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Cannot Support Old Friend In Her Affair


I’ve been “best friends” with a woman friend for over 30 years. She’s going through her 3rd divorce and confided in me that she is having an affair with her 1st ex-husband, who is also married, she reports he’s going to divorce his wife. I’ve told my friend I don’t know if I can remain being a friend to her. I just feel it’s plain wrong to have an affair and her ex cheated on her the first time and is along-time pornography “addict”. I feel like I don’t know my friend anymore, but yet we have this long friendship that has been wonderful overall. A few months ago she also confided in me that she secretly married her current husband after a few weeks dating and had a big wedding, but never told anyone (till now). I am having troubles trusting her and feel like she is behaving in deceitful ways. This has really thrown me for a loop, as her behavior comes up against my values and I don’t know whether to end the friendship or not. I’ve already told her I can’t support her emotionally about the affair. How does one gage when to end a long-term friendship such as this?

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Friendships, especially old friendships, are precious and irreplaceable things. You can cultivate new friendships, but the old ones you lose will never fully be replaced. The loss of an old friend is not unlike the death of a family member in this regard. Still, the worth of a friendship is that it grows with you over the years. It is not terribly useful to hold on to an old friendship simply because it is old. The friend needs to be emotionally available and respectful of you and what you have become as you have grown. There needs to be reciprocity between you. The friend needs to be depositing as much emotional energy into the “friendship bank” as she is withdrawing so that she is not chronically running a deficit with you (to borrow a banking metaphor). You need to be making the same sort of investment in her. If the situation is otherwise, you are no longer dealing with a friend, but rather the shadow of a friendship you used to have. The fact is that people grow and change as they age, and not all friendships (or marriages) grow in ways that allow them to remain together over long periods of time.

Clearly, you and your friend have grown apart in some significant ways. This shifting of the relationship requires that you create new boundaries governing what you will and will not expect of each other. You’ve told her already that you cannot support her concerning the affair and that is entirely appropriate. You may need to go further (depending on your comfort level) and simply tell her that you won’t talk with her about this topic). If you can be comfortable compartmentalizing your affection for this woman (so that it is not contaminated with your disdain for her messy personal life), and if she is comfortable allowing you to do this without feeling deeply insulted, then you two have a chance at making the friendship work. If either of you fail in this boundary resetting task, the friendship will sink. You may go on being polite with each other for a time, but the living core of the relationship will be dead. It is that core that is precious; the rest is just formality.

I say, have a heart to heart with your friend (in the manner that best works for you two) and tell her (if it is true) that you truly value her friendship and want it to continue but need not to talk about her relationships because you so deeply disapprove of her decision making in that capacity. This approach is blunt, but also honest and clear, and honesty and clarity are important here. You are not trying to be insulting; you are simply and clearly defining a territory within which you can continue to love your friend. You have to be comfortable and accepting of the parts of her that you don’t want to deal with, (that those parts exist and are a part of her) even if you don’t approve of them. Similarly, your friend has to recognize and accept that you have your “failures” too (e.g., your failure to be supportive of her even in her folly). You both have to arrive at the conclusion that you are still better off maintaining the relationship even as you can’t be all things to one another as once might have been possible. Hopefully, the two of you can come through this with the core of your friendship still alive. If not, then it is time to leave.

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