14 Ways To Deal With Mutual Friends Breaking Up, Because It Ain't Easy Being Switzerland
It's spring. Your inbox is probably filled with save the dates and elaborate conversations about bachelorette party decorations, and it seems as if everybody is disgustingly in love. But this is also the time of year when the fallout from serious break-ups start to hit: According to a study of Facebook statuses, the February-March period is one of the most popular times of the year for breaking up among our generation — and it's especially sticky if you're a friend of both parties. The rush for long-term couples to get married can also prompt a push in the other direction, and suddenly you've got two heartbroken friends wanting to come over and weep on your couch while calling the other person an jerk. What's a mutual friend in the middle of a breakup to do? It's not easy.
Don't get me wrong — I'm a big fan of sharing friends with a partner. Even when this backfires (a boyfriend once left me for a friend I'd encouraged him to meet "because they had so much in common") I maintain that it's good policy to share friends in a relationship. But it can make life seriously awkward if you break up and friends feel the pressure to choose sides, slag off the other partner, or plan parties like war zones.
So how can you handle a two-friend breakup like a diplomat and avoid hurting anybody's feelings? Very carefully, is the answer. Here are 14 tips.
1. Be Switzerland.
It's one thing if there's a clear wronged party — say, if one person has abused the other (or, in one memorable case in my friend group, had sex with somebody else at their partner's birthday party). In most situations, though, you'll want to stay neutral, giving each side full freedom to vent their feelings but not getting drawn into any declarations of loyalty one way or the other.
2. Don't diminish either person's pain.
Breakups hurt — and science has shown that the pain is seriously physical as well as mental. Even if you haven't had a break-up since 8th grade, it's still important to be affirming that they're really feeling the way they're feeling, rather than telling them to "stop wallowing" — or, worse, implying that the other person is coping better than they are.
3. Don't act as a go-between.
In international relations, this concept is called "shuttle diplomacy," where a mediator goes back and forth between two parties working on some kind of reconciliation (or just starting some sh*t). This is not your job. Don't agree to carry any messages or "tell them something" when you next see the other party.
4. Remember that pre-relationship loyalties are important — but not contractual.
Just because you were "friends first" with one half of the couple doesn't mean you are instantly required by the friendship code to be on their side in a break-up. You are allowed to make your own decisions about whether you want to maintain a friendship with the other party.
5. Give equal time, if you can.
If you're friends with both mates, then it's only fair that they both get equal amounts of your time while hashing out the details and getting comfort. (If they don't want that, don't force it to make yourself feel better. It's just an idea.)
6. Try to hear both sides.
Chances are that both parties have grievances. Even if it seems pretty clear-cut, don't shut off a partner who's cheated, for instance — if they really want to talk and explain themselves, you should at least give them a chance to do it.
7. Let them reflect.
Both sides will need to talk about and rehash the relationship a bit, whether with you or on their own. There's a good scientific basis behind letting them do this: studies have shown that more reflection helps people get over break-ups faster. So a certain amount of wallowing is more than allowed.
8. Don't talk trash.
If you don't agree that the other person is actually a "f*cking raging psycho with a control complex," you don't need to agree or join in. Sometimes it's a way to make the person feel closer and more bonded to you — if you both make the ex into a monster, you're doing something psychologists call "othering," both making the ex less than human and bonding together.
Instead of joining the party, you can just say soothing things instead, like "I'm sorry you feel like that, that sucks".
9. Avoid leaking information.
Want to make everything as bad as possible? Feed each side titbits to keep the drama going. "I saw XYZ at a party and he/she was hanging with ABC!" Nope. This is not middle school. Resist the pressure to obtain info for either side — you are not a double agent. Keep any responses to interrogations short and sweet. "Did you see her/him? How are they?" "Good." That's it.
10. Try to keep your own agenda out of it.
If you think they broke up for stupid reasons, should never have gotten together, or just want to set one of them up with your brother, too bad — keep your mouth shut. Your friends need to sort this one out for themselves. Respect their opinions and choices, and do your best to make sure their decisions make them happy.
11. Be smart about your white lies.
Diplomats and people in tricky negotiations understand that honesty can sometimes thwart a happy outcome. Occasionally, the truth and diplomacy are completely different things. Look at every choice carefully: if you lie to one friend about seeing their ex for coffee because you don't want them to feel neglected, that may be comforting in the short term, but how will it damage your relationship in the long term?
On the other hand, does Ex 1 really need to know that Ex 2 is weeping every night/moved on immediately with a hotter person? Future happiness can sometimes be more important than stark, unvarnished truth.
12. Don't compare new partners to your friend.
Resist any urge by either partner to draw you into comparing a new flame to the old ex. Maybe they are cuter, happier, smarter, and don't have that stupid haircut — but that person is your friend and requires your respect, as does their previous relationship.
13. Draw boundaries.
There are certain things that are not OK in friend-friend breakups. Either side berating or guilting you into "picking" them, pressure to carry messages or provide information from the other party, having screaming matches in your space — all are unreasonable and can meet with a firm "nope". Which leads me to ...
14. Know that you can always break-up with either party, too.
Equally, if one partner has behaved so badly in the breakup (even when given chances to explain themselves, and the full benefit of your friendship) that you really don't want to be friends with them any more, you have the right to draw that boundary, too.
Images: HBO; Giphy