Remaining friends with your ex may be the last thing you want to do. But there may be some real advantages to doing so, particularly if you have children with them. Being friends with your ex is not easy and requires a leap of faith and courage and some other essential ingredients like closure from the past and boundaries for the future. These are only possible if the relationship can sustain respect for each other and a level of honesty and openness between you.
Before we can think about a friendship, it is important to get closure from the past. At the time that the relationship ends a lot is going on for you. The mixed emotions you experience can be very confusing. There is a lot of hurt, pain, anger, sadness and a range of other emotions. Perhaps even a bit of relief. But working through your feelings and coming to terms with the loss is the first step towards any relationship you want. Not just with your ex but also with yourself and your new partner.
It would be better to not rush into making any hasty decisions. It is better to delay these till the emotional turmoil is less intense. When you feel you have come to terms with what happened. That you have given a reasonable amount of time to process your feelings, understand your loss, and understand what you want differently from the future.
The extent of the loss is not always known at the outset when the relationship ends. Relationship loss is the obvious one, but the less obvious ones can include things like plans, hopes, dreams, etc. that you had shared. Understanding the extent of the loss and the different sides to it takes time, as does coming to terms with it and then regrouping to start a different life.
You may not initially want to believe that the relationship has ended. As you progress to the next stage, there will be anger and sadness. You or your partner may even try and think of different ways that you could make the relationship work. The sadness of the relationship ending will eventually settle in. There may be tears and feeling down. Depending on your ability to cope with loss, the circumstances of the relationship ending, and a range of other factors, you eventually start to accept that the relationship is now over, and it is time to move on.
Talking helps. The more you work through your feelings, the more you will understand yourself. The easier it will become.
Blaming either your ex or yourself for things that happened in the relationship may be easy option. Often one person alone is not at fault in the relationship. Maybe one or both of you allowed the relationship to drift. Or that despite best efforts, you could not save the relationship. Understanding what happened is important but it does not have to come at the cost of blame. Blame will create bitterness and will create a downward spiral of negative emotions. If one of you feels betrayed, cheated or used then it is unlikely that you will be able to avoid blame completely. With the blame culture will come a sense of bitterness towards the other and that might take you away from the friendship that you seek.
Research suggests that children of partners who are fighting, arguing and bickering tend to have more emotional and behavioural problem. It is the conflict in the relationship that is often more damaging to the children than the separation of the relationship itself. Divorce is a traumatic experience for the child as well as the adults. But the conflict can raise the stakes. A civil parting, if not a friendship, helps everyone make peace with the breakup and moving on with their lives.
But that does not mean that you don’t want to understand what happened. Or that you do not seek closure. History has a way of repeating itself unless you intervene with it and chose a different outcome. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, they will follow you into the next relationship. And therefore, it is important to understand what happened and what to look out for in the next relationship.
If you have found closure after the relationship ended, then it is relevant to ask if has your ex been able to find that closure as well. This is not to get similar closures but to ensure that there is a closure for both. You can try and have this conversation openly with them but if there are underlying differences then it might bring up old arguments. And they may become counter-productive to the results you seek. It may be better to instead have the same conversation through a definition of the boundaries you seek for the friendship.
Try and identify the need to have a friendship with your ex. For example, it helps with child arrangement. Or that a deep friendship has developed, and you don’t want to let go of that. Given the history of the intimacy in the relationship, it is also possible that one of you is still in love with the other and may not want to let go and that this may be the reason that you want to keep them a part of your life. The “friendship” you want to keep in this case may be an excuse for keeping the relationship.
In the right circumstances, the intimacy that you once shared can return. A moment of vulnerability, listening to a song that you once danced to, a joke that you shared as partners, these all provide opportunities for the old pattern of behaviour to emerge. Good and healthy boundaries can help you manage the relationship that you want to build.
It literally takes two to tango, so you alone cannot seek a friendship that your ex does not also agree to. Sometimes the relationship naturally evolves into a friendship and what you agree becomes an implicit part of the relationship. This can also be made explicit if you both talk it through and agree it between you. If one or both of you go on to form new relationships, then a stronger boundary is necessary. Talking about it with your ex and with your new partner will help manage this boundary. In my experience, anything explicit always gives ownership and involves the other person in a conversation. Anything that is implied or understood creates room for misinterpretation.
You want to create a healthy boundary – make it explicit and agree it.
It is also possible that your new partner may not be happy with the friendship. Keeping their feelings on board will help you avoid any hurt feelings in the future over this. On the other hands secrets, when discovered often lead to damaging results and hurt feelings.