The question of whether you can continue being friends with your ex after divorce is one that continues to linger and has been the focus of several studies over the years. While I do have a personal bias against staying friends with your ex, the logical part of my mind wants to evaluate the pros and cons of having that kind of relationship with the ex after the breakup.
Let’s Be Civilized About This
Three weeks after my ex-wife and I decided to split, we went on our previously planned vacation to Ecuador and Peru. The entire trip had been pre-paid, and we thought this could be a great final hurrah!
In hindsight, it was three weeks of great experiences, overshadowed by my persistent thoughts about how I wanted to travel with someone I appreciate.
The feelings were too raw, and the concept of being friends with the women who had monopolized the better part of my last decade was a little too much.
While it was still a great trip, my favorite memories came from the week I traveled by myself. Visiting the village off Lake Titicaca, I made new friends, had amazing experiences, and felt completely at ease traveling alone.
According to a 2004 NBC.com poll, approximately 48% of people surveyed said they stayed friends after the breakup. I have never met that 48%, but mazel tov to those who can do it.
I guess I fall into the 18% who tried to make it work and failed. While I do have a personal bias against staying friends with your ex, the logical part of my mind wants to evaluate the pros and cons of staying friends with the ex after the breakup.
Perfectly Good Reasons for Being Friends with Your Ex
We are friends for the kids. Of all the reasons why you should remain friendly, the best one by far is for the kids. The role of a parent is equally or stronger than that of a spouse. Make sure your children have a positive memory of their parents that does not end in he said, she said.
For example, one of my friends’ boyfriend has three kids with his ex. The couple made the mature decision that since they both have 50% custody of the children they would create an annual budget where both of them put 50% of the funds up to pay for the kids’ needs and wants.
This way they could tap it to get clothes, feed them, and do other items without resentment from the other side.
This might not define friendship, but it is more amicable and collaborative than many of the relationships out there who have let the divorce harm the children.
It is a sign of maturity. Some people really are better friends than lovers. I get that. Maybe it is a sign of maturity, that after you get rid of those negative feelings, you can hang out together.
However, even in this case you need to get some separation before you begin to explore friendship.
Some exes truly are better friends. If you can understand this then you can potentially have a strong friendship.
Emergency Contact. Bear with me on this point! The first time I traveled post-divorce I was not sure where to put my cat. I am not very trusting of pet hotels, and the cat previously stayed with members of my wife’s family when we went away.
However, my mom is allergic to cats, and this ruled out the possibility of shipping the cat off to my parents. My aunt and uncle could do it, but it is a trek. Most of my friends are dog people. And the list goes on…
Fortunately, I had a friend who volunteered. If not for friends like this, I would have to resort to the dreaded pet hotel.
It is a small reminder of how great it is to have someone else to make decisions with you when you are in the midst of an emergency.
On the Other Hand
Only Psychopaths are friends with their ex. Well, maybe not everyone. However, according to a recent study out of Oakland University, a lot of exes want to stay friends for objectionable reasons.
Sometimes they kept the ex around for sexual purposes when they needed a pick me up. However, that does not discount other strategic reasons like leaving your cat with your ex for the weekend, or fixing that sink that mysteriously always broke when you were in a financial pinch.
Just because an ex needs her sink repaired does not mean she’s a psychopath. However, the ones who try the most to be friends with their exes for strategic reasons are the ones most likely to have dark or psychotic tendencies.
Kind makes you regret even more being with them in the first place, huh?
Being friends with your ex is like continuing a bad habit. A buddy of mine feels that staying in a relationship with your ex is like continuing to follow a bad habit you know you should stop.
Every instinct tells you this is just not good. However, you get so comfortable you fall into the same old traps.
Why It’s Best To Break It Off – Again
Breaking a bad habit takes at least a month, and concerted effort to get into a new routine. Breaking the habit of being friends with your ex may require something more dramatic.
Re-spark the dynamite. Pardon the pun, but being with an ex can be many different types of dynamite. There is honey-sweet, there is hot, and then there is Oh, hell no!
It could be the sweet dynamite where you both realize that you were dynamite together. Sometimes a bit of distance helps. If that is the case, great!
However, often the re-connect is just a bit more…hormonal. The angst of being so close to each other while not being able to express yourself fully plays itself out.
That one little touch ignites a hot passion you both thought you lost. That is, until the next morning when you discover this was not a re-connect. It was a one-time deal to satisfy each other’s appetite until next time.
Then comes the last type of dynamite. The one that comes in the form of scorched-earth style fighting. Unresolved feelings bubble to the top as you both explode in a fury of rage.
Hookups and Jealousy. Let’s flip this. What happens if you are not the one your ex hooks up with? How do you feel then? I bet you are not shouting “go get that guy” to your ex! When my ex started dating a guy two days after we split I was not happy. That is for sure.
It brings up a whole new round of feelings that are best not described in this article. However, it is a major reason not to try being friends with your ex. Why hang around for that misery and despair?
I think clearer. Here’s a random thing I do without my ex: give money to people on the street. Not a lot, but a few bucks here and there. When we were first married, and almost as destitute as the beggars on the street, my ex would throw a fit when I gave them a dollar or two.
She did not know why I would give money to a stranger and not to my own wife. It was a bit depressing. The giving train slowed down considerably until lately.
Now, I give again! For example, I was out with friends when a pregnant, homeless woman asked for money. After talking to her briefly I started to walk with her to get her a burger. She was hungry for two what else could I do?
After half a block I realized she also needed money to get to a homeless shelter. I felt the lone $20 bill in my wallet.
Instead of walking with her to the restaurant, I gave her the twenty. I instantly thought of my ex and felt guilty. Then I walked away, before anyone could see what I did.
I was embarrassed. My ex had conditioned me not to do things like that.
Afterwards, I was more embarrassed that I walked away after giving her the money. People in this situation do not need money. They need a friend.
Insight that I would never have received when I was with the ex-wife allowed me to understand this.
Being Friends With Your Ex Is Not For Me
After going through the pros and cons of this article, I have to say that being friends with my ex seems like a job. I already have a full-tine job, why do I need a second one?
Getting some distance is healthy and allows me to move on with life after divorce. Not everyone has the same reactions that I do, but I feel that most people have trouble moving on after a significant breakup. If you ask me, staying friends with your ex after divorce is not the way to go!
Have you managed to handle being friends with your ex? Or was it a walk down misery lane? Share your experiences in the comments below!
No question, a difficult breakup can mess with your head. TJ Carver explores the emotional impact and asks Can A Bad Marriage or Divorce Cause PTSD?
Want to break the habit of circling back to your ex? Check out Alicia Mejia’s encouragement to Find Your Comfort Zone … Then Leave It!