Ask a counsellor: ‘Our friends are divorcing – how can we avoid getting caught in the middle?’

The problem…

“A few weeks back, my good friends told me they are getting divorced. I’ve known them for longer than I’ve been married myself and it came as a real shock, as I thought that they were so well matched. Over the years, they have been such close friends, spending holidays with us and always willing to help if we had a problem. My husband gets along well with them too. However, they are going ahead, and the husband has already moved out into a B&B until he gets a permanent place to stay.

“Understandably, we haven’t seen much of them since they split. However, although they say the split is amicable, we are getting regular phone calls in which they seem to try to get us to take sides. We’ve managed to stay neutral so far, but it is becoming increasingly difficult as they clearly want to talk about what happened.

“My husband is angry that they are dumping this on us, but I feel I want to help. I don’t want to lose either one of as a friend so how do I deal with this?”

Fiona says…

“However friendly a separation is, there will always be an element of ill-feeling involved, and those affected will often want to talk with someone they trust about what went wrong. There’s nothing wrong with this, in fact it’s quite healthy. Just as you’ve found though, problems arise when they start to coerce friends into taking sides.

“If you want to keep them as friends, tell them so, but you need to make it clear immediately that neither you nor you husband will be taking sides. You’ve done well so far, but it is likely that they will still want to talk about what went wrong, however neutral you’ve told them you’ll be. That’s fine too; you can listen but don’t judge, no matter what.

“If they say anything negative about their ex-partner, ask for your opinion or attempt to draw you into an autopsy of what happened, simply change the subject. And the more obviously you do this, the better. If they persist, explain that it’s unfair to expect you to comment and that you have no intention of ever doing so. Then change the subject again and eventually, they should get the message. If not, it may be necessary to keep a bit more distance from them until they’ve come to terms with what has happened, and the dust has settled a little more. You also need to be prepared for the possibility that your long-standing friendship might not survive this process.

“Sometimes, no matter how hard you try and how well-intentioned your actions, one or both of your friends might see things differently. They might take your unwillingness to take their side as tacit agreement that you agree with their ex. I should add, of course, that if something comes out that does force you to take sides with one over the other – that’s fine too. If, for example, you find one of the two of them has been abusing the other or has had an affair, then it could well change your opinion. If you lose one friend as a result because you cannot condone their behaviour, don’t feel bad about it.

“Finally, do chat with your husband about this and make sure that you’re both happy to adopt the same strategy. The last thing you want is for your marriage to be affected by this sad situation.”

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

- Press Association

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