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How to Befriend Your Ex – While Creating Strong Boundaries

You should agree that the romance is over – If not, it’s going to get messy.

Remaining friends with a former partner isn’t easy.  However, more than half (of Americans) think it’s worth it if a former couple have mutual friends. Additionally, 9 in 10 think it’s worth it for a couple who have children together, per a 2015 poll of 1,241 adults, published in the Chicago Tribune. Transitioning to a less intimate relationship in which other people will be more important is a big task. Before you begin the work, make sure it’s important enough for you to invest your energy and time. As this poll shows, there are often considerations that make it worthwhile. If you choose this route, it’s important to understand why it’s important and the boundaries that can help you to make it work.

1.      Staying friends just because you’ve always been each other’s support system.

This is tricky. If you have a friendly split, in which neither partner cheated on the other, you still enjoy time together and have deep respect for one another – it’s worth a try! It won’t work if it’s one sided.  Both of you need to want it. Ground rules might include:

  • Each of you must be clear about the status of the relationship.
  • Honesty with yourself and with your former partner is a ground rule. 
  • You should agree that the romance is over – If not, it’s going to get messy.
  • Agree on clear boundaries, no friends with benefits, no commenting on new partners etc.
  • Agree to forgive past hurts and leave them in the past.
  • Don’t fall into old habits and don’t flirt with each other.
  • Don’t expect special treatment or attention from your former partner.

…Putting your children first is the most important step in co-parenting. Big and issues and small, you can’t go wrong if they are your joint priority. 

2.      Longtime group of shared friends that you both want to keep

Longtime friends are going to have their own opinions about your relationship. People in the group may make comments about your relationship, some may even want a romantic relationship with one of you. In addition to the ground rules for staying friends, extra ground rules might include:

  • Leave your joint friends out of the issues of your split, don’t ask them to take sides.
  • Agree not to date people within the group – or not. Just be on the same page about it.
  • Talk about bringing a new date/potential partner to friend events before they happen.
  • Share your desire with your friends to all get along – ask them to support your new status as friends.
Illustration of friends

3.      You are co-parents

This is by far the biggest reason to remain friends.  It begins with understanding and honoring the importance of the other parent in your child’s life.  Putting your children first is the most important step in co-parenting. Big and issues and small, you can’t go wrong if they are your joint priority.  That said, not all parents see things identically. Clear communication is needed if this going to work. Apply all the tips already give and check these tips that may help with clarity:

  • Create a schedule not only for who has the kids when, but that also considers special events, holidays etc. and makes space for one another to participate and share the kids at these times.
  • Be flexible and be willing to support each other when changes to the schedule occur. Work it out with the other parent before announcing the changes to children and let them see you both working together to care for them.
  • Give your ex the opportunity to spend time with the kids instead of getting a babysitter – with no expectations that they will take you up on the offer.
Child and Parents in front of couch
  • Work together to come to a basic level agreement about your children’s education, methods of discipline, spiritual influences, and expectations for chores, diet, and exercise.
  • If you can’t see eye to eye on everything (shocker!), don’t speak badly about the other parent, and be prepared to explain to your children that the rules may be different at each house, because not everyone sees the world in the same way.  Let them know you are each trying to love them and do what is best for them.
  • Support one another.  Kids are bright and are capable of manipulating parents to get what they want. A great way to block this is to always ask the kids if they’ve asked the other parent before giving approval for a new activity or deviation from agreed upon rules. If that parent said no and you disagree – It’s important to call your ex and get on the same page. Unless the other parent’s denial/approval is unreasonable, think about giving in and ask them for their support in the future. When kids get the same messages from their parents about what’s okay and what’s not okay it make the message stronger.

Summary

Staying friends with an ex is only going to work with clear communication as well as respected and agreed upon boundaries. It is possible to do, and the rewards for your kids can make a big difference in how they move on with the changes that divorce of separation have brought to their lives.

Please share any good boundaries you have in place, or your experiences with a sustained friendship with your ex.

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