Staying "friends' with an ex.

Today I came across a truly depressing fact: According to a blog post I read regarding divorce recovery, it takes one year to recover for every five years of marriage. That means that I have two more years of grieving ahead of me, and that I've only just begun to scratch the surface of overcoming my own dysfunctional marriage.

Fun times.

I suppose I was fortunate in the fact that my divorce was relatively calm. Sure, there were occasional bouts of profanity. My ex broke a crucial promise to me not to hire a lawyer (as he's an attorney, we had agreed to do the divorce ourselves to save money.) He emptied our bank account, leaving me with $12 in my wallet and an empty gas tank,  and had a sheriff serve me with papers at work, which is a humiliation I will never, ever get over. But we managed to be mostly agreeable throughout the negotiations of our divorce. It helped that I was resolved to show kindness and respect towards him during that time, no matter how he chose to behave. And I was pretty successful at that. When he tried to taunt me, I refused to respond. Instead, I prayed for him, and for myself. I prayed for strength. I prayed for resolve. I prayed to stay calm and stoic when he tried to enrage me.

All that prayer left me relatively unaffected when our actual court date arrived. I was relieved to put closure after eight months of vitriol and tension while we lived together before finally separating. I was thrilled that he chose not to attend court with me, leaving just my lawyer and judge to see my tears.

There's another negotiation happening now that I wasn't prepared for: the type of new relationship the ex and I have. Before the divorce, I entertained all kinds of fantasies that he and I would be friendly. Maybe not friends, but friendly. I thought we'd be able to occasionally meet for coffee to catch up on news about the kids. I was sure we'd be able to trade texts if we needed to talk about schedules. After all, we'd spent 15 years together. We had three children together. We'd been there for each other during the most difficult challenges a couple can face. I supported him as he changed job after job after job while forwarding his career. We relocated out of state multiple times for his new positions. He stayed with me through relapse after relapse and family drama that left me estranged from my mother. While our marriage had ultimately collapsed, we still had a huge history to fall back on. He was my best friend during most of my adult life, and I was his.

I've read books and watched movies and read blog posts about couples who were friends after their own divorces, despite the fact that one of them cheated or was a drug addict or was convicted of a felony. They meet for pizza in busy restaurants or celebrate birthdays together and while there's an occasional bubble of tension, they still managed to communicate effectively. I don't know what real life couples those books and movies and blog posts are based off of, but I'm convinced they're crap. I don't know how to reinvent our relationship after the divorce. There are times when I am so enraged that I can't bear to look at him. Then I have moments when I miss what we had when our marriage was good, in those halcyon newlywed days. There are times when I'm thrilled he's out of my life, followed by what-if daydreams - what if we'd gone to therapy sooner, what if I'd used my voice instead of my emaciated body to communicate my needs, what if I'd refused to tolerate certain behavior on his part, what if I'd been strong enough to say no when I'd needed to.

Truthfully, I'm not sure I even want to be friends with my ex. And I doubt he wants to be friends with me. While it would definitely make our co-parenting more effective, I don't think either of us is capable of it at this point, and I'm not sure it'd be the healthiest thing anyway. He can be passive-aggressive and uncooperative. I can be overly emotional, defensive and mistrustful. Maybe there will come a point when we'll be friends. Maybe not.

The divorce process naturally pit my ex-spouse and I against each other, training us to view each other as enemies. Any future alliance seems impossible. But because we have children, he is still my co-parent. It takes a lot of maturity to make amends with the person who has just torn apart your life, or has behaved in an unforgivable way. But just as it takes two to determine the marriage dynamic, it takes two to make a good - or bad - divorce.

Now I ask you - can you be friends with an ex? Whether it's an ex-boyfriend or spouse, I'd love to hear your opinion.


3 comments:

  1. What a great post. I can only imagine the struggle with this issue. I think it would take YEARS before most people could ever be friends with an ex-spouse, but I know it depends on the situation. I know with a serious ex-boyfriend, we could never really be good friends due to the deep feelings/heartache between us. We are cordial and do care for each others life, but we don't get too close. Now, we don't have kids so that's a completely different dynamic. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  2. I have never had an ex- husband, but a couple of ex-boyfriends. I tried "friendly" contact with some of them, but it always resulted in heartache for me (not them!). So that was not good for me. Seen the same with my son and his relationships. It is never too "friendly." Maybe you should not even count on a relationship except your children's father. Do not call him "your" co-parent. He is your children's parent. You co-parent your children with him. That is the best relationship you will ever have. Hugs, Linda@Wetcreek Blog

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  3. I was EXTREMELY relieved when my kids reached the age of majority and I no longer was required to have any contact with my ex. We are not friendly- although oddly enough I like his wife better than I like him. Once every few years is more than enough contact now. ( I am remarried too.)

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