How to Be Friendly with Your Ex

Learn how to be friends with your ex-spouse after your divorce.

The divorce has been finalized and you're on your own. Your marriage, and all the pain it represents, is part of your past. Yet part of moving forward, for many, is learning to deal in a friendly, amicable way with their ex.

It seems like an oxymoron—two angry, divorced people ending up friends. Yet it is possible, according to Bill Ferguson, an attorney-turned-divorce consultant and author of Heal the Hurt That Runs Your Life (1996) and Miracles Are Guaranteed (1992). The key, says Ferguson, is to end the cycle of conflict and restore the feeling of love. By love, this does not necessarily mean “the husband and wife kind of love,” he says, “but the kind of love that one human being extends to another.”

Red Alert

The divorce courts are full of people who love each other. You may still love your ex, even after the divorce. This does not mean you should try to put your marriage together. Instead, remember that the goal is literally putting your divorce together, so that you can move on with your separate lives as friends.

This can seem like a daunting task if you are in the midst of conflict and angry feelings. How does one begin?

The first step, says Ferguson, is the realization that love is never enough to make a relationship work. In addition to love, a marriage also requires such elements as appreciation and acceptance—what Ferguson terms “the experience of love.” That experience is destroyed by judgmental, critical behavior, he notes. Although it might be impossible to hold back such attitudes during the marriage, when the marriage is over, the cycle can end.

“To create and maintain this cycle of conflict,” says Ferguson, “there must be two people participating, like a tennis match. When one person stops playing the game—when one person stops the non-acceptance—the cycle ends.”

The key, he notes, is truthfully seeing your ex for what he or she is. “That person is the way he or she is, like it or not,” says Ferguson. “When you can be at peace with the truth, you can see what you need to do. Maybe you need to move on.”

Yet how do you break the cycle of conflict when you're hurt? “The first step,” says Ferguson, “is realizing where the hurt is coming from.” His notion is amazingly simple: “Your upset was caused not by what happened between you and your ex, but by your resistance to what happened. Now you must take your focus off what happened and, instead, work on healing the hurt that was triggered when the cycle of conflict began. Your anger and resentment are avoidance of the hurt. By facing the hurt, and coming to a place of forgiveness, it will be easier to be friends in the years to come.”

“Trusting is one of the keys to letting go and being free inside,” Ferguson adds. “However, this doesn't mean to trust that life will turn out like you want it to. Often life doesn't. The key is understanding that however life turns out, you will be fine.”

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