"She's afraid of the knock on her door....She can never be sure...Maybe the friend of a friend of a friend. Anyone at all. Anything but nothing again.
Seems like even her old girlfriends might be talking her down....She always figured that they were her friends, but maybe they can live without her.
Well, people got used to seeing them both together but now he's gone and life goes on. Nothing lasts forever, oh no....Some of them his friends, some of them her friends. You never know until it all falls down.”
James Taylor sung these poignant and sentimental words four decades ago, about his friend’s unexpected divorce. It is still heartbreaking to hear these lyrics, despite the long transit of time.
Something that can also be unexpected during and after a divorce, is the loss of friendships. These friendship breakups can often feel like a “divorce” in its own right, especially if they were close friends. The emotional support system can disappear, seemingly “overnight” if people choose sides.
Kristie a former client at my clinic shares her personal experience about this life event:
"When I was a little girl, I would often daydream about marrying my "Prince Charming" just like Cinderella or Snow-White and then "live happily ever after". It now appears so innocent and naive.
It turned out that the "princess" grew up to realise that not everything in life is a "sugar and spice" fairytale. That my meticulously written down plans for my life trajectory, would not always come to fruition.
As a student I was in a committed, long term relationship with an older man and we were going to get married and live happily ever after. From the exterior it looked like we were a "match made in heaven". One day it suddenly dawned on me, that I was merely existing in a toxic relationship. I was infatuated with the romanticism of being in-love and all the joyous milestones that I assumed followed a wedding. I understood that exiting this long term relationship, would also be the cessation of my dreams of living in a house with a "white picket fence" with the family that we would create together.
I was not emotionally or mentally prepared for the magic act of people who I mistakenly believed were my closest and loyal friends, disappearing from my life. The vow to be "sisters for life through thick and thin" was no more. Along with zero party invitations, no more phone calls or girls nights and being "unfriended" by my best friends on Facebook.
The Emotional Support System Disappears
I was unceremoniously dumped. I was now invisible and no longer existed in their lives. Were the decades of close friendships, just a figment of my imagination? Even worse to come, were “Holier than Thou" judgemental attitudes from my former friends especially my closest friend. Who was privy to the most intimate details of my miserable romantic relationship and she still had the audacity to make false accusations about me.
The heartbreak of my friendships were surprisingly more emotionally painful to manage, than the break up of my long term relationship. I was heavily reliant on my friends, who were supposed to be my support circle. Ironically, the man who I ended the long term relationship, with was the only person who was sympathetic. Our mutual friends and my best friends supported him and distanced themselves from me. I had always been a very loyal and sacrificial friend and supported them in their hour of need. So the betrayal was like a stab to the heart".
There is limited research on the psychological and sociological effects of divorce and friendships. However, most empirical studies have indicated that this behaviour and pattern is not common. When queried about this issue, individuals state that they feel awkward and are not at ease when their friends divorce or breakup. People state that they are unsure how to behave or act in this scenario.
Findings from these empirical studies can also be broadly applied to Kristie and other couples who have ceased their serious, long term relationship. Obtaining a divorce or ceasing a long term romantic partnership, can inevitably alter the dynamics in relationships, especially when the it applies to friends.
Kristie is not alone when it comes to experiencing relationship problems. Jessica and Robert had been married for nearly seven years, when they initially attended the clinic. She was experiencing various women's health issues that were affecting her psychologically, she had an imbalance of hormones that manifested in bouts of angry outbursts, anxiety and depression. Her women’s health issues preexisted before she became married, as the years went by her untreated conditions were progressively worsening.
Robert stated that he was not able to manage his wife's angry and emotional behaviour. They would have heated arguments over the most seemingly petty issues such as arriving home after a tedious day at work, and being confronted with the breakfast dishes unwashed. Jessica was experiencing a depressive episode and was unable to get out of bed to "do anything productive". Jessica said that Robert was emotionally distant and didn't understand how it felt, to deal with her health issues on a daily basis. She felt that Robert was "insensitive and doesn't validate what I am feeling".
Eventually Jessica was provided a natural treatment plan for her hormonal imbalance, that was due to progesterone deficiency. This is often the case for females experiencing PMS (premenstrual syndrome), miscarriages, postnatal depression and infertility to name a few.
Through several clinical sessions to manage Jessica women's health issues and holistic marriage counselling. Jessica and Robert gradually learned to understand each other and rebuilt their very unstable relationship. At the final marriage counselling session, Jessica confided that she had previously contemplated about divorcing Robert. However, the holistic marriage counselling sessions had reminded her why they fell in-love in the first place.
Robert also shared that the holistic counselling sessions had made him more aware of his need to be more loving, supportive and sensitive to his wife. Robert’s change of attitude and behaviour towards his wife was the catalyst for a major positive change in their marriage.
Grieving over the "death" of my unfulfilled dreams with him
Fortunately, many couples like Jessica and Robert were able to avoid the horrible, rollercoaster of experiencing a divorce. However, for some couples they have drifted so far apart for inexplicable reasons, they eventually see no other option but to seek a divorce or break up from their long term relationship. This is when the emotional rollercoaster begins and with it involves the inevitable loss of friendships and the despair of loneliness.
From Kristie’s own experience, she shared that it was one of the hardest situations that she had ever dealt with: "It felt like I was grieving the "death" of a loved one despite the fact that I chose to end the relationship. I eventually came to the realisation that I was grieving over the "death" of my unfulfilled dreams with him. Compounded by the “death” of my friendships. It was initially a difficult process, but through prayer and over time I experienced God's healing touch in my life".
Although, relationship break-ups have negative aspects they can also have positive aspects. The silver lining is a doorway to a renewed life, starting fresh with new experiences, new opportunities and making enriching new friendships. You will become a different and stronger person, with a renewed identity separate from been identified as "the other half" of the previous relationship.
I will leave you with this ancient text from the writer, Paul:
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.
I wish you good health of body, mind and spirit.