Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships—with romantic partners, family members, coworkers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to email@example.com!
Q. My partner and I used to go on double dates with another couple all the time. They were truly our best friends. Recently, they split up, and now that they’re apart, we’re having trouble navigating our friendships with them. We don’t want to pick sides, but it seems impossible to stay close with both of them, since we were originally friends as couples. How do we stay friendly with them without picking sides?
A. Both of your friends are probably in need of a lot of love and support right now. Rather than turning away, this is a time to turn towards them. Not only has their marriage ended, but their whole world has been rocked and many of their relationships will probably change or cease. They may need your friendship more than ever now.
I think that you need to have an honest conversation with each of them, and tell them that you care for them and value their friendship, and do not want to take sides. Encourage them to talk about their own feelings of loss, sadness, or hurt and discourage them from talking about the other person. Support and empathize with them when they talk about their own feelings, and gently redirect them when they start to talk about the other person.
Most of all, just listen to them. Show genuine interest by maintaining eye contact and asking questions. Communicate understanding, solidarity, and empathy. Don’t side with or criticize their former partner, but gently steer them back to their own feelings and needs. Validate their feelings by completing a sentence that goes something like this: “I understand that you feel [fill in a feeling] because of [give a reason why, from their perspective].” Focus on validating their feelings, rather than their perceptions of their ex-partner.
True friendship is a rare gift. For most of us, we have many acquaintances and “friends,” but can count the number of close friends in our life on one hand. I understand that it is and will be difficult staying friends with them without picking sides, but, if indeed they are good friends, it is worth the effort.
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