Have you ever experienced the breakup of a friendship with another couple? Today’s question comes from a reader who thinks there is a definite lack of resources available on this difficult situation, and we agree! Fortunately, we have Nina to tackle another challenging subject: a couples’ friendship breakup.
My long-term partner and I, both women, were close friends with another lesbian couple for about 30 years until a difficult breakup occurred following a conflict. If info is somewhat lacking about one-on-one friendship breakups, it’s sorely missing when it comes to two couples ending their relationship with each other. The events leading up to the breakup, the process of trying to sort things out, and the decision-making regarding letting go seemed so much more complicated!
Have you run into this before, whether with LGBT couples or heterosexual? Know of any resources for working through the feelings and the loss?
Thank you for your consideration.
Double the Loss
Dear Double the Loss,
You’re right! When it comes to the subject of couple friends most of the information I’ve read focuses on how to handle the “custody of your friends” after the couple in question has broken up temporarily or divorced, which is not what you’re asking about in your letter.
You’re also not asking me or The HerStories Project’s astute readers to consider what happened in this particular situation. (Though we’re here to listen if you ever change your mind.) It sounds like you and your partner have resigned yourselves to the fact that the friendship with the other pair is over, but you still feel a sense of loss and want to know how to move forward. And to answer your other question, yes, I have been there, too.
Losing the friendship of another couple is difficult, and you’re perfectly justified to wallow a bit. Whether you and your partner tried to distance yourselves from the other couple or the other couple distanced themselves from the two of you, it can be extremely awkward and painful to figure out what to do next. For example, what happens when anyone in the former foursome runs into each other? What if the four of you share other friends? (In both cases you will rise to the occasion because you will have no other choice. Always take the high road and avoid trying to get common friends to take sides. Be the first to say hello when you’re at the same event. Try to listen more than you talk since anything you say in that anxious state is something you’ll question later.)
The hardest piece of all is what you already mentioned about loss. The feelings of loss, and I will add, rejection, do not disappear with the end of the friendship. If anything, those feelings can get worse before they get better.
I think there are some solid standbys that are helpful when there’s any break in a friendship. Remember, I’m saying “helpful” tips, not easy ones. I realize the type of thinking I’m advocating below is easier said than done, but we all have to start somewhere when we find ourselves in this position of loss, no matter if we instigated the breakup or find ourselves on the receiving end of someone else’s decision to call it quits.
SOMEWHAT RANDOM THOUGHTS TO CONSIDER AFTER BREAKING UP WITH ANOTHER COUPLE
#1. We never know what is going on with another person—make that double for another couple. This means that if a couple needs a break from you and your partner, accept that whatever has been bothering them may be a temporary situation and could have nothing to do with the two of you. The same applies when you need a break from another couple. Perhaps the way one or both people in question have been bothering you is really more about changes in your life or your partner’s life and not a reflection of anybody’s direct wrongdoing. How is this assumption that it’s not only about you supposed to make you feel better? It won’t, but it might help you take things less personally, which is a start.
#2. Each individual involved in a friendship breakup may be simultaneously in the right and in the wrong. There’s usually more than one issue at play when it comes to the ending of any sort of friendship. Since we’re talking about four individuals here, the possibilities for blame, overly taking offense, or problematic self-righteousness are endless. Holding on to the need to be right can become a bigger problem than the original schism if there was one particular instance that set the four of you on a bad path. What’s my point? It won’t help you move on to dwell on why you’re right, which leads me to the next thought.
#3. Use any friendship breakup as a learning opportunity. Ask yourself what went wrong in the relationship on both sides. Where can you take responsibility and plan for a different outcome in the future in your other friendships? Part of dealing with this particular kind of loss is learning from mistakes. How can you and your partner protect the relationships you have with any other couples and single friends you enjoy?
#4. Speaking of other couples, is there now room in your lives to meet a new couple? I hate to say “when one door closes another one opens,” but . . . I had to say it because it’s true. Time is finite. Now you have a sliver more time to give to all your other friends and to extend yourselves to new people.
#5. Keeping tabs on your old friends will not help. Try not to cyber stalk; try not to overtly ask your common friends how those two are doing; try your hardest not to speak ill of them. (That can be tough, I know.)
#6. Almost every friendship letter I receive here boils down to unmet expectations, leaving me to wonder whether unrealistic expectations are the true source of all friendship issues. This is a good lesson to take into the next friendship. Be careful about pinning too many expectations on one person (or on two people in this instance).
#7. Acknowledge that chemistry between friends ebbs and flows for many reasons, few of which we can control. When someone moves, enters a new romantic relationship, starts a new job, or has new responsibilities like taking care of a sick parent or has children—all of these factors and many more will change the time and effort that can go into a friendship. Sometimes the change in chemistry is personal and sometimes it isn’t. We can only control what we can control.
#8. Finally, never say never when it comes to the end of a friendship. Unless we’re talking about an abusive or dangerous situation, I think it’s good to stay open to the idea of a reconciliation. The time apart might even strengthen the friendship, which is something that has happened to me.
So, Double the Loss, since I don’t know about your specific situation, I can only do so much to help, but I hope some of the above “random thoughts” address what you’re facing right now.
Best of luck,
It’s a new year, and we’re looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.