The Relationship Judge: When Friends Break-Up – Whose Side Do You Take?

I’m still horrified by the bombings that took place during the Boston marathon.  I had friends running in that race and more friends watching.  Thankfully they were all safe. The runners had raised thousands of dollars for charities that they hold dear.  Why on earth would anyone want to hurt these people?  It just doesn’t make sense.  The unpredictability of something so terrifying has been on my mind for the past 24+ hours.  I sit on the New York City subways convinced that a stranger’s suitcase contains explosives or that I saw the guy with the hooded sweatshirt and backpack walking around Grand Central.  I sit on the train and am worried when there is an empty brown paper bag sitting under a seat (turns out it was just a slob who didn’t want to make the effort to throw it away). Still, it’s a shame to even have to worry about this kind of stuff.

To take our minds off of yesterday’s tragedy, I’m drafting up an important Relationship Judge entry for your consideration.  Let’s take a minute to turn off CNN and stop reliving the awful moments (with a lot more brave ones mixed in too) by losing ourselves in Sara’s dilemma.

The Facts:  Sara and Joseph have been married for a little over a year and together overall for a total of 6 years.  They met in college through Joseph’s fraternity brother, Evan, who went to high school and was close friends with Sara.  Their junior year of college, Evan started dating Sara’s roommate, Jenna.  The four of them spent a ton of time together senior year of college.  They basically all lived at Sara and Jenna’s apartment and were extremely close.  After college, all of them moved to New York City.  Jenna and Sara shared an apartment with a third roommate, Joseph went to law school and Evan got an entry level job at a financial company.  Over the next several years, many nights and weekends were once again spent at Jenna and Sara’s apartment by the four best friends.

While Sara and Joseph’s relationship got stronger and more serious, Jenna and Evan’s relationship seemed to be going at a different pace.  They were very happy together, but weren’t ready to take the next step any time soon.  Sara says that she ended up moving in with and getting engaged to Joseph once he graduated from law school and found a job.  Jenna was a bridesmaid and Evan was a groomsman. The four friends regularly grabbed dinner together, went on weekend trips and were constantly in each other’s lives.  They all lived within a few blocks of each other, making it easy to make plans and meet up.  Jenna mentioned to Sara that Evan wanted to travel, go to business school and to “see the world” a bit before settling down.  Neither of them was quite sure exactly what this meant but about 2 months ago, Sara got a phone call from a very upset Jenna that Evan wanted to “take a break.”   He needed some space to figure out what his next step was – professionally, geographically and personally.  More recently, it has come out that Evan has been seeing someone for the last couple months (overlapping with their relationship for several weeks) and Jenna is furious.

Sara is confused about how to handle her recently split friends.  Evan has been her confidant and close friend since high school and he is one of her husband’s best friends.  He’s over their apartment at least 3-4 days a week either to hit the gym with Joseph, grab a beer or watch sports.  Jenna is one of Sara’s best friends and is probably the person other than Joseph that she spends the most time with.  Sara feels torn and forced to choose “a side” since Jenna is extremely angry at Evan for moving on so quickly and Evan wants nothing to do with Jenna at the moment.

The Question: How should Sara deal with her friends’ recent split?  Does she need to pick a side?  Is she hurting Jenna by continuing to be supportive of Evan and his new relationship or even to go out on dates with him and his new friend?  Sara came home from work the other day to find Evan and his new lady friend on their couch with Joseph and it made Sara feel guilty.  Should she feel guilty?

The Relationship Judge Says:  Uchhh, Sara.  Break-ups are never fun.  Luckily it’s not you that’s being dumped or doing the dumping – but being part of the collateral damage of a break-up is not a good place to be either.  You don’t need to choose sides, Sara, but you must know that by now.  How could you possibly choose between a childhood friend and a college roommate?  Not to mention that your husband is very close with one of them.  I think Jenna should understand that.  Even if your husband didn’t have a relationship with Evan, I’d still say you can be friends with both.  Perhaps set some boundaries by not having his bring his new rebounding toy (that’s what she is, most likely) to your apartment until it gets serious (it won’t).

I’d try very hard to limit whatever information you may learn about Evan from being passed on to Jenna.  She’s hurting right now and there’s no need to rub salt in the wound.  You’ll have to put in some extra effort to make separate plans and coordinate with your husband about when Evan will be coming over to your place versus when Jenna can come.  So YES, you can and SHOULD be friends with both and should NOT take sides. It won’t be easy, but you don’t have much of a choice at this point. If you don’t want to hang out with Evan’s new lady friend, don’t.

Your Turn: How should Sara juggle her two friends during the aftermath of their break up?  Should she pick a side?

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  1. Sympathy to the families.

    Relationship judge.
    Quickly: even though it seems nigh impossible, friends need to remain compassionate but neutral. By remaining friends with both persons eventually you may be the very source of reconciliation.

    For the wounded partner, please read The 5 Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Rose


  2. So I’m a bit late posting here and not sure you’re still looking for responses but here goes…I completely agree with Stacey that staying friends with both people is absolutely possible. I might consider writing a very brief, neutral email to both parties just simply stating you love them both, are sorry for their recent break up, and that you are there for both of them as a friend. That way you are putting it out there to both of them, at the same time how you feel, lessening the chance that either will try and pull you to one side. You’re also simultaneously establishing a role with both of them indicating your feelings and intentions where the situation is concerned, which will likely lessen tension all around. I also think that by remaining neutral and friendly to both, in the long run you will garner more respect from them. Finally I’m sure there will be questions from both on how the other is doing. I would absolutely deflect and defer those questions by saying, he/she is fine, doing well, now how about you? How are you doing? And if the push back is too much I would just restate your love for both and your desire to remain neutral where the break up is concerned. Tough position, but two long standing friendships can likely withstand this kind of circumstance.

  3. Of course the best option for Sarah is to stay friend with both, but that will definitely heurts her friendship with Jennah. No way that Jennah count on her as a friend such as before.

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