How to Get Along With Your Ex After the Divorce

5 helpful hints for improving your post-divorce relationship

Posted Apr 05, 2015

I’ve always said that divorce resembles marriage. For example, I’ve found in my clinical practice that couples who’ve experienced consistent control struggles during their marriages tended to have extended post-marital legal battles for control. This control might manifest in lengthy, expensive fights over child custody, or certain assets. Some of these couples actually bankrupt themselves in a legal contest. In contrast, those couples that distanced during their marriages tended to fade rather than fight during the divorce process.

Obviously if a couple has decided to split, the marital issues were big enough to merit a divorce…at least from one partner’s perspective. But a couple’s post-relationship process is not only dependent on the toxicity of the marriage, but perhaps on how closely the following five principles of post-divorce are followed:

1. Each partner must take responsibility for their own individual contributions to the marital demise. Marriage is a circular system in which two parts make up a whole. In my 30-plus years of practicing marriage counseling I have never seen a couple in which one partner was solely responsible for the discord…never! Admitting to your ex that you made mistakes that you regret can go a long way toward building empathy and mending some wounds. You most likely weren’t the only victim in the split.

2. Consider whether you fought a clean legal battle. I realize anxiety runs high during a divorce but many partners needlessly lie, cheat, and steal to gain an advantage. Some of these individuals believe their very survival depends on the outcome of the divorce—I get that—but many partners are just plain vindictive or neurotically competitive. If you can make amends for your past behavior…try. This might mean giving back something personal back to your spouse that you took, or adjusting (with your lawyer’s approval) your settlement: people can add or subtract in this case.  Oh, and stay out of post-divorce court.

3. Try to avoid setting up post-divorce coalitions. That is, don’t bad mouth your ex to family or friends, and if you did, go back to them and present a more balanced perspective. Many partners have complained to me that as a result of being slandered, they’ve suffered more losses than necessary.

4. De-triangulate the children (if any). Putting down your ex only puts your children in a loyalty bind and breeds further resentment from your ex.  Keep your kids out of the middle.

5. If and when you begin to date again, maintain clean boundaries. For example, try not to become involved with any of your ex’s friends or any old neighbors. Nothing will keep a post-divorce fire burning than adding more insult and betrayal to the mix. There are enough people on the earth for you to date. Go out there and find them.   

I realize there is much more that you can do to civilize your relationship with your ex, but by operationalizing these five suggestions your post-divorce relationship may greatly improve and any anger and resentment may dissipate. Some partners actually socialize with their exs. Others maintain a healthy and respectful distance but can count on them in a pinch. At a recent party I attended, a divorced woman said to me: “My ex and I have a great relationship. I guess you could say we did divorce better than we did marriage."