Q. Following the divorce of two old friends, my close group of friends took the side of the wife. She spent a lot of time badmouthing her ex and I think we all bought into it. Now I am divorced and remarried and I saw my friend’s ex at their son’s wedding. I felt sorry for him as he told me how rejected he felt by all of us. What is the proper etiquette in these cases? I know my friend wouldn’t like it–she’s a bit of a control freak. Do I respect her wishes and therefore say goodbye forever to her ex-husband as my friend?
A. As a general ex-etiquette rule it’s best not to take sides after a break-up, and don’t let either side intimidate you into thinking you should. If you’re a friend to both, stay a friend to both. But, that’s based on if the couple split is based on irreconcilable differences. If there was infidelity or violence or something that caused your friend particular pain or embarrassment, then it’s understandable that you may want to choose to be friends with one and not the other.
Be careful, however. Even under those circumstances that decision sometimes backfires. We don’t walk in our friends shoes and are not party to the real reasons they break up. There may be extenuating circumstances and if those reasons are uncovered down the road, you may have to eat your words.
Although it’s breaking ex-etiquette rule #3, “Don’t badmouth,” badmouthing an ex is pretty standard behavior after a divorce, and it’s easy to be swayed by a friend’s anger or pain. Now that you have divorced, you know how it feels when friends walk away for what appears to be no reason, and it sounds as if you now see the value in maintaining both friendships. In that case, you must weigh how resuming your friendship with this man will affect your friendship with his ex-wife. Some time has gone by and the decision to rekindle the friendship may not affect her as strongly as it once might. Or, she could still carry a grudge and it’s the last time she’ll call you to go shopping.
I also suggest that you consider if she’s the type of friend that plays tit for tat when she’s angry. How would you feel about her hanging around with your ex-husband? If that’s a problem, think twice. Even if your answer is, “I wouldn’t like it.” That doesn’t mean you have to disown the guy. It just means he may not be the first one on your guest list.
So, for the future, if your new husband and you do decide to renew your friendship with your friend’s ex, consider good ex-etiquette rule #8: “Be honest and straight forward.” In other words, no lying about sitting with him at the football game or no sneaking around at parties, then acting as if you don’t know him to protect yourself against your friend’s anger. Stand behind the decision–or don’t do it. Finally, when being friends with both, don’t be the messenger–do your best to stay out of the middle
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. She is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, Ex-Etiquette for Weddings, and Ex-Etiquette for Holidays. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.