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Separation or Divorce; Friendships, Family, and Relationship Changes

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

Often with divorce or separation, you will experience many challenges or transitions related to your social life (e.g., friends, family, in laws, community members).

Some divorcees have describe their perceptions of changes in their friendships and say that their friends have experienced anxiety, shame, a desire for a sexual relationship with one of the divorcees, pleasure about one of the divorcees' suffering, and a feeling of superiority to name a few. Paul Bohannon dedicated an entire Chapter to "reactions of friends to divorce" in his book, Divorce and After and others have also studied this phenomonen (e.g., see McDermott and colleagues).

Some individuals maintain close relationships with former in-laws while others experience conflict or isolation from in laws. Some friends may avoid or ignore their divorcing friends. This is all pretty common though it can contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness for those going through a divorce.

Reasons why some relationships with friends and family become estranged through divorce include fear, the perception that they need to take sides, and social stigma. With fear, when individuals have friends who get divorced, it could prompt them to feel anxious or scared that their marriage will also dissolve. They may also see their divorced friends as threats, such that they may fear their partner will be sexually attracted to you if they are single or, their partners may fear that if you are single, you will want to go out all the time and take their partners with you. With the need to take sides, even in the most amicable divorces, some individuals feel the need to take sides with one person (often, the one they knew first or better); it's natural for others to not know how to react to your divorce or all parties involved, so they may not and choose to ignore both of you. And, despite the fact that nearly half of all first marriages end in divorce, there is a social stigma that still exists with divorce and the single person culture that surrounds this. LCSW, Terry Gaspard wrote an outstanding article, Why Friendships Take a Dive after Divorce, on all of these things in The Huffington Post.

All of these things are based on many Western cultures and social norms though this may vary for men and women in other cultures (e.g., those that encourage husbands and discourage wives to develop personal friendships and independence; and, wives are expected to maintain kin networks during the marriage and post-divorce; Milardo).

Regardless, we can't control how others accept our circumstances. And, this is a time where you actually need friends or family surrounding you; they are a part of your social health, and many of them can be a resource for you in this time (e.g., by listening, offering advice, caring for your children as needed, etc...). If you experience changes in friendships or are looking to establish new, healthy ones, here are a few suggestions of things to try (some do cost money; others are free):

  • Get involved in sports and or athletic classes. Gyms, YMCAs, or even small group classes can improve your physical and mental health, as well as they are a great place to meet new friends who have like interests in improving physical health.

  • Take up a new hobby or pull out an old one. Take up a new hobby if you don't have one (e.g., music, wood working, knitting, trivia pursuit, or board games). Many people gather in groups to do all of these things, and it can be a fun way to meet and get to know new people.

  • Get involved in service. Sometimes, many of us have a tendency to wallow in self-pity. You might be sitting around thinking about all that you've been through or have to deal with related to your marriage/divorce. However, service for other people can help us get out of that "funk." Sometimes, these acts can be small. For example, if you find yourself slumping into feelings of isolation, loneliness, or depression, consider messaging three people to ask how THEY are doing. It can help you to get out of your own head. You could consider taking food to a neighbor or an elderly individual, or you can get involved in service groups (e.g., by serving at the food kitchen, homeless shelter, or on a nonprofit board). All of these things can help facilitate authentic connections with others; it can also help us to be aware of the fact that others might be struggling to and perhaps, more than you. Perspective is critical to outcomes, and being involved in service can help you to maintain positive life perspectives and world views.

  • Meet your neighbors. Perhaps, you are staying in the apartment or house where you lived when you were married, but have never met your neighbors. Maybe you have moved into a new home or apartment. Getting to know your neighbors can give you a sense of community, and they may also be able to serve as a resource for you in times of need (e.g., by recommending doctors, vets, or other places in the community or by introducing you to other neighbors or potential new friends).

  • Start or join a book club. This is a great way to learn new things or to socialize in a healthy way with people you have not had a chance to get to know yet. These are generally friends and friends of friends who are in the club and can include a variety of people who are married, divorced, widowed, and single.

  • Visit a dog park if you have a dog. A friend of mine met her fiance at a dog park a few years ago. And, if you have a dog, you will likely enjoy meeting others who share the sentiment. It will give you a reason to get out of the house, and you could also meet new friends who could help care for your animals if you go out of town or have house or children obligations.

  • Join or attend comedy clubs/groups. Laughter can be a wonderful medicine. Things, such as movies or comedy shows can be a much needed distraction when you find yourself over thinking things or going through all of your stressors. Laughing with friends or acquaintances who share your sense of humor can help even more.

  • Meditation or wellness groups/classes. Some communities offer a variety of spiritual courses that you can take with groups of people. Some of these classes or workshops train you on meditation best practices (e.g., mindfulness based stress reduction). Others might provide education on different types of natural healing, and others might offer yoga instruction. There are a variety of ways that you can meet others while also improving your physical and spiritual health.

  • Church or religious groups. If you have a religious background or would like to get involved, many churches offer education classes (e.g., healing after divorce, establishing boundaries in new relationships, etc...) or small groups where you could meet people. Despite stigma surrounding divorce with some churches or religions, most good ones accept it and welcome all family types and sizes. Churches or religious groups can also be a great resource for you in times of need.

Resources for divorce and social health:

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