fighting couple third wheel

It is a friend’s worst nightmare. Two of your friends were dating. Everything seemed to be going well. They went on dates, never seemed to fight and were disgustingly sweet around each other. You and all your other mutual friends were teasing the happy couple about giving everyone else cavities simply by being in the same room. There were no rants about how he was driving her crazy or how she was becoming too needy. There was no warning, but now your friends are no longer the giggling couple in a touching relationship. Instead, they are the furious exes who cannot seem to bring themselves to be in the same room without snarling at each other. You are expected to be a good friend to both of them. The problem, of course, is that it can be difficult to be a good friend to two people who loathe each other, especially if they both share all the same friends. So, what are you supposed to do? How do you deal with a breakup in your friend group?

Don’t take sides.

For the love of all that is holy, do not take sides in the ending of the relationship. If you take a side, you are almost certainly cutting at least one of your friends out of your life. Then, if other people in your friend group start to take sides as well, you may find that you have cut a significant portion of your friends and acquaintances out of your life because someone else’s relationship fell apart. This is not something anyone wants to do. To make matters worse, if your friends end up getting back together, you may be the enemy of both of them for siding against the now happy couple regardless of the fact that you were not the one drawing lines in the sand. Resist the urge to play both sides as well. If you pretend to be on each person’s side when you are with them, you will get caught eventually. They will have a fight and your name will come up as agreeing with one person. The other will claim that you actually agree with them. The result is that either both of them shun you or you are put on the spot and told to declare your loyalty. Avoid the feuding kingdoms and make like Switzerland. Stay neutral.

No name calling.

Part of avoiding taking sides is resisting the urge to indulge each of your friends in a bit of cathartic name calling. It is not unusual for a person who has just gone through a breakup to call their ex all manner of nasty names. In fact, such catharsis has shown to be beneficial when it comes to healing. Feeling and expressing anger at an ex or focusing on their flaws in the immediate aftermath of a breakup can help a person realize that their ex was not actually perfect. This in turn helps a person get over their ex. As such, there is no reason to be worried if your friends are saying nasty things about their ex so long as it is done in a private setting with a confidant just like any other time a person would want to discuss personal and private feelings. 

When you are friends with both exes, things get a little more complicated. You cannot tell your friend to stop being angry with their ex, but you cannot take part in it. You cannot call your friend names simply because you are with your ex who is also your friend. Frankly, listening to it is a bad idea as well. It can imply that you agree with what the person is saying. You do not need to get on the case of the person doing the name calling, but it might be a good idea to gently remind them that you are friends with both people and do not feel comfortable listening to the nastiness. Try and redirect their anger toward more productive pursuits instead.

Don’t force them to get along.

Breakups are nasty, and it is completely understandable when the two exes do not want to spend time together. Truthfully, a little distance often helps speed the healing process. That said, people who are friends with both exes may try and get the couple back together or simply try and make them get along with each other so as to avoid awkwardness and tension within the friend group. Resist the urge to do this. If your friends need space to heal, give them that. Do not invite both of them to a small gathering and lie about them both coming. Do not give them both speeches about how they need to get along because it is making things awkward for their mutual friends. The exes are aware that things are tense in the friend group. That does not mean they need to suborn their own emotional healing so other people do not have to deal with a little discomfort. 

Helping a friend through a breakup is never easy, but it is even more difficult when you are also friends with their ex. You are forced into doing a very cautious balancing act where you try to fulfill both of your friends’ needs. This can lead to awkward times all around, but it is important to follow some basic rules when dealing with such a situation. Essentially, you cannot talk or act differently about either ex simply because they are no longer in a relationship. This means no name calling, no shunning and no forcing the two to be in the same room if they want space. It can make for several awkward months, but be a good friend and do what is best for your friends’ healing, not your own comfort.
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