Being friends after divorce: Can we act like adults?

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By: brett jordanCC BY 2.0
About a year ago my whirlwind romance began with a marriage and now we’re talking (more or less) amicably about divorce. Now we’re dealing with the stress of doing a military divorce, which state do we file in, how to divide the bills, and how do we even begin to address a new version of a relationship or dare I say it, friendship?

After a few tense conversations, with some flat-out arguments involving a harsh word or two, we’ve decided to be friendlies, and to call a cease fire. And now I’m left in this no-man’s land of we-still-live-together but we’re not really “together.”

For the most part we live out our lives as roommates, he takes out our fur babies, and I do the laundry. We don’t sleep in the same bed, but we do hang out as normal friends who just so happened to be legally bound (at least for a little while longer) to include ordering Chinese and arguing over Netflix.

After we sign the paperwork, where do we go from here? Do we drift apart as adults and friends usually do or stay involved in each other’s lives? Can we ever get past “what might have been” and move on to “this is where/who we are now”? -Ang

We definitely talked about this topic over on Offbeat Bride:

But we’re willing to admit that a wedding planning site may not be the best place to discuss divorce. So let’s hear it from the Homies who’ve been there/done that. How did you — could you — stay friends during and after your divorce?

Comments on Being friends after divorce: Can we act like adults?

  1. I’ve been dealing with this for about a year, except we were married way longer. What I’ve found is that it’s very easy to start to resent each other because we’re trapped in this situation due to not being able to sell our house. We’re both casually seeing other people, and that was pretty much the point where the little habits that we used to tolerate in each other became points of contention. It’s a bigger effort to be friendly than it used to be. When we do argue, there’s certainly not as much incentive to smooth things over. I dare say that another six months of this, and we’ll barely be able to tolerate each other.

    My best advice is to get it over with as quickly as possible. Keep any dating discrete, especially if one of you is further along in the healing than the other. Keep all your financial business separate. Don’t recommit to phone contracts or anything jointly. You may not mind now and it probably makes short term financial sense, but a year from now, you might not want to have that constant contact every month.

    Good luck!

  2. I have never been legally married but have dealt with long-term relationship separation when many things (i.e bank accounts, physical goods, home, etc) were shared. I agree with Amanda that it is good to separate these things and figure out the yours and mine stuff early on.

    While I’m sure that there are many out there who have maintained healthy relationships with old partners, I do not fall into that category. My experience is that when a committed relationship goes south the healthiest thing I can do is to break all ties and move apart (obviously, if children are involved there will be other factors to consider but I am speaking from a childless perspective). While I definitely wanted to stay friends, the reality was that I knew that I would be able to build a healthier future if I didn’t always have my ex popping into my life (whether in person, by text message, or even by facebook). I’ve read some other examples around the Offbeat Empire that talk about positive examples of remaining friends and I would definitely urge people in the midst of separating to consider it, but I think that if you have a strong inkling that it may not be healthy for you that full separation may be the best way to go.

  3. My parents had an amicable divorce. They did have a long number of years during which their marriage was not functional and so had more time to come to terms with everything. They were not happy and had a lot of feelings of guilt about not fulfilling expectations, whether real or imagined. Agreeing to divorce freed them from those expectations. They no longer felt like they were supposed to be doing things. That helped a whole lot.

    It was weird and awkward in the beginning. I would say take what space you can. Obviously if you still live together, that’s going to be hard. But maybe going out separately, going to events separately, etc, can help. Doing things that you might have compromised on before can also help you feel a bit more like there are good things about this choice, whether it’s eating crackers in bed or not just bending on what you watch on Netflix.

    My Dad still comes and helps out at my Mum’s. He visits my grandma regularly. My parents will both get together with a group of friends (including my Dad’s new wife), and we do some holiday gatherings together too. My parents had a lot of things to sort out and so they had a long time of still being legally tied as they sorted out finances, sold the house and land they shared, separated investments, etc.

    • It’s encouraging to hear about the fact that your parents still interact with each other’s families. I am one month separated from my husband, moving towards divorce, and the thing I am the most sad about is that he has a fabulous relationship with my extended family, and I am hoping it will be possible for him to keep some of that, if even just as a family friend.

  4. If you want to stay friends, try to get separate living situations as soon as you can. I only had to live with my ex-husband for two weeks after we broke up, but it was very awkward. After a few months apart, it started to feel better, and when I hung out with him to talk over whatever, it felt just slightly weird. Time apart means less time for resentment, especially when you start seeing new people.

  5. I have found for me personally, in order to have a real friendship with an ex, I need about 6 months of limited to no contact to figure out who I am and what my life looks like without them (you change while you’re in a relationship, so I’ve found I need time to figure out what parts are changes I want to keep, and what parts were specific to the relationship). Even silly stuff like “do I actually want pepperoni pizza, or is that just what we ordered because it was something we both liked? (Similar to the comments above about “stop compromising”). This also helps breaking old habits (and avoiding the awkward “oops, we almost just kissed” or “oops, I almost just grabbed your hand”).

    Once I have the space to re-establish myself as an independent, single person I am able to figure out how my ex fits into my “new life.” I’ve found that this approach helps create almost a “clean slate” for the relationship. You’ve given yourself time to let go of any old resentments from your relationship, break old patterns of interaction, and settle into who you are without this person.

  6. I don’t have any relevant personal experience – my divorce was one of those “Run as if your hair is on fire” scenarios. But a friend has now almost defunct blog where several years ago she wrote about her very friendly divorce. If I recall, she and her ex husband even went to the court house to get divorced together, and split a cab home. Here is the link to the specific divorce stuff –

    • Haha, “Run as if your hair is on fire” is such a good way of putting it, as I was in that situation. My divorce was essential and a complete mess, which involved me escaping from the house in the middle of the night with as much of my stuff as I could carry.

      I respect the heck out of anyone who can have a friendly divorce, but for me, burnt bridge-style divorce works just fine!

  7. I would suggest giving yourself as much space as you can. If you have to live together for a period of time, it’s a good idea to find an area of your house/apartment that’s designated for you, or change your work schedule (if possible) so you don’t see each other as often. It might be a good idea to avoid dating (or date quietly) until you’ve left the space you share, so you can avoid resentment and arguments. Such a tough situation. I think mostly, remaining “friends” will depend on how you both establish yourselves after you’ve separated.

    I have never been divorced, but have left a long term relationship. Separate as soon as you can. Some contact worked for me, but if whenever I got the “what ifs,” I had to remind myself why we separated in the first place. The “what ifs” go away with time. For me, it was important that I was able to have “my own life” if that makes sense. Join new activities, make new friends, go to events separately, etc. I think I was a little lucky in that I our friend groups were not too intertwined.

    • Also, a more offbeat example for anyone else who’s reading:
      My parents were married for 12 years and eventually divorced. They were in their 30’s. For about 7 years I lived with my mom and saw my dad on the weekends. My mom barely made enough to support us. She had 4 kids, and 2 were my dads. He paid child support, but the other father of my other 2 siblings was not paying. We moved a lot. My dad would still visit my mom once a day (they’d go on their lunch breaks together) and helped her out with anything she needed. They both dated but never remarried. Years went by and then my father got some extra money from a company he invested in. My parents made a decision to purchase a house together. They made the decision based on what was best for us kids. They were in their 40’s, still single, and wanted to make sure they had property and savings put away for the rest of the family.

      They have been living together, divorced, for about 13 years. They get along great, but now that I’m older I realize that’s because they’ve established space and boundaries. They agree that they are roommates, sleep separately, free to date (move out if remarry), and want to be apart of the family unit. This is obviously something that wouldn’t work for everyone, but as a child from this situation, I respect my parents so much for doing it. Thanks to them I’ve been able to live in one house, stay at the same school, and go to college. Now that all the kids have moved out, my parents are doing the things they want to do. My mom will be moving to Maine this April and staying up there for 1 year.

  8. Every relationship is different, but I would second those here who say it’s difficult to stay friends.

    I got married at 21, divorced when I was 25. We just shouldn’t have got married in the first place. We DID love each other…and I rushed into it because, even though I never fit into the religious environment I grew up in, I got caught up in “this is just what you do–get married.” Anyway, we fought like crazy even before the wedding. I was not great at controlling my anxiety problems or my temper at the time, and he was not great at standing up to his family when it came to setting boundaries for our new one. We had some good times together, but it was never going to work. We lived together, married, kind of like you are, out of convenience, even when we both knew it was over.

    We tried to be friends, we even tried to “date” after I moved out. If you fall into that you HAVE to talk about it. I thought we might try again, he thought we were just screwing around.

    AND–another reason to think about exercising caution with a “friend thing”–it’s highly unlikely you will both find someone else at the exact same time. One of you is going to move on first, and no matter how “over it” the other one is–it’s going to hurt on some level. I ended up being the one who found someone else first. My friendship with my ex-husband had already faded, but I got some hints that he was hurt about my new relationship. When I got engaged about a year and a half after my divorce, we just cut each other off.

    That was unspoken, and for the next year, we texted each other on our birthdays or when we heard the other got a new job or something. Then that stopped. He lives in the same town as my parents do, and when my family went through some really bad stuff recently, he emailed me to make sure my brother and I were okay. I kept my answer appreciative but very short.

    Sorry I wrote a book! I share to convey that you should be ready to drift apart. I think it will get hard to stay friends when one of you finds someone else. Plus, I think separation is healthy. But that’s OKAY. There’s a part of my heart that loves him in a way, and, I don’t really pray, but I wish the best for him and send him love and want him to be happy. I would like to think he feels the same way about me every once in awhile. Though we aren’t friends, this isn’t a bad way for things to be.

  9. I was an impulsive youth and ended up married at 18 to a man I’d like to forget. It was a short solution to a long problem, one that I’ve ultimately solved and am in a much better place. This was a man who, when I said I was leaving, threatened my life through his military e-mail account and would call my phone about 20 times a day and leave a message singing “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails – but only the part saying “I will make you hurt”. Ultimate dishonorable discharge from his military position (through what he did to me and other indiscretions). I made it out with my life (and self) intact and a very valuable lesson on the type of men I should consider marrying. I say this because I literally personify the negative consequence stereotype of “rushing into marriage”.

    Fast forward seven years after the divorce. I knew who I was, met a man who was who he was. For a glorious year, we were who we were together. Once engaged, he effectively ran – moved back in with old roommtes, needed space, needed to be himself…. apparently wasn’t happening in the relationship. But we remain friends – thanks to space and self. He was at my wedding, he loves my child, and I am excited for his current relationship (she’s perfect for him!).

    I feel our exes can be our friends… if done “right”, they already were. But I agree with the many people here who say that time and distance can turn exes into friends… assuming you’re not worse off with having them as friends. Then just cut and run.

  10. I’m also going through a divorce, and we’re doing things a bit… differently than normal. I have managed to get my own place, but we have a child together, and at this point we have like a casual dating relationship (I moved out about a month ago). I didn’t leave him because I want to replace him, I have come to think that marriage and monogamy in general are pretty much bullshit. And somewhat surprisingly, we’re both doing really well so far. We hang out as “a family” one weekend day a week, he and I still kiss and hold hands (and might have sex occasionally), and go out together on dates occasionally. However, we are much more independent of one another now, don’t text/talk every day, and are free to have whatever sort of relationships we want to with other people. This hasn’t happened yet, and I’m curious how that is going to work out, but I think it’ll be fine. My relationship with my ex (if that is the right word) will probably always be changing and evolving, but we are parents together and we will always be part of one anothers lives. If we chose to be physically and/or emotionally intimate, that is fine as long as we are both happy about the situation. I plan on living an ethically non-monogamous lifestyle, and think its possible for me to have several satisfying relationships as long as everyone is honest about their needs and desires. I’m glad to have a relationship with my daughter’s father where we can still all snuggle together and watch a tv show, but also that I get to live independently and don’t have to ask permission or compromise and its pretty effing awesome.

  11. I am one month separated from my husband in a very amicable break up that will be leading to divorce. He wishes I didn’t want that, but he’s respecting that it takes two, and I can’t any more. We are trying really hard to do the friends thing, in part because the realization I came to that led me to wanting to end the marriage is that we make amazing friends, but shitty lovers. Right now we are spending lots of time apart, to give space to grieve, but I hope that soon we can be close friends.

    I am close friends with other exes, but they were just boyfriends, not mammoth 7 year relationships that I thought were going to last forever. I think continuing to be compassionate is going to be a key. Be compassionate, without feeling responsible for the other person’s well being or choices.

  12. I’m also the child of amicably divorced parents, and I really admire the way my parents stayed friends after the divorce, both for their own sake and for how much easier it made my life.

    Some details: My parents married young (age 18 and 22), and their marriage lasted almost 25 years. I’m an only child, and I was 9 when they first separated (though it was a few more years until the divorce was final). They always stayed close friends, and split custody of me exactly 50/50. They made sure to live nearby one another, and both took an active role in all aspects of my life, and continued to see each other socially after the divorce. I’m not saying everything was rosy, but all in all my impression was that the divorce greatly improved their relationship. I think the key factors were that they separated their finances and their primary living space, which eliminated many of the sources of conflict, and released a lot of the pressures on their relationship.

    Eventually both of them re-married (my dad remarried 7ish years after they first separated, and my mom remarried about 6 years after that). They’ve drifted apart a little over the years since I grew up and moved away, but they are definitely still friends, and they still check in with each other regularly by phone and email, both about me and about their lives in general.

    I really think the key for my parents was the physical separation, financial separation, and most importantly letting go of the expectations that accompanied their romantic relationship. As friends they are able to enjoy each other’s company and remember the things they liked about one another without all of the baggage and pressure of commitment.

  13. It is possible to divorce and be friends. My former spouse and I went through that period of being “roommates” but still legally marriage. I can’t explain how hard it was when he finally moved out, even though our divorce papers were already finished by that time. We were legally divorced, but until he moved out it didn’t sink in 100%. Now he is living with his own roommate and we still talk, text and get dinner together sometimes. There is a lot of work in supporting someone emotionally that you have been married to. Starting new romantic relationships will also be a hurdle that we have to overcome and work through to stay friends. I can’t say it’s been easy, but I can say it’s been worth it.

  14. I am about 4 months into a separation– I live in a state that requires a 12 month waiting period for divorce. Like others, I love my husband very much (and he, me), but there are a lot– a LOT– of issues that made married live difficult, and even dangerous/unhealthy for us both. It took a little over a year to reach a point where I left, quickly and unexpectedly.

    Unfortunately, a lot of the things that made us excellent partners that didn’t live together– shared experience with mental illness, some family dynamics that taught us damaging patterns– are the things that made us a powder keg of dysfunction as married folks.

    THAT SAID, the waiting period means we still have to talk, about taxes, division of assets initially, and eventually, permanently, and a million other unnecessary steps/details. There always seems to be something. But I also helped him pick out a suit for a job interview he desperately needs, and he packed a good bit of my stuff because I simply cannot take any more time off to deal with the mess that is my life.

    This is how I see it, currently (and it could change): I took vows to love and support this man, and I meant them with my whole heart. I cannot be in the same household as him now, maybe ever, but I am still going to support him in the ways I can. His illness, and my illness, are neither of our faults, and we’re luckily able to function in healthy ways when we’re only around each other for a few hours at a time. We don’t talk every day, and I wouldn’t want to necessarily, but in our case (and I know all are so, so different), this works. And, it has helped me with a lot of feelings about not being able to stay to help when he needed me, in order to take care of my own needs, and feel safe in the space I call home. I can’t help “cure” him, and he can’t “fix” me, but there are still things I can do. I am currently learning to let that be enough.

  15. You can totally do it! I’m doing it right now, (we share a kid though) and live in two apartments in the same building. I’m also still friends with my ex ex, who i lived with, even though we don’t have a kid or anything- he’s still totally part of my life though we did need 6 months of little contact for sure. Its do-able but only if you both want to do it. Set an end point for your co-habitation though, as that’s not going to work long term unless you have separate kitchens and entrances- knowing you have a plan to gently end your co-habiting will make it easier, even if it takes a year.

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