In this space, we’ve talked about surviving divorce emotionally, and surviving divorce financially. These are aspects of divorce many people anticipate and dread. One facet of divorce that often takes people by surprise is the social aspect. Here are some tips for surviving divorce socially.
For some people, divorce is freeing socially. If they felt trapped in a marriage where their spouse never wanted to go out or do anything outside the four walls of the house, the ability to make plans and get together in social settings is a breath of fresh air. But many other people find that their social life takes a major hit from a divorce, right around the time they have more freedom to see friends, and have more need for their support.
How Divorce Can Affect Your Social Life
There are a couple of obvious ways that divorce might affect your social life. If you were involved in a lot of couple activities, especially with the same group of friends, your coupled friends might struggle with how to incorporate newly-single you into paired-off plans, like the monthly dinner parties couples in the group have been hosting for years.
If you and your spouse had the same group of couple friends, those friends might feel that they have to “pick sides.” They may not feel comfortable inviting you both to the same small gatherings, especially when everyone else there is a married couple.
This experience can be exacerbated if it is perceived, rightly or wrongly, that you were to blame for the breakup. Maybe your ex got to your mutual friends first and got their side of the story out, while you held things closer to the vest. Or maybe you actually did do some things that led to the divorce. Either way, it’s not uncommon for some mutual friends to turn away from you during and after a divorce.
Then there are those coupled “friends” who turn away from you not because of what you might have done, but because of what they are afraid you might do. More than one divorced person has found him- or herself on the outside of a social circle because the still-married people within it suddenly seem to think that divorce is contagious. While this says more about their security in their own marriages than it does about the person being excluded, it’s still hurtful.
Whether you have friends turn away out of social discomfort, anger, or simply seeming to have less in common, it can make an already lonely time of transition even lonelier. Add to this that your house is likely a lot quieter than before: no spouse to come home to, and kids may be at their other parent’s home. Even if you were the spouse who initiated the divorce, the lack of connection can be hard to take sometimes. So what do you do?
Rebuilding Social Connections After Divorce
Unlike in your 20s, when most people are single and on a budget, it can be more challenging to rebuild social connections after divorce in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. Challenging, yes—but not impossible, and potentially very rewarding. You have two things to think about: which friendships from “before” are still healthy or worth shoring up, and making new friendships. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Hopefully, not all of your friendships dissolved along with your marriage. This is a good time to reach out to those friends who were there for you when you needed them most and let them know how much they mean to you. Reaching out in gratitude, not just when you’re in crisis, will strengthen those relationships.
There may also be friendships from before your divorce that you valued, but that seem to have faded with your split. You could choose to let them go, or you can try to reconfigure them in a way that works better with your current situation. Rather than getting together with spouses, as you used to, you might be able to meet your friend for coffee or go for a run together. Bear in mind that while you may have a whole child-free weekend to socialize, your friend might have more demands on him or her. Getting together for an hour now and then can still be rewarding and keep the connection between you.
Of course, it’s important to make new friends, too. Consider joining a support group, even if your divorce wasn’t traumatic (but especially if it was). In addition to getting support for the stress of being newly separated or divorced, you’ll meet a lot of people with whom you have something important in common. They may “get” what you’re going through a lot better than other friends. You won’t hit it off with everyone, but chances are you’ll find a few people with whom you click.
Now that you’re divorced, you might have time to pursue interests that you didn’t have time for when married. When you’re at the gym, or volunteering, or taking a painting class, you’ll have much more chance of connecting with new friends than you will sitting at home.
One former client got himself a shelter dog. He sheepishly admitted that he got the dog for company because he was so lonely when his kids were with their mom, but found a hidden benefit. The dog got him outside, walking around his neighborhood and going to the dog park, and he struck up a couple of friendships with neighbors in the process.
Last but not least, ask us at MGH & Associates, LLC for suggestions on how to connect socially after divorce. Remember, we see a lot of people in your (very common) situation, and can likely point you in the direction of groups you can join or resources you might find helpful.