Divorce is a pretty common thing these days. But just because it’s common, doesn’t make the experience of going through a divorce any easier for the people involved. How do you move forward? If you don’t have kids, the process is probably a little easier. You won’t have to see this person once the divorce is final, unless you choose to do so. If you do have children though, how do you manage the pain and the loss while remaining pleasant with the person you thought you would be spending the rest of your life with?
In her new book, Befriending Your Ex After Divorce, Dr. Judy Rabinor shares her perspective as a divorcee and as a psychologist and offers her guidance in navigating the (often) messy world of divorce. Dr. Rabinor was kind of to take some time to chat with me on the subject.
#1. What exactly does it mean to “befriend” your ex?
Befriending Your Ex is about creating a new relationship with the person you were once married to. The key here is creating a new relationship. This new relationship is not a continuation of your marital relationship. It’s likely to begin by focusing on the best interest of your children—rather on your relationship as a couple, and it will emphasize creating a stable secure environment for them. To do this well means you will be guided by a spirit of goodwill, collaboration and compassion. It means you will put aside all your personal reservations about your ex and simply focus on parenting.
A befriended relationship is not about retaining the intimacy you once had as a married couple. You can no longer count on this person to be there in the way he/she was for you. But you can strive to be there for one another about everything that concerns your children. It’s about making room for life’s changes, such as when you or your ex have to work late or on the weekends. It’s about making a deliberate effort to act from a position of kindness and generosity, respect and trust. It involves letting go of past hurts, wounds and beliefs and focusing on being a good parent.
I’ve often found exes have feel uncomfortable or even ashamed to admit to having caring feelings for an ex spouse—its as if there’s a taboo against feeling compassion and care for a divorced partner. In fact, our culture seems to give people the opposite message: divorce is a license to speak poorly and be nasty to a divorced partner. This not only damages children— it damages adults as well.
#2. What are the advantages of befriending your ex?
- You and your ex share your most precious gift: your children.
- Maybe because you and your ex share a history and in a funny way, you know each other oh so well.
One secret of a divorced person’s happiness is having a befriended ex, someone you can count on, rely on, share happiness and pain, as both will inevitably fall into your life.
All the research on the effects of divorce on children points to the same consistent finding: children do better—emotionally, physically, socially and in school when parents get along. Befriending often starts with the thinking: I’m doing this for my kids: Keeping peace. Providing safety. Doing it for the children is a good enough motivator to get started.
#3. How common are befriended exes?
As far as I know, there aren’t any national statistics, but from my research, professional practice and conversations with friends, relatives and acquaintances, I’ve discovered many former couples who have amicable relationships—proof that it can be done.
I think this is because divorce is more common and more acceptable than it was even a decade ago. Today many people get divorced for “irreconcilable differences” – which often means their marriage simply lost its magic, they drifted apart, or for other reasons less serious than infidelity, addictions, physical abuse or mental cruelty.
Interestingly enough, not only does the type of post divorce relationship a couple develops affect the entire functioning of their family, but it also carries over into their remarriage. One of the most significant findings was that amicable ex-spouses, when they found new partners, were happier in their remarriage than were hostile or unfriendly ex-spouses.
#4. Is befriending possible if a divorce was extremely hostile and bitter?
It’s not possible to befriend someone if you are filled with hostility and bitterness. The internal work must be done first. And in fact, there may have to be a cooling off period, which differs from couple to couple. Divorced couples can go from furious to friendly only if they do the internal work of grieving, mourning, experiencing and letting go of anger, disappointment and hurt.
My goal in writing this book was to assure people that even if you have a hostile divorce, after a cooling off period, it is possible for emotions to settle down and for exes to be friendly and actually enjoy the fact that rather than remain enemies, they can be allies.
#5. What if one person really wants to be on friendly terms and the ex-spouse doesn’t?
Unfortunately, it takes two to tango. Often the person who is not ready to befriend is holding onto some deep feelings of hurt and/or resentment and anger. If you are interested in befriending an ex who isn’t ready, I suggest you let your ex know you really are willing to listen to what still is bothering him/her. And being a good listener isn’t easy. You may need to really hear how badly your ex still feels. And you may need to dig inside to see if you can truly and genuinely apologize.
To learn more about improving your relationship with an ex, you can buy the book here.