Mutual friends are plentiful while you are in a romantic relationship—a recent study shows 63% of married couples met through just such a network. But what happens to them if the two of you call it quits? Suddenly these same friends you once called for coffee and double dates could be called on by your ex to trash-talk you.
"My ex and I didn't talk about how we were going to divvy it up, but I think it was important that neither of us made our friends choose," says Melissa, 23, about a messy breakup. "I know that he badmouthed me the summer after we broke up, which made one or two of our mutual friends shun me. But I actually did have some of our mutual friends say to me, 'we love you, but is it okay if we are still friends with Mike, too?'"
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After the initial pain of the break up subsides, many couples wonder if it's possible to "share" mutual friends with an ex. But is joint ownership a sound strategy? The answer: It depends.
"The cause of the breakup is very important," says Catherine Sanderson, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Amherst College who researches close relationships. "Infidelity is more difficult for people to cope with than, say, a mutual breakup. If the couple started as friends with similar interests and one had to move for business, they are more likely to be acquaintances and maintain mutual friendship after the separation."
And it all depends on who you're trying to stay friends with. "The mutual friends that are most influenced are newer friends, 'couple' friends, because they are asked to choose sides," says Sanderson. Mary, 47, experienced this firsthand when she and her husband divorced.
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