Know the Limits of Friendship – and Kinship During Divorce

Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.
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Whether you’re a family member or a friend, your role with the one who is going through a divorce is different depending on the relationship. Understanding the subtle, yet important, differences based on how you’re connected can help you understand your boundaries and how you can best help.

Friends are the place to vent.

As a friend, you have more flexibility in dealing with the divorce. While it’s helpful for you to remain objective and help your friend take the high road, you are the better candidate for vents. You can be the place where your friend can say anything – without impacting the longevity of the friendship in a negative way. Plus, if you become biased based on what you’ve heard, it’s not as detrimental because you won’t be navigating ongoing family events with the former spouse.

Friends represent “moving on.”

As a friend you also have more flexibility to decide what future relationship, if any, you’ll have with your friend’s spouse. You may choose for it to continue, but let’s face it; , any number of reasons may eliminate the friendship. You’ll have no ongoing obligations with your friend’s spouse, so you can make choices family can’t. While the former spouse may stay a part of one’s family; friends are not a constant reminder of the past – and can instead be a reminder of what’s ahead.

Family offers a different level of empathy.

If you are family, you likely have the harder job in this situation. You have hopes and desires for your family member that are amplified differently than that of a friend. You also feel the loss differently because you experience a more personal impact in the change in family dynamics. You will likely feel more subjective and protective than a friend. You are watching your loved one experience a death of sorts, and you are experiencing the changes in the family dynamics first hand.

Family supports what doesn’t change.

If there are children involved, then you are navigating the paradox of saying good-bye to a family member while at the same time knowing they will continue to be present at family events for years to come. To be effective as a family member, you’ll need an incredible amount of strength to both restrain – and to support and listen. While it is tempting to take sides, doing so may jeopardize your ability to provide a safe and supportive sense of home that your loved one needs most.

Understanding what you offer makes it easier to help.

Friends and family both play an important role in supporting the loved one going through a divorce. Each needs to listen well and stay impartial. Understanding the subtle differences in the roles of family and friends can make it easier to offer support when and where it’s needed most.

Nancy Schornack
NANCY SCHORNACK, LMHC focuses her clinical work toward women and marriages and holds her practice at Family Legacy in Johnston, Iowa. She has extensive experience in the areas of shame and vulnerability, anxiety, depression, abuse recovery, marriage counseling and divorce recovery. Nancy has been counseling for nearly 30 years and is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the State of Iowa. She is also a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator and Consultant and has received extensive training to deliver the model based on the work of Dr. Brené Brown. Phone: 515-727-1338 Email:

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