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Friday, March 4, 2011

Run Like Hell: A How-To Guide When Couples You Know De-Couple

While the world seems focused on Charlie Sheen and his polyamorous ways, I started thinking about the marital break-up that precipitated this current free-fall. While Charlie's plight has some very Hollywood elements to it, all marital break-ups have one thing in common: friends caught in the middle. And while no-fault divorce exists in the courtroom, in the living room or dining room or wherever friends gather, there is only war. Couples become friends with other couples, but if the marriage of one of those couples falls off of a cliff, then you might just find yourself hurtling into the void.

But how does this happen? Sometimes, it starts small, with little drips of information about the relationship being unintentionally leaked during an unguarded moment by Spouse A. Then, maybe there's an invitation to coffee where Spouse A wants to ask your advice about Spouse B. Next thing you know, you and your significant other are at dinner with this couple, and you're being dragged into the middle of a sudden disagreement between Spouse A and Spouse B.

But, you may say, I'm a reasonable person and I have a great relationship with MY spouse, so there's no danger in my counseling Spouse A. And I'd have to say you're completely wrong!

A marriage ending is like a bomb going off and it can injure those in closest proximity to it. So here's an easy to use how-to guide to get you through someone else's rough patch:

  1. Screen Your Calls - In this era of high-tech gadgetry meant to keep us in constant contact, you are always accessible. This is a not good if you've got a needy couple in crisis texting/calling/emailing every hour on the hour to tell you what an A.S.S. their significant other is. Call-screening is a time-honored practice, dating back to the very first answering machine.
  2. Get Thee to a Therapist - Maybe I shouldn't be the one that has to tell you this, but, guess what? You're probably not a therapist. Your combative couple friends may know that, but they willfully choose to ignore it when they start the Debbie Downer Download. And while it's nice to feel needed, don't give into the Siren Song of Seduction that is the Couple in Crisis. Instead, learn this phrase, practice it until it is burned into the synapses of your brain: "You know, maybe you should see a therapist." Now relax and breath. Ah:)
  3. Forget Neutral - Some friends of the de-coupling couple like to try to remain friends with both parties, and think that by stating this, and then listening to all of the pains and woes and trials and tribulations of both spouses that they're being fair and balanced and remaining neutral. News flash: there's no such thing as neutral in this situation. At some point, one or both of them will try to pump you for info on the other, and soon you'll find yourself called to testify in their testy divorce proceedings. Or, worse, your own spouse will choose a side and you'll find your own home life compromised as somebody else's mess seeps into your home. 
  4. Stop Making Friends with Other Couples - After the couple has moved from crisis to counseling to divorce and onto living the newly single life, reflect back on your friendship and instead of trying to be friends with 2 people, why not try a friendship with one person. You see, couple friendships are so tricky because they're built on a false premise - the premise that if I like you that I must also like your spouse. That's such bunk! Friendship, true friendship, is a choice that happens when two people like each other and spend time with each other of their own free will. Deep friendship is an emotionally intimate relationship that grounds you and uplifts you. This isn't about liking one spouse and dis-liking the other spouse, it's truly about connection.
I'm just saying!

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