Being friends with Exes
Megha Pai
Friday, April 20, 2012

More and more couples are deciding to part ways amicably and remain in touch

When marriages and relationships go south, most people part ways for good. The often unspoken rule of breakups is that you can’t be friends with your exes. But now more and more couples are choosing to part ways amicably and even choosing to remain friends following separation.

Take Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, for instance. Last month the actress wrote the foreword for her former husband’s book. Courtney Cox has often been quoted as calling her ex David Arquette her “favourite person in the world”. Elizabeth Hurley is on such good terms with longtime ex Hugh Grant that she had a room for him in her home with the now ex-husband, Arun Nayar — who, again, remains a “good friend”.

While divorce can be quite hard, it certainly doesn’t have to be disruptive. After five years of dating, Emily and Andrew decided to get married only to realise four years later that it wasn’t meant 
to be. Having tried everything in the manual for a year including counselling and a trial separation to “cool off”, they decided to call it quits.

There was complete radio silence for a long time, when both disappeared from each other’s radar, during which time Emily married Steve. Two years after the divorce, Emily ran into Andrew at a common friend’s marriage. “After a few awkward moments we got talking and realised how much we 
had missed each other, not as a couple but rather as friends. So we decided to be in touch.”

Whether one decides to be friends with the ex or not, it is important to resolve the conflict, according to Dr Raymond Hamden, a clinical and forensic psychologist at the Human Relations Institute in Dubai. “Ex-couples must strive to resolve the problems through psychological intervention and restore the friendship and move on with their lives. Even though they have divorced, they also need to remember that the problems of this marriage will be carried on into the next marriage. So whether they call it a friendship or not, they have to resolve the conflict that caused the divorce so it would not be repeated in the next relationship.”

This is perhaps the reason why, in the US — where 50 per cent of first marriages end in divorce — 67 per cent of second and 74 per cent of third marriages also meet the same fate, according to the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology.

The Triangle

How does the current spouse handle someone being on ‘friendly’ terms with the ex? While this can be a dicey aspect, admits Emily, the key is to come clean about your equation with the ex. “I made sure Steve knew he has nothing to worry about. I introduced the two during a gathering. They are understandably not the best of friends but they are certainly not at loggerheads.” That, she says, is good enough for her.

Lack of transparency and communication is the greatest problem in relationships, says Dr Hamden. “There 
has to be open transparent disclosure and this will enable the new spouse to reduce their fears or their anxieties about the old relationship. Even if the new spouse is not comfortable at first it is important to maintain that transparency so that the new spouse gets de-conditioned to their anticipated fear and anxiety.”

When Kids Are In the Equation

It is easier to choose whether or not you want to be in touch with your ex when there are no children to connect the two, but when you have children, it is a different story altogether. Take the case of Pooja and Anil. After 20 years of marriage, they decided to divorce. Theirs had been a very successful marriage on the face of it, so naturally the divorce came as a shock to everyone else, including the children. “While no one would have guessed that we were having issues, we had drifted apart without realising that ourselves,” says Pooja. “I guess in a sense, we were already emotionally divorced by the time we decided to seal the case.”

They eventually did get over the turmoil and managed to maintain a cordial relationship. “At first, it was only about the children and their lives, but soon we started taking each other’s counsel regarding our own lives as there was no one else who knew us better,” says Pooja. The greatest breakthrough came about when Pooja convinced Anil to move on and get remarried. Today, she is not just in touch with her ex but is also friends with his new wife. “Sometimes, it feels surreal how smoothly things turned out. We are both happy, and happy for each other too.”

A divorce only separates a husband and a wife but the mom and dad stay together, Dr Hamden says. “People must acknowledge that the marital relationship and the parental relationship must be separate. The children will, of course, suffer the divorce between the husband and wife but it will be less problematic when the mom-and-dad part of the relationship remains functional.”

There has to be effective communication and understanding for the benefit of the kids. Using the children as pawns is the same as putting them in an emotional hostage situation. There should be no parent alienation syndrome — meaning parents should not talk badly about each other to the children, not only in words but also in body language and facial expressions.

It is important that the children realise that the parents are cooperating with each other and have mutual respect for each other — especially for their roles as parents. “Once you get beyond the initial pain and heartbreak there is a great friend waiting on the other side,” sums up Pooja.

Tips for Moving On

  • Time to mourn: Take time to acknowledge the death of a relationship. The longer you two were together, the longer it will probably take before you are ready for friendship. It could be two months or two years — but you’ll know when you are ready.
  • Keep it platonic: No rekindling of the old flame. You can’t move forward when you are stuck in reverse.
  • Have emotional boundaries: Refrain from falling back on your ex when you are feeling down, having issues or looking to get your emotional needs fulfilled.
  • Move on: Meet other people. If you’re pretending 
to be friends only because 
you are hoping they would 
fall in love with you again, 
then it’s not truly a friendship.
  • Do not conduct a postmortem on the relationship over and over: Once you have made peace with the other, avoid analysing your relationship with the ex too often unless for the sake of self-improvement. See a therapist, talk to friends or write a journal if you need to vent.

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