Most women who have trouble being friends with their ex-husband, didn’t want the divorce. In fact, they were desperately sad and broken about it. They were often faced with their ex having a girlfriend or being abusive or being addicted to something. Most of us don’t want to be friends with someone who left destruction and devastation in his wake everywhere. But here we are: our ex-husband wants to be friends.
What’s up with that? What are we supposed to do with that? Should I even worry about being friends with my ex-husband?
Divorce is often ugly. We don’t want it to be. We try to keep things “friendly” and amicable. But the truth is, if most of us had our choice, the best thing after divorce would be for our ex to disappear off the face of the earth never to be seen again!
In many cases, our ex turned into someone we don’t want to associate with, much less be friends with. Our ex-husband turned out to be a person we couldn’t trust and whose actions weren’t good for us or those we love. Mostly, we would be happy with as little contact as possible.
All divorces are different. Some movie star couples do “Conscious Uncoupling” like Gwyneth Paltrow and her ex, who say they are better friends than ever. Good for them. Hollywood rarely shows the nitty gritty of kids being schlepped back and forth between houses, having trouble concentrating, and girlfriends or boyfriends showing up with mom or dad, sometimes with their own kids in tow.
Most movie divorces never show the heartache and disruption that is caused all around. Hollywood breakups usually don’t mention that sometimes we can’t pay the bills, and we have to move or take a second job or stay in our parents’ basement to stay afloat. Do I want to be friends with a person like that if I met them on the street? No!
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He Regrets What He Lost/Gave Up
Most men, who leave a long marriage because of an affair or to find themselves, usually find themselves with another woman! Anyway, they love having the admiration and infatuation of a new (often younger) woman. They feel invigorated. The sex is exciting and everything is a new adventure … for awhile.
Even if he would never admit it, our ex-husband probably misses the good things about the marriage he gave up. The comfortable companionship. The traditions. The family gatherings that we usually did most of the work to make happen. Sometimes, our ex-husband wants to be friends so he can still be a part of all of that.
I remember, the first Christmas after my ex was out of the house, the kids and I went to the same place we had gone for years to find our famous “Christmas Bush – the fatter the better!” I was so sad about our divorce, I secretly had a big lump in my heart the whole time we were there. When we were about ready to have our hot cider and go put the tree on top of our car, there was my ex-husband trying to pay for the tree.
It was sad for many reasons. I think he realized everything he was losing by not giving up his girlfriend. I think on that day he wanted to be part of that amazing family we had built together for 33 years. What an awful place he had put himself in by the choices he continued to make.
He Thinks He Can Have It All
After a divorce, many guys think they can still carry on with the family like nothing has happened. They want to do holidays together. Attend events as a family. They expect the kids to think the whole thing is just fine, especially if they are older. Most kids don’t.
Kids have to figure out how to adjust to it all, but unless it’s a case of abuse, kids usually don’t like the fact that their parents are divorcing. In one of my first groups, a woman described how their son was upset about his father leaving, and the father responded, “Get over it! Lots of people get divorced! It happens every day!” That may be true, but everyone in the family will have to figure out the new normal, and some important things are changed forever.
Guys often want to have their wonderful, good, fun family and at the same time have some little honey on the side. They want all the trappings of a warm, close primary family, while destroying the very things that make that possible.
Often, especially when there has been abuse or addiction or adultery, men think that if they are still friends with their ex after divorce, everyone will think better of them. They think to themselves that if they are still friends with us, and we seem to enjoy being with them, people will say to themselves, “He can’t be that bad if they are still friends.” In their mind, our friendship normalizes their bad behavior.
The New Girlfriend/Wife Didn’t Work Out
Affairs are risky business. Most men who get involved with another woman while they are married are skating on the thin ice of trying the relationship out before they actually get divorced. The risk sometimes makes the affair even more attractive.
They sneak around, meet for quickies in the back of the van or in a motel room when they were supposed to be working late. They become addicted to the thrill of it all. But once their wife says, “Enough is enough,” and files for divorce, sometimes the catch is less attractive than the chase.
Jan Halper, in her book on successful men, noted that only 3% of men engaged in extramarital affairs actually married their mistress. And what’s worse, according to noted marriage counselor Frank Pittman, men who marry their paramours have a divorce rate of 75%.
A man may realize that he made a mistake, and if he can’t get anything more, he wants to be friends with his ex-wife — who by the way, usually doesn’t want to get into that gut-wrenching, heart-breaking cycle again. In fact we usually don’t want to have anything to do with our ex.
He Feels Guilty
Sometimes, during my years of divorce recovery work, I am saddened at how many men, after divorce, seem to feel no sadness, remorse or guilt whatsoever. Maybe deep down they do, but most men are working overtime making their bad choices someone else’s responsibility.
After divorce, many women who didn’t want the divorce spend lots of money and time trying to figure out what we did wrong, what we could have done differently and taking responsibility for our mistakes. But I tell women I work with not to wait around for any kind of apology or expression of guilt or remorse from their ex-husband after divorce. Men who cheat often spend their time trying to make people think their life has never been better.
Some ex-husbands go into overdrive trying to do things that make them feel better about what they have done. Sometimes they try to make amends and soothe their conscience by trying to be our friend. They volunteer to mow the yard, or come over to fix the stopped-up sink. Most, ex-wives, however, would rather get the kid down the street to mow the lawn and pay a plumber! There is less hurt involved for her.
He Wants To Get Back Together
In my work of Midlife Divorce Recovery, I often get questions about ex-husbands who want to get back together. I have three things that have to happen for a reconciliation to ever work. It’s complicated, and early on in the process, many of us dream of trying again and making our marriage stronger than ever. Here is a blog that addresses that issue more fully.
You Have Kids Together
Because of children, we often have to interact with our ex on a regular basis. We try to be above the petty differences for our kids and be as flexible and agreeable as possible. Sometimes our ex-husband crosses boundaries and tries to stay connected to us even if it’s by being difficult with parenting issues.
Some ex-husbands almost disappear completely and abandon their responsibilities to support and be there for their children financially. Some become the famous I-want-to-be-your-friend-Dad doing all the fun stuff and then sending them back to mom to do the day-to-day stuff like making sure they brush their teeth, do their homework and stay away from doing dangerous things like vaping, drinking or veering off into other unhealthy directions.
Parenting is hard, but it is usually better to have cooperative, agreeable, happy parents both working in the same direction than to have parents who are trying to be friends with each other. There is usually too much hurt. That is sometimes confusing to kids, too.
Does Staying Friends Really Work?
There are people I admire who parted ways because they both agreed together that they were on different life paths. There was no betrayal. There was no sneaking around and lying. They still care about each other and are true friends. But those people are rare. I admire them and wish them the best.
Just recently, an article in the Wall Street Journal discussed couples who stay married, but basically go their separate ways and live apart. If it works, that’s great. For me, if I am married to someone, I want to be skin-to-skin in bed at night. I want to share things during the day. I want to support and be supported in the flesh. But that’s just me.
Being friends with our ex-husband sounds great in theory, but for me a congenial, respectful relationship is best. My ex-husband and I are at many, many family events together since we share four children and eight grandchildren. I have no desire to laugh and joke around or chit-chat with him about work, life or anything else.
My ex-husband has become more like a business acquaintance who works in a distant office that I have little connection with. I cherish the good times we had. I wish him well, but I have no desire to be drawn back into his orbit of influence. I’m too busy living my good, full, fun life with people I trust, and I have plenty of friends who are true friends and care about my well-being.
I used to sign notes to my ex, “Your wife, your lover and your very best friend.” I meant those words. But after divorce, all of that changed. I can be respectful to him as a human being. I can even like his new wife. But I have no desire to invest time, energy or worry hoping things are good for him, and trying to be his close friend. His wife can do that.
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