Kate Daly is co-founder of Amicable, a lawyer-free online divorce service that has helped thousands of couples ‘untie the knot’ without acrimony, expense or tension.
It can be upsetting letting someone go. The person who was, in some cases, the most significant person in your life can quickly become a stranger, and there’s a part of you that wishes you could salvage parts of the relationship.
Melinda and Bill Gates made headlines last week after announcing the break-up of their 27-year marriage. The Gates are completely entwined in each other’s lives, and their decision to divorce affects not only their children, but also their partners in philanthropy, healthcare and business.
Their intention is to remain on friendly terms, prompting many to ask the age-old question - is is possible to build a friendship with an ex? Former couples quite often jointly own properties, run businesses and have children together, so keeping things civil is often essential for many navigating separation and co-parenting. Most people think it’s not possible to remain on good terms, but having helped thousands of couples separate amicably, I have seen many clients successfully shift from ‘relationship’ to ‘friendship’ status. One recently told me that “we’re better friends now than when we were married”.
So, how have these couples managed to stay friends? What are the key strategies? Here are some key tips that I’ve seen work in practice.
1.Establish your motives for the friendship
Sadly, some breakups are a one-way decision. If you were left heart-broken when your relationship ended, it’s crucial to consider why being friends with your ex is important to you. Is it because you hope to re-kindle the relationship for companionship on a cold winter’s evening, or because you genuinely want a platonic friendship with your ex? The end of a relationship can be hard but trying to foster a friendship with an ex you still have feelings for can result in more heart break.
2. Time heals
It’s important to give yourself and your ex time to heal after the breakdown of your relationship, especially if you hope to have a happy friendship with them. In my role as a divorce coach, you see people who need much more time to heal than others and it’s important you and your ex respect this within the couple. Also, remember that just because you and your ex aren’t immediately best friends after the break-up, it doesn't mean you won’t become friends in the future. Many of my customers’ friendships with their ex have developed and grown over time. Try not to force your ex into a friendship if they’re not entirely ready. This will also help to ensure that one person isn’t left making all the effort and creating an imbalance.
3. Reset boundaries through appropriate communication
Couples separating are essentially entering a new relationship, and it’s important to remember this requires establishing new boundaries. We tend to advise that people should avoid meeting up with an ex in a romantic setting – no late-night dinners or dimly lit cocktail bars. Instead, a lot of ex-couples who are establishing a friendship opt for Sunday morning walks or coffee catch-ups in new locations. Changing how and where you and your ex interact will help to build a platonic friendship.
It’s also important to reassess how you communicate with each other. If children are involved considered using a co-parenting platform or app where co-parents can message each other, via the app, about childcare arrangements and also access a shared calendar. This will stop you from falling back into old, messaging habits that may be similar to when you were in a relationship with each other. It also helps to ensure your children and their needs are put first, as it’s likely the transition from relationship to friendship may not be smooth sailing initially.
4. Pick your battles
For many ex-couples, arguments and bickering were a part of the relationship. However, to allow a new friendship to blossom with your ex you need to be prepared to let the little things go. There is no need to sweat the small stuff - arguments and tit-for-tat behaviour should be avoided to have a good friendship. If you feel yourself starting to get frustrated at your ex’s habits, agree to have a little time apart and revisit those boundaries you’ve set, so you can better appreciate the time you do spend together.
5. Remember respect, dignity and grace
Regardless of whether they’re an ex of a few months or an ex you were married to for 30 years and have three children with, ensure you treat them and the friendship with respect, dignity and grace – advice I’ve given to all my divorce customers. Everyone has different ideas of how a friendship with an ex will look, but just remember these three behaviours will help to build a long-lasting friendship with an ex-partner. It will also lay a solid, platonic foundation with future romantic partners.
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