‘Friends?! Why would I want to be friends with my ex?’
Yes, I am a divorce lawyer and yes, I am encouraging you to be ‘friends’ with your ex! Now, before you start with those usual ‘lawyer’ comments I want to just note that in my job I have seen it all. I deal with couples who are falling out of love every day. I have been there to help pick up the pieces when often the most horrendous things have occurred, but I still believe that we should do our best to remain on good terms with our exes and I describe this for simplicity as being ‘friends’.
To be clear, I don’t mean that you need to be the sort of ‘friends’ that see each other every week and have deep and meaningful conversations (of course you can if you wish, but this is not what I have in mind anyway). When I say ‘friends’ I mean the sort of relationship you might have with someone who you have not seen for a few years, where, if you bumped into each other in the street, you could smile, say ‘Hello, how are you?’ and there not be a terrible awkwardness.
Now I also appreciate that I make it sound so easy to be friends, and I know that it is not. But the thing is, the end of a significant relationship, particularly when children are involved, is very rarely the absolute end of that relationship. More often, it is a reshaping of a relationship- you might move from being parents who are a couple to parents who were once a couple. Either way you will still be ‘parents’, even when your children are now parents themselves. And sometimes, even where there may not be children, family and friends will still have a big part to play. Where a couple have enjoyed an extensive relationship, lasting many decades, the end of that marriage does not mean the end of the extended family relationships and common friendships and with that can come some real challenges.
Only last week I met with a man whose wife of 42 years had decided that their marriage was at an end. They have children and grandchildren and now of course those relationships are becoming fractured as the whole family comes to deal with the grief caused by the end of their parents’ marriage. Divorce not only affects the couple, it of course can change things for everyone.
But the thing is, life will of course go on – even when sometimes we might wish it would just slow down for a while. There will be birthdays, Christmases, Weddings and funerals. And just because a marriage has ended does not mean that the need to come together as a family all of a sudden stops.
Falling out of love does not come with a rule book (if only it did everything would be so much easier!) And when we fall out of love we experience immense grief. But the one thing I have learned in my time as a divorce lawyer is that there are many good reasons why you would want to get to a place with your former partner where you can be ‘friendly’. You want to do this for your family and perhaps more importantly for you.
And so how do you do it? How can you remain ‘friends’ with a person who has perhaps caused unbearable pain?
First, you start by focusing on ‘letting go’. Now here it might help a little if you join the grandkids in reruns of ‘Frozen’ as you chant the words to Idina Menzel’s hit ‘Let It Go!’ The end of a relationship signals many failed expectations. You may have been let down or betrayed and sometimes, over and over again. Holding onto bitterness or regret will only keep you in the past. To survive divorce you will need to push forward to find your future. That future might be different and perhaps even scary to begin with, but it could also be exciting and beautiful with a whole new set of memories just around the corner.
Secondly, you work hard to find the capacity to forgive (and sometimes forget). Forgiveness is a beautiful human trait and one that can be set to challenge us during divorce. There is little point in reliving the past – this often leads to apportioning blame for your failed relationship. Accept your role in things, recognise that you and your spouse may never see eye to eye on many things and start to plan your life into the future. We can’t change our past but we can change our future so leave the past where it is and focus on moving into your new future.
A divorce will mean change in many facets of your life and with this change can come a sense a loss, sometimes even the loss of your own identity. While it may be very, very hard to find, there will always be a silver lining if you can just start to see the world in a new light. No doubt it won’t be there every day, but if you take the time to focus on something positive, something that creates optimism, you will move through your divorce with a lot more ease than some. Remember, your life is precious and it’s important to make the most of every single minute.
Do you agree with Clarissa? Do you think it is possible to be friends with your ex? Are you friends with your ex? Tell us below.