In a recent talk I gave to divorced parents, after I finished speaking about the benefits of creating a friendly divorce, an angry voice called out, “Befriend my ex? You must be kidding! Truly, I’d like to behead her- not befriend her!” You may be asking this question, too: Befriend someone who cheated on me with my best friend? Who has driven me to financial ruin? Was a flat our liar? My advice is both simple and complex:
Why Befriend Your Ex? :
1. All the research on the effects of divorce on children points to the same conclusion: Children do better when parents create a conflict free coparenting environment. Your children didn’t ask for this divorce-and parenting and coparenting are not optional. Coparenting is a responsibility!
2. A befriended coparenting relationship means starting over and creating a new relationship that focuses on one thing: parenting. Imagine wiping the slate clean. Work on letting go of the past. Recognize that your ex will be your child’s parent forever, thus in your life forever.
3. Recognize that your ex is your child’s parent and may offer your child more love and attention than anyone else in this entire world ever will. Not only is it important to be a good parent, but it’s important that you support your ex ‘s relationship with your children.
How to Befriend Your Ex?: Here are six complex but simple strategies:
1) Keep your children out of your divorce. Make a commitment not to badmouth your ex—even if she badmouths you. Remove your children from your emotional and financial relationship with your ex. “This isn’t something I feel comfortable talking about with you,” or, “This is something mom and I are working on,” are perfect responses to questions that might trigger your own anger or bitterness.
2) Anger and bitterness not only damage your children, they damage you. Practice letting go of angry and bitter thoughts.
3) Forgive yourself when you are imperfect, when you can’t let go.
4) Even if your ex will not cooperate and continues to badmouth you, your responsibility remains: be the best parent you can during the time you spend with your children. And support your ex when you can, keeping in mind: children do better when they have two parents who love them.
5) Relationships are always changing. If you are coparenting, you have opportunities every day to make new overtures. Change begins with one small step. Meet your ex at a parenting conference. Invite your ex to share a birthday celebration or join together for a family holiday. Let your ex know something positive your child said about her.
6) Take the high road. The only person you can change is yourself. Taking the high road means living as if the world is witnessing your behavior. Be on your best behavior and you will have no regrets.
Are there times when befriending your ex is impossible? Uncalled for? You bet! If your ex is actively abusing alcohol, drugs or other substances, or, is physically or emotionally abusive to you or your children, befriending is not only impossible it’s unwarranted. Children should not be raised in an unsafe environment, and you may have to consult a lawyer, or a mental health professional. As a psychologist I help people face these issues every single day.
Dr. Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist, group therapy and workshop leader and the author of “Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex” (2013) and “A Starving Madness: Tales of Hunger, Hope and Healing in Psychotherapy” (2002). Contact her at www.judithruskayrabinorphd.com