The Custody Battle: Who Gets To Be Your Friend After the Break-Up

“Whose Side Are You On?”

I’m not talking about Captain America vs. Iron Man. I’m talking about friends who’ve been in a relationship and now have reached their final destination: splitsville. Once the two of them go their separate ways, which one of them gets you in the proverbial divorce?

It’s not always as clear cut as saying, “well, I was her friend first” or “she was the one who cheated on him with the train conductor.” Sometimes break ups are more complicated than that. Every now and then, they’re reasonably amicable. Every once in a while there’s the exceptional parting where you empathize or sympathize with both sides. Whose friendship do you keep? Or…can you stay friends with both of them?

My answer to you all is YES. You can absolutely maintain friendships with both parties if you adhere to a little common sense and the Golden Rule. There’s no reason to lose a valuable friendship if you don’t have to. There are boundaries to every relationship in every stage. This is just another challenge to rework and redefine what those boundaries need to be, between you and them and they to each other.

It all comes down to keeping the individual trust of both people. You have to do your very best to keep your friendship with each person, with each person. They confide in you, you don’t break that trust. You keep your opinions about the other person to yourself, and you don’t pry about what happened between them. It’s a little bit like dancing: let them lead and do your darndest not to step on their toes.

Of course, there comes the inevitable moment when she discovers you’re still hanging out with him and she asks the question: “why didn’t you tell me?” And the answer’s a simple but potentially hurtful one: “because our friendship is separate from mine and his.” Now that’s a tough f*cking egg to lay on them, especially if they’re still somewhere in the process of moving on. On the other hand, that might sound a little more devious than it’s meant to be…

I’d also suggest speaking to each of them personally and letting them know: “hey, you’re my friend and that’s not going to change. But she’s also my friend and that’s not going to change, either. This doesn’t mean you can’t trust me as you always have and vice versa. This means that you need to accept the fact that while your relationship ended, mine isn’t going to, with either of you.” Then from there on out, separate corners. No updates, no heads ups, no accountability, so long as you preserve trust on both sides and stay out of their issues. Sounds tricky. And it might be. It’s also…possible.

If you’re willing to work on keeping that trust and letting it evolve, then it’s possible. If you’re willing to understand that when the big reveal comes that you’re talking to their ex that they might NOT trust you quite as much, then it’s possible. Your friendships will change. They have to. The relationship between two people affects far more than just two people. But the change for you is parallel to the change they’re going through: redefining what you have without the context of that other person.

Breaking up’s a process, for you and friends and friends of friends-let’s not leave out family, either. But if it’s amicable enough, if there’s enough willingness on all sides to move in separate directions, peacefully, the breaking of one bond doesn’t have to mean the end of three.

Watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy,

The Dude

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