Your former husband doesn't have to be your best pal, but thanks to a shared history and intertwined future as parents, it's worth working to replace screaming matches with civility. By Holly Corbett, REDBOOK.
Acknowledge your pain
In order to move on, you have to let yourself feel the loss and grief of divorce. "Befriending your ex is a process and a relationship that takes time and effort," says Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of, Befriending Your Ex After Divorce. "It's about starting over and making a conscious, effort to let go of past hurts, wounds, and beliefs." In addition to talking things out with a therapist or loved one, Dr. Rabinor recommends listing in a journal the many losses you're facing. (Think: loss of financial support, loss of a partner to lean on, loss of your ex's extended family). Naming your losses helps you process the pain by understanding all of its parts more clearly, says Dr. Rabinor.
Try some anger management
Divorce can definitely bring out the worst in people. When it comes to dealing with your ex, anger, bitterness, and resentment are common emotions. It's perfectly acceptable to be mad - especially after you found out he had a more-than-friends relationship with a colleague - but you have a choice about how to express it. Unhealthy anger, such as those frequent screaming matches, won't erase the past and will only keep your relationship on hostile ground. Dr. Rabinor suggests trying a mindful breathing exercise the next time you're ticked off (like when he drops off the kids an hour late) to keep you from reacting with rage in the moment. Then, you can respond in a way that's more likely to lead to a resolution, by for example, acknowledging the emotions that lead him to stray.
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Trying to chat it up with your ex - whom you renamed "jerk" in your phone - could be too big a move to make right away. "Aiming to be friends when you're feeling betrayed and hurt may feel impossible, so start by aiming to just be civil," says Deesha Philyaw, who co-authored Co-Parenting 101 with her ex-husband. Try saying hello and goodbye instead of offering stony silence at the kids' drop-offs and pick-ups, or sticking to the point when talking about their schedules rather than slipping cutting one-liners into the conversation. Not only is this good for you, it'll help your kids. "Divorce is hard enough for children," says Philyaw. "Be gracious not because you think your ex wants it or deserves it, but because your kids are watching."
Sure, you may think your ex is a pain - or many unprintable, worse things - but it's easy to forget that he's also human and craves affection and love. Though you may find it very hard to remember at this moment, there was a reason you fell in love with him in the first place. To start a friendship, you need to develop some compassion for him. Dr. Rabinor suggests asking yourself these questions to quiet you inner hater and connect with your natural kindness whenever you feel burned out: What qualities did you most admire about your ex when you first met? What do you see as his greatest strengths now?
See your ex through your child's eyes
"Some people think, 'I'm going to punish him because he deserves it,' but there's no way you can hurt him without hurting your child, too," says Philyaw. "Rather than seeing him through the lens of the frustrations of your marriage, try to see your ex through your child's eyes." This eases some of the animosity and lets you view your ex as the dad who your child loves. It not only spares your kids, but also frees you up from some bitterness, giving you more energy to spend on reinventing yourself, starting fresh, and working on your friendship.
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To get from rocky relationship to friendship, Dr. Rabinor believes it's important to vocalize many of the ordinary things that that might go unnoticed - like saying thank you when he drops the kids off on time, telling him how much you appreciate his help, or apologizing if you made a mistake, such as bad-mouthing him in front of the children. Another bonding trick? Ask for your partner's opinion on an issue you don't feel strongly about, such as whether he thinks one of the kids needs a change of bedtime. "Allowing your ex to participate in the decision-making process for your children shows him that you trust his judgment, value his contribution, and want to work together as a team," says Dr. Rabinor.
Learn to listen better
You probably have stories in your head about what's wrong with what he's saying, making you quick to argue. But try to listen twice as much as you speak. "Allowing your ex to feel heard can enable him to also hear and see your point of view, which helps you both come to a mutual understanding," says Dr. Rabinor.
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"Befriending your ex is not about retaining the intimacy you once had as a married couple," says Dr. Rabinor. "You can no longer expect to know the details of how he spends his time and money, or whom he sees." Like with any friendship, you have to create boundaries, which will get even more confusing when one of you starts dating someone new. Consider skipping frequent phone calls, and relying on emails and texts to communicate effectively and less awkwardly. "This sets a boundary that you will respond when it's a good time for you," says Philyaw. But remember that it's easy to understand typed messages, meaning it's sometimes best to sleep on an e-mail, giving you time to decide how to respond.
Celebrate your ex's special days
"You can support your ex - and your evolving friendship - by helping your children select gifts for his birthday, Father's Day, and other significant days," says Dr. Rabinor. Help your toddler color a picture as a gift, or remind your teen to give him a present, like a framed photo of the two of them together. "A small gesture of acknowledgment goes a long way toward befriending your ex," says Dr. Rabinor.
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