How to Become Friends with Your Ex-Spouse

Does staying “friends” with your ex-spouse seem like an oxymoron?

If so, you may be wondering how you could possibly overcome the feelings of sadness, loss, anger, betrayal, and heartache that accompanied your break-up. You may be grappling with seeing your ex as someone other than the person who dashed your happily-ever-after dreams.

At the same time, you may see some value in becoming friends with your ex-spouse. Often, former partners do this for the sake of their children. And sometimes, they do it just because they shared a lot and still actually care about each other.

Is it possible to be friends with your ex-spouse?

It may be possible to let go of the past and embrace a new kind of relationship – a friendship – with your ex-spouse. After all, your ex likely still possesses some of the qualities that drew you to them in the first place. Some former couples say they do not regret their past marriage because it made them who they are today. They shared many happy times, and perhaps they shared children. To devalue that relationship would be to devalue an important part of themselves.

If you’re thinking of forging a friendship with your former spouse, read on for some rules and tips on how to do it while preserving your self-respect and integrity.

Are there “rules” to being friends with an ex-spouse?

Rule #1: Give it time

It may take a while for you and your ex to be on good terms again. Divorce requires grieving and time to understand what went wrong and recognize your own part in it. If you’re still stuck in blame and victimhood, you’re in an adversarial state of mind. Having a respectful platonic friendship may be impossible until you’re ready to move on. 

Rule #2: Create realistic boundaries

You spent years with this person in a romantic partnership. Out of muscle memory, you may find yourself drawn toward old patterns. It’s important to set boundaries with this person so no one gets confused or hurt. Your friendship should look very different from your romantic relationship.

Divorce itself is your most significant boundary. You are no longer married for very good reasons. Getting re-involved sexually or romantically could set you up for new regrets and make healing that much more difficult. Base this new relationship on friendship, not the ghosts of your past.

Rule #3: Know your true motivation (and theirs)

If you want this friendship, what motivates your desire? Make sure it’s a healthy one. Some people have unresolved romantic desires. Some are afraid of being alone, and being with a former spouse is easier and more comfortable than moving forward as an independent person. These are not reasons to forge a relationship with an ex.

Unless you can draw the important distinction between “romantically involved” and “good friends” with your ex, chances are your “friendship” will become confusing and possibly even hurtful to one or both of you.

It may take a lot of time to get over the loss of your ex-partner, even if you were the one who initiated the divorce. For a while, at least, you might consider having no contact with them. A clean break is sometimes best. However, if the two of you are co-parenting, that may not be possible.

Rule #4: Check each other’s expectations

Be clear about what you want from your friendship with your ex, and make sure you know what they want. The goal is to make sure it’s truly platonic and not a holdout for something more. Think, also, about what might happen if your ex (or you) got involved in a new relationship. Could you be happy for them, or would a wellspring of heartbreak and jealousy get in the way of your own mental health and well-being?

Rule #5: Develop new traditions

To avoid falling back into old patterns, establish new patterns and traditions with your friend. You must relearn how to treat each other respectfully, not as partners but as friends. When done right, befriending your ex can allow you to forgive each other, improve your co-parenting relationship, and move on from the acrimony and stress of your divorce with new goals. It may even cause you to appreciate what you saw in each other so long ago. 

Read: 4 Reasons to Forgive Your Spouse in Divorce

Tips for a healthy relationship with your ex

After divorce, reestablishing a friendship with your ex can feel confusing. Your relationship is no longer what it was, and you may feel unsure of how to navigate it as something else. 

  • Keep past hurts in the past. Those are done, and they certainly won’t enhance a mutually respectful new friendship. 
  • Keep your intentions clear. Just as in marriage, communication is vital to the health of your friendship. Be clear about all the ways that you appreciate what was good in your marriage and how you would like to maintain them in the context of friendship.
  • Make sure your kids and other family members understand the nature of your friendship. Family may be emotionally invested in you being a married couple again. Kids commonly harbor fantasies about their parents reuniting. Seeing you together could reinforce this. Others may need a very clear and consistent message that, while you may still be spending time together, it will not lead to a reunion as a married couple.
  • Take care of yourself. In this new friendship, your top loyalty is to yourself. If you feel you’re being manipulated or things seem a bit “off,” trust your gut. Take action to make sure your well-being is protected. 

While you’re not alone in wanting to explore a friendship with your ex, It’s important to understand your own motivations and needs first. If you still have romantic feelings for your ex or haven’t given yourself the time and space to fully heal and move on after your divorce, you might find yourself repeating mistakes of the past and reinvolving yourself in a hurtful situation. 

At Hello Divorce, we are committed to supporting our readers through your divorce and beyond. While we offer many plans and services to help you through the legal and financial process, we also offer an extensive library of helpful resources to help you get through the emotional process and live your best life post-divorce. 

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Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.