Most people I know who are first getting divorced can’t stand their ex-husbands and/or ex-wives. They either have this deep hatred for the person, or they roll their eyes at the mention of his or her name, or they just feel pity for the person. It makes sense if you think about it because at the beginning of a divorce, feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment are so raw. But I think in time, being friends with your ex isn’t so uncommon. I can speak from personal experience.
Here’s a story I never forgot. Several years ago, when I was living in Boston, (before I was married) I dated a guy for a few months. It didn’t work out, but I remember clearly that he said he wanted to be friends.
“Whatever,” I thought at the time. Everyone says that, don’t they? But this guy said something that has always stuck with me. He told me that if you can’t or if you refuse to be friends with a person with whom you had a relationship, then you never really had anything substantial, that the relationship didn’t mean that much. “If you like someone enough to be in a relationship with that person, then you should want to be friends.” I’ve never forgotten this wise piece of insight. By the way, the guy and I have remained friends to this day.
But, does that advice apply to divorce? I mean, dating someone for a few months (the Boston guy) is certainly different than a marriage. Being friends with your ex after a divorce might not be possible in your mind if the person hurt you deeply (which is the case in most divorces.) I mean, how can you be friends with your ex if he or she cheated? Left you? Was mean to you? Ignored you?
Here’s the answer…
Being friends with your ex takes time. It almost never happens before a divorce is final, due to the pending litigation or mediation where life-altering deals are being made, including custody, real estate, financial and other major decisions. There’s just too much pressure and fear of the outcome to focus on “Aww, let’s try to be friends.” I hate the way this sounds but it’s true: it’s a time in your life where you are just concerned with what happens to yourself and your kids.
But, being friends with your ex is certainly possible after the dust settles–after the divorce is final and time has gone by, and some of the feelings of resentment, anger and bitterness have faded. The new girlfriend or boyfriend your ex got two minutes after you separated is something you won’t forget, but now you are a little bit more OK with it.
In my own divorce 11 years ago, I think as time went by, the two of us started to replace all of the negative thoughts of what happened that led us to divorce with thoughts about why we got together in the first place.
Despite all the hurt I experienced towards the end of my marriage and after, I had forgotten how incredibly kind my ex husband can be, and how much he makes my kids and I laugh. In other words, memories of the good qualities start to squeeze out the recollections of the bad times. And if you think about it, any therapist will tell you that long-term, we all remember the good and tend to forget the bad in our pasts.
It took my ex and I a long time to get to a place of what I consider friendship. Also, being friends with your ex might seem like a business deal at times, and I actually think that’s OK. In other words, being friends with your ex is so much better for the kids, as coparenting is so much easier and the kids see that despite the divorce, Mom and Dad are on the same page. This helps immensely with disciplining and creating rules and boundaries for kids.
The thing is, whether or not you are friends with your ex, the two of you will always be in a business deal together. That business deal is your children.
So, isn’t it better if you are friends? That doesn’t mean being fake friends (although being fake friends is better than being enemies.)
I guess what I’m saying is, the Boston guy’s advice really really makes sense for divorced couples too. If you think about it, you married this person because you obviously saw some wonderful qualities in him or her. Now, maybe the person has changed, or maybe getting divorced wasn’t your decision. That is beyond frustrating and hurtful. But, there must be some qualities about the person that overtime you begin to recall, right?
In being friends with your ex, it’s important to try to focus on those qualities. Not just for the business deal aspect of the friendship, but for an overall better quality of life for yourself. Isn’t it better for YOU to have a friend in your ex rather than this person you despise, are disgusted by, and who you are holding on tightly to the resentment he or she caused? YES!!
I do have to bring up the fact that being friends with your ex isn’t really possible unless both people want the friendship. For years, I tried to be friends with my ex and he shut me out. But then, it sort of happened over night. He began acting friendly and showing his real self to me instead of acting closed-off and angry.
I truly believe that with most people, (and it has to be the right time–not during the divorce) if one person reaches out and extends the olive branch and says, “Hey, I’d really like to be friends and I mean it,” the other one will come around. Try it. What have you got to lose? If the person rejects you, who cares? At least you have put it out there. It might happen later, when your ex is in a happier, better place. Regardless of what happens, you can always know that you tried.
So, next time you run into your ex at Starbucks, or the next time your ex comes to pick up your kids and ignores you, just say hi. Be friendly. Smile. No one ever got hurt from being too nice. Don’t worry so much about “treating him or her the way they treat you.” Just treat him/her the way you’d like to be treated and maybe tell the person sometime that you’d like to be friends. Genuine friends.
Think about it…
Your ex is your family. You share kids. So, why not keep sharing? In a platonic way. Will your ex ever be your BFF? My guess is no. But if you can open your heart to focusing on NOW, on what’s best for the kids, and what’s best for you, being friends with your ex will enrich your life, and the lives of your kids.
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