Recently, a friend we’ll call Sam experienced a sudden break-up. “I’ve never felt so alone,” he said. “At the time I need my friends the most, they’ve all seemed to scatter.” Feeling isolated and confused, he wonders about his next step forward.
Unfortunately, when a love relationship ends, we lose friends, too. A recent survey revealed that men and women lose an average of eight friends in the wake of a breakup.
I’m writing this for two reasons:
First of all, losing eight friends from a breakup sounded like a lot to me. So, I did some spot checking. Sure enough. After my non-scientific qualitative inquiry of similar people who also experienced a breakup, eight seems dead-on.
So, if you’re feeling alone and confused like my friend Sam, know that what you’re experiencing is actually quite normal. Though it may not lessen the pain to read that fact, it may bring solace to know that losing friends post-break-up is not uncommon.
I also thought it would be helpful to shed some light on specific reasons why our friends seem to scatter in the aftermath of a breakup. (I’ll get to that in a moment).
My second reason for writing this is to share some useful tools. If you’re in post break-up friend reconnaissance there is hope! With some pride-swallowing and swift action, you can emerge on the other side of your break-up process with salvaged friendships.
Now, back to why friends scatter.
There may be several causes for this collateral damage.
Friends may feel forced to choose sides, opt for distance because they “don’t want to get caught in the middle,” or just can’t seem to muster the emotional bandwidth to tolerate our cascading tears.
Not knowing exactly what to say may also be a primary reason for post break-up evasion.
After all, 20% of all Americans have an avoidant-attachment style. Our avoidantly-attached pals may be stricken with a case of cat-got-your-tongue. At a loss for words, they may decide to say nothing at all rather than risk saying, “the wrong thing” and potentially make matters worse.
Now for my second reason for writing this – to provide tips to help navigate the potentially choppy waters of friend re-distribution.
Below are a few tips on what to do and what not to do:
Don’t bash your ex. Talking negatively about your ex to mutual friends will only make them feel uncomfortable. Trash talking of this sort will force your friends to take sides. Which isn’t your motivation. If you want to hold onto your friendships, don’t say anything that would place them in the crossfire. Avoid any pettiness, rumination of details of the break-up or general criticism. Though tempting because your feelings are hurt, you will only regret it later and likely lose those friendships in the process.
Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Don’t beat around the bush or avoid the obvious. Sharing mutual friends with an ex can get tricky, so being pro-active in your communication with them will help ease any tension. Be candidly compassionate about your breakup; “We tried everything we could but in the end, we just weren’t able to make things work.” Let your friends know that you understand how they feel, too. Address any uncomfortable feelings head on.
“I know this feels a little awkward for all of us…”
“I know you must feel shocked by our sudden break-up...”
“I know you must feel torn because we’ve all been friends for so long…”
Clarify your expectations. Getting a jump on such otherwise clunky conversations will help all parties. Even though it may feel awkward, being verbal about the terms of your post-break-up friendships will help everyone navigate with more grace and less egg-on-the-face.
“Despite the fact that my ex and I will no longer be together as a couple, I would love it if we could still continue being friends because you mean a lot to me.”
“Since you’ve known (ex’s name here) longer, I’d understand if continuing a friendship with me so soon after our break-up might feel awkward. After some time passes, I hope we can reconnect.”
“Though I was invited to your wedding (ex’s name here) is your best man. I feel that my presence at your wedding would make things a little uncomfortable. So, instead I’d like to take you to lunch to celebrate your nuptials at a later date.”
After you’ve made your point, ask them how they feel. Your frankness will allow them to be more forthright.
Remain friendly with your ex. Hopefully, you were able to end your relationship on a more positive note. Though that can be challenging, remaining friendly with your ex may be the best way to diffuse any awkwardness in the future with mutual friends. Especially immediately after the break up. This way your mutual friends will breathe easier if they don’t sense any animosity between you and your ex.
By the way, you score extra credit emotional maturity points if you can actually say something complimentary about your ex, “Alex is a thoughtful, kind person, but we weren’t meant to be together long-term.”
Despite your best efforts, we can’t predict or dictate what someone else will ultimately do. We may refrain from negative talk, be proactive with communication, clarify expectations, and remain friendly with our ex, yet some friends may still find it necessary to pick sides.
Though we can’t control the outcome of such turf wars, we do have control over whether or not we remain open-hearted, expressive, and human.
And we never come up empty when we acknowledge and express our feelings.
Self-expression is our lifeblood. Our humanness. Our breath. Speak out and speak up even when it feels uncomfortable.
Martin Luther King Jr. summed up the importance of such expression when he wrote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Mary Delaney is a writer, licensed psychotherapist, and Relationship Coach. Her areas of interest include Healing Childhood Emotional Neglect, Finding True Purpose, Relationships, and the Creative Personality. For more information visit www.creativecorecounseling.com