Posted on: Monday, January 5, 2004

It's easy to run into ex in Hawai'i

   Divorce can split up friends, too

By Tanya Bricking Leach
Advertiser Staff Writer

As much as you might want to avoid your ex after a divorce, remember this is an island.

Those places where you used to go, those friends you used to see at your favorite restaurants, well, you may have to decide who gets custody of your hangouts. Or just accept that running into your ex and old friends who might feel awkward about your divorce is just another price of paradise.

"It's challenging here," said Mitzi Gold, a psychologist and director of the Mars & Venus Counseling Center of Hawaii. "It's more incestuous here. It forces people to have to kind of deal with all these other people. You can't just run away and go to another city 20 miles away. You are going to run into them."

Tolerance and forgiveness become even more important in a place like this, Gold said, and people need to learn how to heal themselves so they can rebuild old friendships and form new ones.

Phuong Ball has found there are plenty of friendships to forge, even 11 years after her divorce.

The Kailua woman was married for 23 years to a military man, and when the marriage fell apart, she had to find a new support network.

"Usually, the friends at the beginning feel sorry for you and try to hang out with you for a little while," she said. "Then they drop off. Friends feel uncomfortable. They don't know who to take sides with."

Ball, who's 60 and works as a contract specialist at the Hale Koa hotel, found comfort soon after her divorce in a group called Parents Without Partners (www.go.to/pwp-hi), which sponsors activities such as dancing and picnics for single parents and their kids. Now she's the orientation chairwoman for the group, which has an active membership of about 125.

"Most of them fell out of their circle with other friends," she said. "We all have something in common."

Sometimes, old friends just don't know how to help after a divorce, and it can even leave couples in the circle of friends re-evaluating their own relationships.

Those going through the split must seek out a support system through friends and family and even therapists, especially if they are feeling depressed, Honolulu psychologist Daniel Reed said. He recommends getting plenty of exercise, avoiding substance abuse and seeking help if you can't stay focused at work.

"A lot of times, if you're not handling your divorce well," he said, "your friends won't know how to react."

But their reactions can show you who your true friends really are.

Tanya Bricking Leach writes about relationships for The Advertiser. Reach her at tbricking@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8026.


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