Whether you're coupled or single, having couple friends (aka, friends who are in a relationship), is kind of awesome. After all, what's better than seeing your friends fall in love? And, if you're in a relationship, having couple friends helps when you want to go out with bae, but don't want to make your single friends feel like they're third wheeling.
But if your couple friends break up, you're left in an awkward position. You might feel that you have to choose sides, even if you don't want to.
While friend-code insinuates that whoever you were friends with first is the friend you stick with in the end, that's not necessarily how real life works. And it's not fair for either of your friends to expect that you'll dump the other. "It's usually an unspoken understanding that one partner exits with their friends and the other partner exits with theirs. The issue with that is that people often become super close with their ex's friends, so the lines get blurred," says dating coach Diana Mandell. And people shouldn't put their friends in a position where they have to choose who they'll be friends with. So step number one, if you're planning to stay friends with both people, is to set up some boundaries and be open from the start. You can't sneak around and try to hide that you're still hanging out with either of them and expect that the other won't find out.
"Be sure to say something to both friends like, ‘I understand that it may be difficult for you if I still hang out with Mark occasionally. But I have a good relationship with him, too, and I want to maintain it — I hope you realize this doesn’t take away my support for you,'" Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix, told Shape.
But as unfair as it might feel for one friend to ask you to stay away from the other, it's not always worth straining your relationship with the friend you had first (or the friend you're closest with), Flint Wainess, coauthor of It's Not Me, It's You: The Ultimate Breakup Book, told Jezebel. At the very least, you might consider taking a break from your friend's ex until they feel better about the breakup. "Absolutely you can stay friends with that person. But there might be a transition period where you have to cool it so that your original friend doesn't get hurt," Wainess says. "I'd say two months is reasonable."
Whether or not you take a break, you'll want to stick with your boundaries. A lot of the time when people break up, they feel hurt and angry and want to vent about all the ways their ex did them wrong. If you're going to stay friends with both people, then you can't be part of any of that. You can listen and tell your friends that you understand their need to vent, but don't add in your own opinion, or else it will feel like you are choosing sides. Just be honest about why you aren't joining in. Tell your friends that you don't want to complain about either of them, and ask what else you can do to support them instead, Sharyn Wolf, marriage counselor and author of Love Shrinks: A Memoir of a Marriage Counselor's Divorce told Jezebel.
But, while honesty and openness are great for you, they're probably not so great for your friends. Since they know you're still hanging out with their ex, they might ask how their ex is doing. But they probably don't really want to know, so you should keep any information about how great their ex is doing or how many dates they're going on to yourself.
Balancing hangouts and how much you tell your friends about their exes will be difficult, but it's worth it if you care deeply about both people. "Establishing the new normal doesn’t happen overnight. Your friends may even feel too sad or stressed to socialize — even alone — in the ways that they used to," Bonior told Shape. Be patient and ready to support both of your friends however they need, as long as you're not stepping on either of them in the process of making one feel better.