Taking sides

We’ve all seen couples break up when we’re friends with both. It’s shit. And if we’re decent people we generally try to stay friends with both and hope that given time, the former couple might be able to be friends again, or at least be civil to each other or not make anybody else feel uncomfortable in their presence. I remember when my first husband and I separated, we both tried to be so considerate of the feelings of our mutual friends and both families, that we both made the effort to be kind and respectful to each other both in public and private. So much so, that when we met up with a couple of friends only weeks after we’d split up, who later confessed to being a little nervous about seeing us together, instead they were really surprised to find out how well we were getting on and impressed with how well we were managing a really hard time for us both. Don’t get me wrong … it wasn’t without its share of tears and yelling, but that did not set the tone of how we managed our separation, nor the years afterwards when we regularly communicated as friends via Skype. My first divorce remains one of the things in my life that I am most proud of, however odd that may sound. It may not have been a great marriage, but it was a great divorce. I don’t think there is any one of our friends or families who would have felt uncomfortable spending time with us together at any point during the past six years.

Of course, I’ve been on the other side of this too … where I’ve seen friends split up. And being a diplomatic Libra, I’ve never liked to feel like I have to take sides. I’ve tried to show support to both parties, even if I’ve felt closer to one rather than the other, and always made it clear that I’ve wanted to be there for them both. If you’d asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said that it is always best not to take sides.

But I’ve changed my mind. I’ve discovered that there IS a situation where I think it is absolutely necessary to take sides. And that situation is where one person is afraid. Fear is the key factor here.

If one person is afraid then they are likely to have experienced physical, psychological, or emotional abuse. Physical abuse is obviously easier to prove than psychological or emotional, but in any case, all you, as a friend, might have to go on, is one person’s word. And the sound of fear in their voice, or the sight of fear in their eyes. While I hate the word victim, I’m going to call the person who is afraid, the victim. The other person is the bully.

And the reason why you cannot remain neutral and have to take sides between a victim and a bully (even if you honestly don’t know which is which because of course you haven’t seen anything with your own eyes) is because if you do remain neutral, it is the bully who gains. Staying neutral does not help a victim one bit. So if you’re tempted to try to remain neutral, you’re actually adding to the victim’s trauma. They don’t know where to put you as they try to come to terms with what’s happened and later try to put their life back together.

There are three things you can do … one, stay neutral, in which case the bully gains. Two, side with the bully, in which case the bully gains. Three, side with the victim, in which case the victim gains. The only way you can support someone who claims to be afraid, is by believing what they say one hundred percent, and walking your talk on how unacceptable you believe the bully’s behaviour has been, by not being neutral. It really is that black and white. There are no grey areas in this kind of break up.

There’s always the chance that you’ll back the bully by mistake. Bullies can be very good at playing the victim, because bullies (especially psychological bullies) are by nature manipulative. But it doesn’t matter if you make that mistake, because the real victim will grieve the loss of your friendship and then move on. If you realize later that you made a mistake, you can always apologise and have a conversation about it, and hopefully rebuild that friendship, which can perhaps be an even closer one because you have a better understanding of what the victim went through. But these are situations where you need to pick a side. However hard that may be for you, I promise you that it’s been much harder for the victim.

I’d been thinking about this whole “taking sides” concept for a while, and in the past year a few couples I know have separated, so I got the chance to see really how easy it was going to be for me (diplomatic Libra) to support everyone. And I very logically used the “fear” criteria to decide how I would act. With one couple I could see absolutely no indication that either of them were afraid of the other … they were pissed off and hurt, sad and confused, but nobody was afraid. It has been easy for me to continue offering them both love and friendship. But in other situations I have seen and heard fear. So I told the victim that I — without a doubt — believed everything they were saying, “coached” them through reporting incidents that caused fear to the police, made it very clear that they could count on me to support them, and will always do whatever I can to make sure that others know about that bully. Because that’s the thing about bullies … they’re always looking for their next victim.

I would never have come to this conclusion had I not been the victim of a bully myself. Had I not felt very real fear. Had I not had to go through the process of reporting incidents to the police, and ultimately applying for (and getting) an injunction. And if anything positive came out of that experience, it is that I will always believe someone who says they are afraid. And when you’ve been abused, the most important thing you need to hear is that you are believed.

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