Is It Possible To Be Friends Through Divorce?
Divorce seems to be in the very air around me lately. I have a close friend who is in the final stretches of his proceedings. He told me his divorce will be finalized by the end of June, and I can see on his face that he has mixed feelings about it. His wife (soon to be ex) told him more than four years ago she didn’t love him anymore and wanted to end their marriage. Just as he went to file, however, she stopped him and said she was willing to work on things. After 48 miserable months together in which the relationship got progressively worse, she went to him again and said the situation was hopeless. This was right before Christmas in 2010, and he filed for divorce the week after New Year’s Eve.
Oddly enough, this couple, who have endured more than 20 years of marriage and raised three children together, are determined to remain friends. They have done nothing but argue about bills and money for the past year, they haven’t slept together in nearly a decade and his heart is completely bruised and battered, but they are committed to keeping some type of friendship intact.
Yesterday he called me to say he had just endured yet another verbal battle with his wife over their tax return. She hasn’t worked one day since they exchanged marriage vows, their deal being that she would care for the children while he built his graphic design business. Although she is now working, he continues to pay the mortgage and utility bills on the house she still lives in; he moved out 12 months ago and now rents an apartment. Their most recent argument, however, concerned her half of the tax return, which he used to pay property taxes, divorce attorney fees and court costs. His half, meanwhile, went to college tuition bills for their oldest daughter.
Still, despite all of these problems, this pair cannot let go of each other. When she was admitted to the hospital for abdominal pain, he visited her. She sends him texts every day, whether they’re jokes forwarded from another friend or anecdotes about her day. They still discuss their feelings with each other, and both know what the other is doing on any given day.
Carol R. Doss, Ph.D., calls this bewildering situation the “confused divorce.” According to her, people say they’re “staying friends” because they don’t want to put the effort into being together, but they also don’t want to be apart. This attempt at friendship, however, is a delusion, of which I’ve repeatedly tried to convince my friend. The half-in, half-out approach is merely an avoidance of dealing with relationship conflicts, be it making things work or simply getting divorced. Her advice to people in these situations is to either learn to fight effectively and make the marriage work, or, if one partner seriously wants freedom, suck it up and end the relationship. This means walking away without continuing the cute little texts, details about each others’ lives and constant communication.
In other words, file for divorce and accept that the relationship is finished…without worrying about maintaining a friendship.