Sense & Sensitivity

DEAR HARRIETTE: One of my best friends just confided in me that she and her husband are getting divorced. I am shocked. They seemed to be a solid couple. They have been married for years, and their youngest child has just left for college. I’ve heard about the empty nest syndrome, where couples sometimes break up when the kids are gone. I didn’t think this would happen to them. I’m not quite sure what to do. We are friends with both the husband and the wife. How do I support my friend and deal with the grief I am feeling over what’s to come? -- In the Middle, Fairfax, Virginia

DEAR IN THE MIDDLE: When couples break up, the divorce affects many more than the two of them or even their nuclear family. Usually it is difficult for people to stay close to both the husband and wife, simply due to logistics. You can try to maintain both relationships and watch to see how things unfold. You certainly can remain kind and discreet to both of them. It is best for you not to discuss the details of their relationship with anyone, even when you have “juicy” details. Keep that information confidential. It will help you to remain neutral as you also avoid fueling the fire of gossip that is bound to emerge in the coming months.

In terms of how you are feeling, be honest with yourself and with them. Admit that you are deeply saddened about their breakup. You can even encourage them to get counseling before they make it final. You may need counseling yourself depending on how you manage emotionally in the coming months. Getting professional support is better than relying on friends.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a single mom and have been taking care of my son ever since he was a baby. His father hasn’t been in the picture much. Now that my son is growing up, he is asking about his father and requesting that he get to spend time with him. He wants to have his dad in his life. I am very worried about encouraging this, as my ex has been unreliable in the past. I would hate for my son to get his heart set on being with his dad only to get his feelings hurt. How can I manage this situation? -- Needing Daddy, Detroit

DEAR NEEDING DADDY: Start by having a conversation with your son’s father. Be kind and hopeful in your tone. Tell him his son has been asking to spend more time with him, that he needs to know his father. Without trying to guilt this man into building a relationship with his son, be practical and point out that it would be great for them to get to know each other -- on terms that your ex can manage. If he agrees, ask him to schedule times when he is sure he can commit to spending time with his son.

For your son, manage expectations by saying his father will try to be more available to him and that the two of them should take it slowly. Note that this is new for everyone, so it could be bumpy at first.

For you, intervene if the dad is a no-show. You have to manage the development of this relationship.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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