I’ve mentioned before that we have a family way in our house. Well, I’ve noticed an awfully disturbing pattern among some of the pictures along the wall: some of them are covered. You see, we tend to have portraits of our friends’ families up spouse and children, but some of our friends have gotten divorced. So for the sake of the friend who still comes over to our house regularly, we cover up the picture of their spouse (which serves two functions: 1) it’s analogous to sitting shiva on the marriage as we mourn that relationship; 2) my wife wants a reminder for folks to send us updated pictures of them).

It’s tough because part of what the family wall represents is a running document of the people we allow to speak into our lives. Our children know our friends by sight and name, even ones we don’t get a chance to see as often as circumstance has caused them to drift out of the regular rhythm of our day-to-day lives. It’s also tough because for years we considered our friends and their spouse family. And it’s not like we’ve stopped being family.

All of this reminded me of question I received not too long ago: who gets the friends when you break up? It was asked by a friend who assured me that she wasn’t considering her options in case they broke up, but rather because as the friend of a couple who had broken up, she wasn’t sure where her loyalties should lay. I remember my friend’s words concerning mourning periods of relationships: “WE’RE NOT IN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL ANYMORE, SO LET’S ALL ACT LIKE ADULTS, PAINFUL AS THAT MAY BE.”

(Although, let’s face it, all that we know about relationships we learned in junior high school and the bulk of us have progressed much further than that.)

Anyway, I’d say that the situation depends largely on two factors: 1) the independent relationship you have with each partner in the relationship and 2) the nature of the break-up. Sometimes you have two friends who decide to date. Those are “hold your breath” dating scenarios because you KNOW if they don’t work out there are difficult times ahead for you/your circle of friends because human instinct if things go terribly wrong is to choose a side. [It’s nice to play Switzerland if you have that luxury, though typically one friend or the other is going to feel slighted with such a choice.]

If it’s a case of a friend of mine dates someone I don’t know, it’s a matter of if I’m able to establish independent friendship with the partner outside of my friend or if I’m friends with them solely through Significant Other. Most times the latter which makes it easier to go with my boy (or girl) should things end. [There was one notable occasion where one of my dearest friends introduced me to her boyfriend. He collected comics, loved sci-fi, and introduced me to this game called Magic: the Gathering. She knew when they split that he’d get me in the custody battle, so she opted to take the house instead.*]

In terms of the nature of the break up, cheating, abuse, generally being mean or what have you messy wise with my friend as the victim, I’m gonna support my boy (or girl). That simple. If it’s my friend that’s being a jerk, well, they get to hear about that, too. Friendship doesn’t mean blind loyalty.

As for your circle of friends, it shouldn’t be much of an issue. You give the couple space and be sensitive to their healing. There’s no reason why it has to be an either/or situation of the group choosing one friend over another. As long as you have independent relationship with folks and the break up wasn’t messy to the point of deep lasting hurts, time can heal many wounds.

*It was an ugly break up and complicated occasions like wanting them both in my wedding, but now things are just fine between all of us. Navigating that was a delicate dance on eggshells, however … for years.

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