So Your Ex Wants to Be Friends?

“I want us to be friends.”

This little sentence shows up on your phone alongside your ex’s name. It’s a simple sentence, yet the implications and possible repercussions are anything but straightforward.

You start to reply. Then you reconsider and delete your initial response. What should you say?

Before you make a decision about your ex’s desire to be friends after divorce, ask yourself these questions:

How long has it been since the divorce?

There are no hard and fast rules here. Some people can be friendly with their exes throughout the divorce process and others still can’t be in the same room even decades later.

Yet there is something to be said for instituting a “you keep to your life and I’ll keep to mine” rule during the divorce and for a year or so after. That distance helps both of you create the separation needed to be able to move forward and encourages the release of interdependency. Time allows any romantic feelings or residual resentment to fade, creating a blanker canvas where friendship may be able to grow.


Was the decision to divorce mutual or one-sided?

“I want to move in with my affair partner but I still want to be friends” is a very different situation than an agreed-upon divorce after years of growing apart. A mutual decision to divorce may in fact have been reached because over time, the marriage transitioned into more of a friendship.

If you have been dumped, you may recoil at the very thought of remaining friendly with your ex. Or conversely, you may find that you jump at the chance of a friendship with the unspoken hope that it may evolve into something more. If the decision to divorce was one-sided, there is an imbalance that may preclude friendship, at least for a time.


Are you working to establish a co-parenting relationship with your ex?

A productive co-parenting relationship is analogous to a connection with a coworker. It’s two people who have negotiated boundaries and expectations in order to effectively manage external tasks and demands. This takes time to figure out and during this period of trial and error, it’s often best to try to minimize the emotional involvement.

And just like friendships at work can be tricky, adding an element of friendship to a new co-parenting relationship can complicate matters. It’s one thing to be frustrated at your child’s other parent for failing to follow through on a promised plan, but it’s something else entirely when that person is also a confidant.

If, however, your co-parenting relationship is established and functional, you may find that the addition of a friendship is beneficial to the larger family and that you’re able to successfully negotiate any issues that arise.


Do you have any physical sensations of stress or attraction when you’re around your ex?

Do butterflies of excitement begin to flutter when you see your ex’s car pull up? Or instead, do you find that you begin to develop a headache whenever they’re around?

These physical signs are an indication that you are still emotionally tied to your ex, either positively or negatively. Either of these makes beginning a friendship a dangerous game to play because you’re only intensifying the emotional connection.


Do you find that talking to your ex brings down your mood or leads to a sense of anxiety?

Maybe you feel fine when you’re with your ex only to become snappy with the kids later. Perhaps you realize that a night spent tossing and turning always seems to follow contact. Or possibly a general sense of malaise comes on the tail of every visit.

Friends should make you feel better. If you end up feeling worse, maybe “friend” isn’t the best label to assign.


Is a friendship with your ex preventing you from moving on with your post-divorce life?

Some friendships with the ex develop out of a sense of loneliness and expediency. It’s much easier to fall back into a relationship with someone you know than to put forth the effort and risk the vulnerability with someone new. However, these types of convenience and comfort-based friendships can also be limiting, acting as anchors that are keeping you tied to your past.


Does your ex have a history of manipulation and/or deception?

If so, you’re on tricky ground here. Perhaps your ex wants to be friends in order to maintain a sense of control over you. Maybe they want to be close so that they can continue to manipulate your thoughts and actions.

These people have a tendency to be charmers, so this bid for friendship may feel especially attractive, particularly if they have rejected you in the past. Proceed with caution here. Once you’re close, it becomes difficult to perceive any deceptions and attempts to control.


Is this bid for friendship coming on the heels of a major post-divorce milestone?

Has your ex just celebrated a major birthday? Or did their mother just get diagnosed with cancer? Did the youngest child just graduate high school? Did you just announce your engagement?

If the proposal of friendship came soon after a major life event, take some time to consider the motivation. It may be completely innocuous, such as the death of a loved one prompting a greater sense of mortality. Or it could be calculating, such as looking for someone to act as nurse during their convalescence.


How have you (or will you) responded to the news that your ex is seeing someone new?

Part of being a friend is celebrating the good news of the other person. Anygood news, even if it results in a new romantic partner. Can you honestly celebrate their budding romance? If not, friendship may be premature.

On the flipside, can your ex handle your new partner gracefully? A friend that will give you honest feedback is great. But one that will veto every catch out of lingering jealousy is not.


Do you want to have a friendship with your ex?

If you had no history with your ex and you met them in a coffee shop, would you be interested in starting a friendship? Do you still enjoy time with your ex? Are you willing and able to let go of the past in order to establish a larger family unit that consists (or may eventually consist) of new partners and new children?

Because that’s what it ultimately comes down to. There are no rules that dictate the type of relationship you have with your ex. If you want to be friends, accept the offer. If you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with saying no and deleting the request.

Thank you for sharing!

4 thoughts on “So Your Ex Wants to Be Friends?

  1. struth71 – New Zealand – Mum of 3 beautiful kids. Coming up 2 years separated. Still on the roller coaster. A strong-minded, typical Taurean. I don't try to hide what I am - at my age, I'm not going to change the fundamentals. But I am still willing to learn and to 'smooth the edges'. Two years on, still got lots of hurt and anger - struggle to 'let go'. Hoping that this year will be the one where that just happens overnight.
    struth71 says:

    After 2½ years of crap, being friends with ex is not on my list. BUT we’ve got 3 kids together. I just want to be able to be “friendly”. I want to be able to communicate. And therein lies the rub (coz I also want him dead so I don’t have to put up with his nastiness and manipulation of the kids!). Catch-22!!

  2. Thank you for posting this as I’m trying to figure out how to deal with dealing with my ex-husband at our daughter’s wedding. It is nice to know I’m not the only one still figuring it out. And thank you for finding my little blog!

  3. In the early days of the divorce, I wanted to remain friends. The conscious decoupling movement was just starting. I wanted to try divorced counseling to learn ‘how to be divorced parents’ raising 3 kids.

    It was never in the cards for us.

    We limped through our separation agreement negotiations. Ultimately, she was in a hurry to get done and gone and the agreement has flaws(none are perfect).

    Two years later, the things we could not iron out then are still haunting us today.

    The ‘hurry’ up and divorce thing set us both on a path that felt extra difficult to me, maybe her as well.

    So we have all these new challenges with a flawed agreement too…

    I mention this as this baggage seems to be getting in the way of any type of new friendship. We were best friends and married for 23 years. Then we weren’t.


    The baggage seems to be the thorn that keeps ripping the stitches out and the scab open.

    We have a week or two every three months where it almost seems like we could be friends, then life happens, the agreement filters that into crap, and we both deal with the consequences separately.

    (There’s lots more here than that. Trying to focus on my part not hers.)

    So on my side, I am rebuilding my life. Every bi of it from the ground up.

    It’s been 2 years. Not there yet and what that means in terms of our coparenting and friend potential is that, I am not in a place where I can be the friend she wants in her life.

    I am ok with that. I have no expectations of her.

    I am just barely getting by on the coparenting side of the equation. (Razor thin line of just getting by, more a financial thing)

    So some day when I am further down the path maybe.

    Yet, maybe not.

    I am ok with that.

    Side note
    I was ambushed by her in front of the kids last night, a complaint about one thing that she does not like about the agreement and another that she specifically wanted to be left out of the agreement and now seems to wish it was in it.

    We are not supposed to argue about these things in front of the kids(per the agreement), but she has done this many times, foregoing opportunities to talk anytime other than the weekly switch (50/50 custody).


    I do relish the greener grass on the other side of the fence when some couples can get along or get along even better.

    Arguing and communicating when we disagree was never something we did well when we were married, so we didn’t.

    Maybe there is a correlation between those of us that could not argue well/effectively when married and those of us that also cannot get along after divorced?

    Or maybe the correlation is between couples that don’t or refuse to get divorced counseling after? (Not saying that the counseling helps, I have no idea, but maybe when one spouse outright refuses, that is an indicator that they will never be able to be friends?

  4. I dont think I can ever be friends with my ex because even when we were married we did not agree on how things should be done. We were 2 very different people than and we still are now and that wont change. we are who we are.

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