Staying Friends After Separation & Divorce

Although maintaining a friendship with your ex is part of popular culture now, it’s unrealistic to expect this to happen immediately.  There’s a reason you parted,  let’s keep that in mind.  There needs to be time for healing to occur after all the grieving, and there’s no telling how long that will take.  Grieving’s unpredictable like that.    And after the grieving, being friends with your ex doesn’t mean you  take on BFF status (that’s Best Friends Forever for those who aren’t familiar with the acronym).  

In an effort to maintain a friendly co-existence with my ex, we continued to seek each others company regularly right from the outset.  Partly due to family commitments, sometimes purely as companionship, and a whole lot because I was still in co-dependent mode.  While I was thoroughly enjoying my new-found sense of freedom, he looked sad and lonely.  And so I continued to feel responsible for his happiness,  just as I’d always done.  

In continuing to stay in each others lives, I was setting myself up to ride an endless roller coaster of emotions.  I left to find myself, and instead I was feeling like we were still married. This meant I wasn’t moving forward in a truly empowered independent way because our old patterns were still being played out.  To a lesser degree certainly, but keeping me stuck in anger and sadness just the same.I reasoned that learning love and forgiveness necessitated that I put myself in the firing line where my old patterns were waiting to challenge me.  On this score, the whole idea of what it means to be a spiritual person needs to be examined I think.  

First and foremost, we’re human.  We come with an array of human emotions – all of them – good, bad, and just plain ugly.  Living a conscious, enlightened path isn’t about eliminating the negative feelings so much as it’s about acknowledging and embracing all parts of yourself.    

In maintaining a friendship with my ex from the beginning of our split, I was not allowing myself time to deal honestly with the anger that I had been harbouring.  In fact I was suppressing it further in order for us to maintain the appearance of friendship.  But there’s no hiding from the truth.

What do the experts have to say friendship after divorce?
Staying Friends After Separation & Divorce

Well, Seth Meyers (Psy.D) wrote in Psychology Today,  that it’s rare that couples are actually able to hold onto a friendship and remain close while still moving on after the divorce.  Indeed it takes real strength in character and  to rise above all the hurt the preceded the split.   I thought I was big enough.   I’m sure I am.   Seth goes on to say that love never truly dies, no matter what came between the two individuals.  I’d have to agree.  When I see my ex, I can’t hate him.  He’s a good man.  I love all that was good about him and I’m even grateful that he has given me this gift.   However…. Again, Seth says “It seems likely that the love remains but is repressed to defend against strong, unpleasant feelings underneath.  

When you see two people who treat each other as strangers but who were once married, you don’t see the love on the surface.   It is there – only in repressed form.   You see the manifestation of the anger, sadness, or denial, but it covers strong feelings underneath.   It’s impossible to love someone day after day and then simply stop loving that person.   If you can’t accept that there is a part of you that still loves and misses that person, this is a sign that you are surrendering to denial.   Even if it’s only the most miniscule part of you”.    

It makes sense doesn’t it?   And it further highlights the necessity for space and distance to allow for healing to occur.    

The Moral of the Story?

When I began to acknowledge what was really going on within me, and gave myself permission to feel that way,  I began to really heal.   That’s the grieving process.   I began to truly feel love and forgiveness, and friendship – albeit a different kind of friendship.  

The moral of the story?  Self first.  Always self first.  

Update 2016:  

Two years after our separation, in March I spent a month in India and had many pivotal moments of clarity regarding our marriage.  Upon returning, my ex admitted he hoped I’d be returning to the marriage at some point.  No.  That wasn’t going to happen.  But it did explain why he had been unusually friendly since our split.  

A few weeks after my return from India, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.  Again, my ex had hoped that the cancer would send me back into his arms.  No.  That still wasn’t going to happen.  It is my intention, more than ever, that I live a life that completely honors me.  To return would be taking a giant leap backwards.  But this has also bought us to the next phase of our “friendship”.   He said he felt guilty about the cancer, and never wanted me to experience hurt again, and unlike our marriage, he has really supported me through this phase.  

We talked a great deal about the past and much healing has occurred for me because of this.   When we first separated I was on such a high due to the fact that I was free of all the hurt and heartache that I had been living with for 30years.  But when I started chemo, my busy social life came to a halt, and suddenly I was left to face all that emotion.  Then, when he started dating soon after my diagnosis, it raised all my old fears regarding feeling abandoned and my limiting belief about always coming second place in his life.  Rightly or wrongly, we were still sleeping together too, so this caused me confusion about my role in his life.  

It was clear that he continued to have no romantic interest in me, but we were enjoying each others company more and more.  I still knew I wanted more than he could give, and this simply put me on the emotional roller coaster again!

Moving on With New ‘Friends’
He’d been involved in a couple of ‘friends with benefits’ (FWB) style relationships.   A FWB arrangement suits him because he’s just keen to have a dinner companion and sex without entering another committed relationship.   He says he doesn’t want ‘complicated’.  Good luck with that I say!   There’s no such thing as ‘friends with benefits’ .  Someone is always more emotionally invested (usually a woman who loves too much) so he is guaranteed there will be tears.   A fact which he has already discovered – before long both his new ‘friends’ were sent packing.

Looking in from the outside, I saw the path he was on with these woman and recognised how much it replicated the way our own relationship started.  Like many women, his new girls were prepared to settle for the scraps he threw them.   Somehow, he still sees himself as the victim in our separation.   He tells these women he’s emotionally unavailable, and still shocked about why I left him.  He’s not really lying…. he actually believes this.  But he’s always been emotionally unavailable.  It has nothing to do with me leaving.     They were more emotionally invested in him and so likely agreed to be ‘”friends with benefits”  with a secret hope that in time he would fall for them.  And just like me, perhaps they thought that eventually he would be emotionally healed and would be glad they were in his life.   Ah… the Cinderella Complex alive and thriving!!

More recently, I have decided that spending too much time in each others company is actually preventing us from both moving on in a healthy way.  Certainly, it’s stopping either of us from making a proper go of new relationships.   This is because we’re comfortable and familiar.  

But realising that we want to be in each others lives is moving us again into a kind of friendship that we didn’t have while we were married.  Perhaps that’s a sign that we were never meant to be a ‘couple’.  For now, it’s all good.  I’m not living in a fairytale any longer, so I’m realistic enough to know that this too will morph and change.  

I’m ok with that.

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4 thoughts on “Staying Friends After Separation & Divorce

  1. Edmund Heron says:

    “- it further highlights the necessity for space and distance to allow for healing to occur.” I wish I had acknowledged this earlier

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