Getting along with your ex comes with some surprising challenges.
Recently, a friend told me one of the saddest divorce stories I’ve ever heard.
Her colleague’s young son was on life support, and her parents couldn’t be in the hospital room with her at the same time when she had to say goodbye to him.
They still refused to be in a room together after the divorce twenty years ago.
Horror stories like this one, and many others I’d heard over the years, drove me to make an amicable divorce my absolute priority when my marriage ended. I was determined not to be one of those couples that made every family gathering awful and tense.
After years of teaching young children and dealing with divorced parents, seeing their children’s anguish, and all the awkwardness of parent interviews, I set about nurturing a relationship with my ex-husband that would allow us to return to the friends we were when we first met.
I took a very philosophical view of the situation.
No matter what had happened to us in the final years, there was a reason that we chose each other once, and I believed that we didn’t need to throw all that away because of the way we had treated each other when we were both in the excruciating pain and sorrow of separation.
From the beginning of our separation, we spent every birthday and Christmas together as a family unit. Our goal was for the kids to see that although we couldn’t be together as a couple, we could still hang out as friends and enjoy each other’s company despite what we’d been through.
This was great for the kids, and they often express to us now that they are older how grateful they are for the fact that we have always been able to continue to do things together as a family.
It goes without saying that divorce is tough on kids. The more opportunities you can give them to see you getting along and for them to have their family together at times, the better their chances of recovering quickly from the impact.
However, if you manage to have an amicable divorce, it can come with unexpected challenges.
How amicable is too amicable when there are new partners in the equation?
One of the most common challenges when maintaining a positive relationship with your ex-spouse is the jealousy and insecurity it can trigger in your new partner.
Your new love interest may worry that your connection with your ex-spouse threatens the solidity of your current relationship. They might feel insecure about your shared history or concerned that unresolved feelings still linger between you and your ex.
My ex was the first to be in a new relationship. He started dating a woman from his work only a few weeks after I officially moved out of the family home.
Whilst this stung, I had to be realistic. Our connection had been broken for a long time, and I understood why he wanted to feel loved and special again.
His new partner did not cope well with our friendship at all. She constantly panicked that we would get back together, and my ex continually had to reassure her that this wouldn’t happen.
Once I entered a new relationship two years later, it allayed her fears a little. But now I was the one dealing with jealousy.
My new partner didn’t like that I had a good friendship with my ex-husband. He, too, was suspicious of how well we got along and took it to mean that our relationship could possibly rekindle again.
There is a misconception at times that if two people who were once together can still get along, there’s a chance they could try again.
In our case, we got along so well because we were no longer under the pressure of trying to make a relationship work.
If you’re navigating a new relationship after divorce, you may find yourself having to reassure your partner that there is no reason for them to worry.
Here are some ways to keep an amicable relationship with your ex-spouse while building a connection with someone new.
Be upfront and honest from the beginning
If you still want to spend as much time as a family after meeting someone, it pays to be honest from the beginning. It will cause more strain down the track if you try to present a different picture or omit to tell your partner how important it is to you.
I have had people I’ve dated pull out because they are uncomfortable with it. Although I was disappointed that someone I felt had potential was gone, I would prefer not to try to build a relationship with someone if they couldn’t cope with me still spending time with my ex on special occasions.
Understand and acknowledge their fears
While dealing with someone’s insecurities can be frustrating when you know deep in your heart that there’s no way you would ever go back to a relationship, it pays to try to view things from your new partner’s perspective as much as possible.
As with any form of empathy, it requires us to go deeper than the surface level and consider what fears are being triggered by your friendship with your ex.
Most insecurities stem from a fear of experiencing abandonment. Listen to your new partner carefully, and ensure they know you understand how they feel and why they may feel that way. In other words, don’t just brush it off because you feel like it’s all under control.
Be prepared to compromise
Ideally, you would have worked out your non-negotiables and desired level of time spent with your family before entering a new relationship. This is where talking to a divorce coach can be extremely helpful.
However, we don’t live in a perfectly planned out world most of the time, and you may be figuring these things out while in a new relationship.
If so, communicate with your partner about where you can compromise to help them feel more comfortable. They are an important part of the equation, and their thoughts and feelings need to be considered if you want a harmonious and fulfilling partnership.
Be realistic about the amount of work a new relationship takes
Relationships post-divorce are a whole different beast from what we’ve always known in the past. You really can’t underestimate how much more intentional effort is required.
Many more dynamics need to be taken into consideration:
- Your children’s feelings
- Your relationship with your ex-spouse
- Your relationship with your current partner
Additionally, if your new partner has kids, you are now navigating your relationship with them as a step-parent while also dealing with your partner’s ex-spouse.
That is a LOT of stakeholders. And somewhere in amongst all that, no less important, is your relationship with yourself. In fact, this one needs to be functioning at the highest level, or none of the other ones will be able to anyway.
If you know how much energy is required, you’ll be mentally prepared to tackle the inevitable discussions and negotiations needed to have a close relationship with your ex and kids, as well as nurture a connection with someone new.
I want to mention setting and maintaining boundaries when advocating for yourself and your family time.
If you are in a healthy relationship with a mature, committed adult, you should be able to clearly communicate, negotiate, and come to a mutually beneficial situation.
If your new partner continues to get upset, demand that you explain, refuse to engage with your ex, or keep asking you to stop seeing your ex-spouse unless it’s an emergency, you may want to rethink the relationship.
I speak from experience. Even after trying to explain and compromise, my partner got more insecure as time passed and would pressure me to stop what I was doing. He would tell me it wasn’t normal and refused to join us in any family gatherings. This was five years after my divorce.
No amount of reassurance was going to be enough.
In this case, you have to make some decisions. There is no quality of life when you are in a constant push/pull of having to feel guilty when you want to spend time with your ex and children.
I know for me, it wasn’t worth it. I chose to end that relationship. I would rather be alone than with someone who can’t or won’t accept the level of closeness that I still want to have with my family.
It’s a personal decision; only you will know what balance is right for you, your family, and your new partner.
It’s important not to just wing it as you go. Take the time to sit down and reflect on how important it is to you and how you want it to look today, in a year’s time, and in the future when your kids are adults.
Starting a new relationship after divorce is a significant step towards personal growth and happiness. However, it’s essential to understand and prepare for the potential challenges that can arise, including jealousy and insecurity from your new partner.
By prioritising open communication, setting clear boundaries, and fostering trust, you can confidently walk the delicate line between having a fulfilling relationship with your new partner and maintaining a positive co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse.
About Carol Madden
Hello, my name is Carol Madden and I am a certified divorce coach working with clients around the world from my online practice in New Zealand.
I aim to help individuals navigate the often overwhelming emotions and practical considerations of separating from a spouse. I understand the unique challenges that divorce can bring, having been through my own divorce ten years ago.
I believe that divorce can be an opportunity for growth and positive change, rather than just a painful ending. Through my coaching, I help clients gain clarity and confidence as they move forward in their lives.
As a writer, I am excited to share my perspectives on divorce with readers seeking solid support during their separations. Whether providing tips for managing the emotional rollercoaster or offering practical advice for effectively co-parenting, I want to help others through this challenging time.