Once the relationship has come to a close, it’s common to wonder: “Is it possible to remain on good terms with my former spouse?” The answer is nuanced, and depends on a second critical question: “Should I remain on good terms with my former spouse?” This is similarly complex, but informs an adequate response to the original inquiry—so let’s start here.
If you share children with your ex, it is—of course—important to continue a civil relationship or friendship. You’re more likely to spend time together at children’s sporting events or school functions. You and your ex will also need to work together to create a co-parenting plan and fair holiday schedule. Remaining on good terms will provide a healthy environment for the kids, and set a good example. Relationship expert Sylvia Smith addresses this in an article on online resource hub Woman’s Divorce, suggesting that if you’re looking to cultivate a friendship, “Why not schedule family activities together like game night or weekly dinner? This will help you find a new dynamic together as friends.”
Remaining on positive terms can also be beneficial to your divorce agreement or case—and your wallet. Because you and your ex won’t be spending time fighting or taking petty swipes at one another, you’ll experience quicker proceedings and incredible legal expense savings. Amicable negotiations are also known to reduce stress and the likelihood of the case going to court.
Here’s when it’s not a good idea to stay friends with your ex:
- If the relationship is toxic and/or your former spouse is abusive, do not try to transition to a friendship. Your former spouse will continue such negative and hurtful behavior.
- If you’re interested in rekindling a romantic relationship. TIME author Jamie Ducharme writes: “Studies suggest that couples who remain in contact for the same reasons— whether those are pragmatic or sentimental—are more likely to have successful friendships, while staying in touch because of unresolved romantic desires is a predictor of negative outcomes.”
- A friendship with your ex—especially if you don’t have children–can hold you back from future relationships.
Once you’ve determined whether it’s a good idea to remain friends with your ex-spouse, you can solve the first question. If transitioning to a platonic friendship is beneficial for yourself and your family, it is possible to remain on good terms. However, it’s imperative you take the necessary steps to get there in a healthy manner.
Here are several key recommendations:
- Take a breather. Give yourself and your ex time away from one another. During this separation, each should work on their emotions and talk to a neutral third-party such as a therapist.
- Set boundaries. Once you are ready to compromise, negotiate, and act civilly toward one another, it’s time to set healthy boundaries with each other and loved ones. These can include not discussing personal or romantic lives, asking friends to only invite one ex to a gathering at a time, or unfollowing/unfriending one another on social media.
- Discuss the future. Talk about how you see the relationship evolving in the future, including types and amount of communication. Discuss anything children-related, and make compromises accordingly. Remember to consider your ex and their needs, as well as your own.
- Build trust. Once you put your parenting and friendship plan into action, it’s time to build trust by following through on your promises, avoiding gossip about your ex, working on your communication skills, and limiting overreactions.
- Reassess the friendship. Regularly take a look at the friendship—both separately and together—to determine how it makes you feel. With this knowledge, you can set new boundaries or terminate the relationship, if necessary.
If you take your time transitioning from romantic spouses to friendly divorcees, it is possible to remain on good terms following divorce.
If you’ve gone through a divorce and need assistance navigating a friendship with a former spouse, find a divorce expert. Such professionals can help you rebuild your life and help you cultivate a good relationship with your ex.
Gregory C. Frank is the CEO and Founder of DivorceForce.