SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares the reasons friendships shift after a divorce and how to move forward anyway.
I recently went through a divorce and it was really hard on my kids and myself. To make matters worse, the people, especially neighbors, who I thought were our friends have really disappeared and let us down. They act like divorce is a disease and they are staying away so they don’t catch it. My kids are finding fewer people who want to play with them, and invites to or neighbors houses aren’t coming our way anymore. What is going on with that? These people I thought were my friends, apparently are fair-weather friends and they are nowhere to be found, even though we need friends more than ever. I had heard of this happening to other people but somehow thought my neighbors were different. What can I do, besides moving, to get our friends back in our lives, especially for my kids? How do I handle this?
“Mr. Rogers did not adequately prepare you for the people in your neighborhood, did he?”
Though it’s funny, the truth is real people and their behavior are a lot more complicated than we think. People are complicated because we are all wracked with fears about making mistakes, causing trouble, losing things, losing reputation, being uncomfortable, and being seen in a bad light; these fears produce behavior that is selfish and unloving.
Humans are typically not capable of loving behavior when they are in fear and scared about their own well-being. Love and fear are like light and darkness: they can’t both exist at the same time, in the same place. People who are scared for their own safety may have nothing to give anyone else.
It is important you understand this about human behavior because it will help you to see their pulling back from you as their issue, not yours. It is coming from their fears about themselves.
Here are some common fear issues that friends and neighbors might feel when someone they know gets divorced:
They are afraid they will say the wrong thing.
They may be uncomfortable with your situation, because they don’t and can’t know what was really happening behind your closed doors. This leaves them terribly afraid they will say the wrong thing, and unfortunately it feels safer to them to avoid conversation at all.
Their loyalty feels split because they probably like both of you.
Because they don’t really know what was happening in your marriage, they aren’t sure who the bad guy was, or if there was one. They don’t know whose side they should take (it would be nice if they didn’t take sides at all, but they often feel they should). This again leaves them feeling safer and more comfortable staying away from the whole thing.
They are afraid the same thing could happen to them.
Have you noticed if someone close to you has child or spouse die, you suddenly realize that type of tragedy really happens, and could happen to you? People are afraid the same is true with divorce. If it happened to you, it could happen to them. That reminder is scary, so again, it feels safer to stay away from it.
They might be afraid your values have changed.
Often divorce happens because someone made some mistakes, and your neighbors don’t know if something like that happened, or may wonder who was at fault. Since they don’t have that information, they aren’t sure who changed. So, it might feel safer to stay away from both of you. This is terrible to treat people like this, but most of the time it isn’t a conscious decision. They are likely just reacting this way and pulling back subconsciously.
They might think they don’t know you as well as they thought they did.
Most of the time you were pretending you were all right, and no one knew what was really going on in your home. This makes them feel they didn’t really know you, and they are suddenly not sure if the friendship was real either.
I tell you about these fears not to excuse their behavior, but because I want you to see it isn’t about you. They are uncomfortable and scared, and that is their issue not yours. Work to forgive them for being scared, struggling students in the classroom of life, who have much more to learn. Forgive them for being here, because you are also a work in progress.
Here are a few more ideas:
- Trust yourself. Trust that this new stage of life is your perfect classroom and you are right where you are supposed to be, experiencing the perfect lessons you need right now. This means you should not resist the reality of losing some friendships; they might not be the friends you need anymore. If this is true, you will be guided toward new friends that are actually better for you.
- Visit your friends. Look for opportunities to stop by and visit the neighbors you still feel drawn to. Maybe bring cookies and ask questions about how they are, thank them for being a great neighbor or friend, (even though they haven’t been lately); this may motivate them to be more friendly in the future. Then address the elephant in the room. Let them know you realize it’s uncomfortable for everyone when people get divorced and it’s often hard to know what to say. Tell them you get that, but you and your kids need friends more than ever right now. Tell them you would be so grateful if they would treat you just like they always did and not let the divorce change that. Tell them you promise not to get offended if they say the wrong thing, because you get it is hard. Addressing the issue head-on and asking them to show up for you makes it feel safer for them to do so. If it works for you, let them know they don’t have to choose sides and give them permission to be friends with both of you.
- Make new friends. Get out there and make some new friends. Chances are there are other people in the neighborhood who also feel like outsiders. They could be great new friends. Organize a neighborhood party and invite every house of people you don’t know yet. Let them know this is for everyone and you’d love to meet them.
You can do this.
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