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Divorce Changes Friendship For Men, But That Doesn’t Mean it Should

Experts explain why married men struggle to stay friends with their buddies when they need them the most.

It’s hard to be there for a friend going through a breakup, but it’s especially difficult for a dad to comfort a fellow dad who is going through a divorce. It’s not because you’re not close. But marriage and kids changes friendships and, after a divorce, it’s hard to stay on the same page. In extreme cases, divorced men may even provoke fears in the minds of their friends about the security of their own marriages.

“Married men and single men may develop less of an intimate relationship simply because of the lifestyle differences that happen due to their marital status,” psychotherapist Shirin Peykar told Fatherly. “Often times, the relationship becomes more an acquaintance-like friendship.”

That’s unfortunate, because divorced parents may need friends more than anyone else. Social scientists agree that single men rely on friends, while married men rely on their families, for social support. Divorced men fall in a grey area. They’re technically single, but they rarely have the same social supports in place as bachelors. And what few friends they kept, they’re likely to lose. Studies suggest that divorced men are more likely to lose mutual friends after a split than divorced women. Divorced men also have higher rates of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and early death than divorced women, research shows. Lack of social support could explain a large part of that.

So why don’t married men step up and take their divorced buddies under their wings? One reason may be the fear that breakups can be contagious. Indeed, studies suggest that there is such thing as divorce contagion, especially when men become envious of their friends’ freedom and consider ending their own marriages. This could, in turn, cause wives to ask their husbands to avoid a divorced friend. “Spouses may be fearful of the effects of a divorced friend,” Peykar says. “Especially if their marriage is conflicted.”

But friendships matter, and there are ways for a man to be there for his troubled buddy without putting his own marriage in jeopardy. It mostly comes down to having healthy boundaries. While married men should to recognize that their friends may need them more than usual, divorced men should understand that there are limits to the amount of attention a family can afford to give an old friend. And while divorced men may want to vent about their relationships, married men should resist the urge to do the same. 

It’s crucial to be clear about expectations and be willing to cope with them changing, which is what good friendships are all about. “Boundaries are a huge necessity, as divorced men may expect the friendship to not change as a result of the divorce,” Peykar says. “It is important to prioritize your spouse and the well-being of your marriage before friends’ needs.”