After leaving no stone unturned to overcome our issues, my spouse and I realized we were headed for an inevitable divorce and we made a mindful decision to remain best buddies.
Note my deliberate choice of words. I didn’t say we aimed to have a civil, amicable, or even just a good-natured co-parenting relationship.
Nope. We consciously elected to maintain our cherished friendship, a bond that remained amazingly unscathed even though all other aspects of our coupleship crumbled. We knew staying friends with an ex after divorce was a highly unusual way to proceed. But we also knew it could be done. Is there any one way to handle parenting teenagers, and divorce?
Friends and family were confused by the continuation of our Sunday night dinners, Netflix watching on the sofa, monthly Disneyland excursions in one car, and even Mexican cruises (in a single cabin) for family vacations. We also continued to enjoy our expensive theater season passes to see shows like Hamilton without our kids.
“We can’t stay married, but we can be dear friends.” It was our standard response when anyone asked what was going on. Eventually, most people understood our logic and congratulated us on being mature adults who were able to put our two teenage children first.
The two people who remained totally baffled and unable to understand our logic were our kids. They continued to cling to the hope that our behavior meant a reconciliation was around the corner. We didn’t know that our friendship was actually hurting them. Once I realized what was happening, we sat with our children and a family counselor, who had experience dealing with teenagers and divorce. We learned a lot.
5 Tips for Being Friends with an Ex
1. Be upfront about your intentions from the start.
Once we told our kids that we envisioned remaining friends for the rest of our lives, and that’s all we ever wanted to be to each other, a stunned hush fell over the room. Then they both dissolved into some very belated tears. Had we made our intentions clear at the beginning, we could have avoided two years of painful disillusionment.
2. Explain the terms of your friendship.
We also explained to our teens that being friends with an ex meant wishing the other person happiness as they moved on with dating and love. As a result, we saw a complete change of heart in their acceptance of the romantic relationships we both eventually pursued.
3. Let them know there will be disagreements.
Remaining friends with an ex after divorce meant more frequent communication, which led to a share of quarrels, just like in any long-term friendship. Reminding our kids that it’s natural for two people not to see eye-to-eye sometimes while modeling how to resolve conflict in a healthy manner went a long way in healing the scars of the arguments during our marriage.
4. Set strong boundaries.
It was important to make sure the parameters of our new relationship were understood and respected. Family vacations are possible, but separate hotel rooms might feel more comfortable. Fine-tuning these detailed decisions in advance alleviates the disenchantment and expectations that things are going to be just like they used to be.
5. Both parents need to be on the same page when dealing with teenagers and divorce.
Being friends with an ex can only work if both of us have mutually platonic feelings. If one of us still harbored feelings for the other or hadn’t come to terms with the split, trying to attempt this kind of warm connection would just rub salt in the wound. Nobody, especially our children, would benefit from that, no matter our best intentions.
Ever since that eye-opening day in the therapist’s office, we’ve remained confident in our decision to stay close. When our kids thank us for doing things differently than some of their classmates’ parents, we know we made the right decision.