you and James break up. Your good friend, who is also a good friend of James, might well choose to side with him because she believes that he has been hurt the most in this break up. Now you have lost your best friend to your ex. Not only do you go through a break up with your partner, you now must also break up with your friends and your social circle. If this happens, here is some advice on how to deal with the situation:
- Give yourself time to cry, be emotional and completely ‘raw’ over everything. Accept that your good friend has the right to choose whom she wants to side with in this break up.
- Then, make a decision that if you want to keep your friends, you have to be comfortable about your ex-partner still being in your life. It might mean just learning to be in the same room with him and not causing scene.
In the end, what you should aim to achieve is some balance when there is a break up of any sort: if you can be flexible in your attitude and understand that everyone is experiencing some sort of loss, then it’s possible for everyone to remain friends. Although you may have to give people some distance, emotionally and physically, you might find that your friendships will probably evolve into something much better.
However, in the worst-case scenario, be prepared that losing your friends to your ex is a very real possibility. It happened to me. But my ex was a lying narcissist who specialized in being deceitful and spiteful – and was a crackerjack at manipulation. My friends never saw him coming. But I saw them going. Since then, I have met new and wonderful people whose company I enjoy – especially since they don’t know my ‘ex’.
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