Don't freak out – Julie (my wife) and I did not break up. But in the 10+ years that we have been together, we have seen five long-term couples go their separate ways.
In four of these cases, I had only known the individuals as a part of the relationship.
In the other relationship, I knew one member for a long time before they became a couple; but still, the other member of the couple had also become an important part of my life (as they were together for at least 15 years).
I am no stranger to breakups, either – come on, Julie wasn't my first serious relationship.
One thing that I have learned -- it usually doesn't matter whether you are the one initiating the break-up, or the one who is being left – ending a serious relationship hurts.
I know that some people may not realize that doing the breaking up isn't easy, but it isn't.
At least in my experience, realizing that 1) your relationship is no longer working (for whatever reason), and 2) you are about to hurt someone you love (or at least cared deeply for at one time), sucks.
And, of course, being on the other side of the break-up is horrible – especially if you didn't see it coming. You may feel betrayed, disoriented, and just miserable.
In either case, you probably look over the relationship, trying to pinpoint when things started going wrong and if there was anything you could have done to prevent it. You wonder if you will ever feel the ability to love or be loved again. You appreciate that friends are trying to help, but you may not want their condolences (or advice).
Speaking of friends, there is a good chance that as a couple, you shared a lot of mutual friends.
When long-term couples break up, there is that awkwardness of with whom friends should side. There have been many times when I hear people say that they "lost friends in the divorce." Well, that's just another thing that sucks.
Let me tell you how Julie and I handle the breakups of couples we know.
With the exception of abuse, we believe that whatever happened between couples is their business. If we were friends with both of them when they were a couple, we will continue to be friends with them as individuals.
We are very upfront about this to them. We are not into badmouthing people – especially our friends – so we support each person and will let them vent, but we will not be a part of a "bashing" session.
So far, in the cases of two of the break-ups that we have witnessed, the individuals have stated that they had no problem with us remaining friends with all parties involved; however, after a short period of time, one member of each couple has stopped all contact with us.
As a friend, it hurts, especially when your friend does not discuss the situation with you, but just cuts you out of their life (this happened in both cases) … but I digress.
My point is that when break-ups happen, it is tough for all involved – not only for members of the couple, but their friends and family, as well. Because it is a stressful time, things may become uncomfortable. As a friend, you might feel like you should give advice, choose sides, or feed into the fight and high emotions.
My advice: just be there for your friend. She (or he) is hurting and just needs you to be there as a friend. Listen. Comfort. Support. That's it.
When my first girlfriend broke up with me, I wasn't out to my family and only a handful of my friends knew I was gay. It was my first broken heart and I was miserable.
One of my roommates wanted to support me, but she wasn't sure how. At one point, she gave me a little care package with a note that said she knew I was hurting, was there if I needed to talk, and hoped to see my smile again. It may seem like a little thing, but it meant the world to me. It let me know that I wasn't as good at hiding my feelings as I thought I was and that I had support. Having that helped me move through my healing process.
Choosing sides could cause you to lose a good friend. Feeding into the argument will just prolong your friend's hurt and could hurt your character. Besides, bad-mouthing the other person can come back to haunt you if they get back together.
Case in point: years ago my sister broke up with a guy she had been with for some time. As soon as they broke up, several family members and friends told my sister how much they did not like her ex and how happy they were that they had broken up.
About a week later, my sister and this guy got back together. My sister was hurt and confused by the "support" of her family and friends. (Eventually they broke up for good, but there was a need to repair relationships.)
Unfortunately, advice, especially judgmental advice, can just add to a friend's hurt.
You may think that you are helping by telling your friend why the relationship was bad, or how she (or he) should proceed, but what you think is helpful may actually be hurtful. Even if you feel your friend or family member was wrong, telling her (or him) that when they are dealing with a break-up can feel like an added slap in the face.
Break-ups are never easy.
When it's happening to a friend, get over your own discomfort and give support. And remember, there are two sides (sometimes more) to every story. You need either to listen to both sides, or to listen to neither side.
We all need to feel the love of our friends – especially in tough times like the end of a relationship. Take care of each other. Until next time ...
Amy C. Teeple is the author of Nested Lez, a column formerly published in the print edition of The Lavender Lens. Drawing inspiration from her 10+ year relationship with her wife Julie, she explores topics related to life as a "nested" lesbian. Born and raised a Jersey girl, Amy has embraced SoCal living, but still visits the East Coast at least once a year. Loving San Diego's beautiful year-round weather, she is active in softball, biking, and running, and has a not-so-secret love affair with lesbian romance books. Amy is also the owner and lead writer at ACT Web Consulting, a web writing and online marketing agency. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.