“Why,” you may ask, “should I want to maintain a good relationship with my ex? We are splitting up. We don’t like each other. In fact, I am so angry that I can’t even imagine a “good” relationship. What does that even look like??”
Here’s why: if you have a child together you will be seeing each other forever and though it may be hard to imagine today, you may also have grandchildren in common some day. Keep in mind that the quality of your long-term, post-divorce relationship will have a direct impact on your children’s psychological health. The adult relationship has been transformed, but it’s not really over.
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, for example, seemed to put Suri’s well being at the forefront during their divorce. There was no public mud-slinging. Suri’s life seemed to be maintained as usual and her dad was given plenty of access, according to the information released to the press. Very little was said outside of an intimate circle by either Tom or Katie, regardless of what they must have been feeling during that time.
In a longer marriage or relationship, you may have established close ties with members of your ex-partner’s family. Those ties will be broken if you and your ex are unable to maintain a decent relationship. It will be too difficult to have the two of you in the same room later on so you will be left out of major events, like holidays, weddings or graduation celebrations for example.
When there is animosity, the hostility forces friends to take sides. Separating and divorcing people often blame their family or friends for aligning with one person or the other, but often the alignment is influenced or created by the couple’s behavior.
WHAT DOES A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH AN EX LOOK LIKE?
A good post-divorce relationship is cordial, business-like and more formal. A beneficial relationship evolves into a non-argumentative and non-intimate status. Pleasantries are exchanged as you would with someone you work with. Promises are kept about financial arrangements and in regard to sharing information about and time with the children. The children’s well being is the priority. Friends and family members are not manipulated between you. Children are able to maintain relationships with those who love them.
HOW TO IMPROVE THE RELATIONSHIP
• The most important tip of maintaining a decent relationship with your ex is to know it’s possible, for the sake of your children, your family and friends.
• Use your energy and creativity to improve your own life and your kids’ lives rather than trying to manage another adult’s behavior. If you couldn’t change him or her before, you have much less influence and opportunity now.
• Lead by example and monitor your own behavior. Say yes and be kind as often as possible to inspire the same cooperation when it’s your turn. What goes around comes around.
• Say as little as possible to others about your ex. There will be less damage to undo later.
• When people outside of your immediate circle ask about your ex or your divorce, say something minimal like “We tried to make it work, but we couldn’t. We grew too far apart and sadly we came to this decision.” It’s exhausting to go over and over it and serves little purpose. Change the subject by asking about that person’s job, kids or activities. Distraction works surprisingly well. People, other than close family and a friend or two, don’t need details.
• Don’t turn the children against their other parent. They need both of you and you may need your co-parent’s cooperation at times.
• Children have an entirely different experience of divorce than their parents. Don’t assume you know what the divorce has been like for your children. Ask them about their experience and if there’s anything you can do to make things easier.
• It takes time to recover from a divorce—but you will get over it if you are willing to eventually let go of the feeling of injustice and the focus on your ex. Create your own satisfying life instead.