Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Staying Friends After Divorce: Why It's So Important

Let's face it: romantic love often comes to an end. The theory goes that relationships end because the love ends, meaning that one or both members of the couple fall out of love. The reasons why they fall out of love inevitably vary. While some people's careers or professional obligations may draw them away from their relationship, others experience betrayal they can't forget or move past. Some lovers simply change and grow apart, and realize they were not meant to be together. One of the most perplexing realities is what often comes with divorce.

Most of you have probably had the experience of witnessing the forced encounter of two people who were once married in the past but who seem to have almost no connection with each other. I always wonder, Are you sure you were ever married? Many good songwriters have captured the melancholia and mystery that comes with the demise of a romantic union. I'm thinking of Carly Simon, for example, who sang the song "Coming Around Again" in which she sings "so good on paper, so romantic, but so bewildering."

When a relationship goes south and a couple decides to separate, what happens to the love? Does it truly die?

Based on my clinical work over the years, I've found that the love never truly dies, no matter what came between the two individuals. It seems more likely that the love remains but is repressed to defend against strong, unpleasant feelings underneath. When you see two people who treat each other as strangers but who were once married, you don't see the love on the surface, but it's there - only in repressed form. You see the manifestation of the anger, sadness, or denial, but it covers strong feelings underneath. You can't simply love someone day after day and ever truly stop loving that person.

You surrender to denial if you can't accept that there is a part of you that still loves and misses that person, even if it's only the most miniscule part of you. Music comes to mind again as I think of Whitney Houston singing "...and if somebody loves you, won't they always love you?" The answer, in a word, is yes, though some will go to the grave denying it.

It is rare, it seems, that couples are able to hold onto a friendship and remain close while still moving on after the divorce. I am always impressed when I see couples who manage to stay friends, as it takes strength in character and an understanding of the bigger picture to rise above the hurt. While we can't do much to change the state of affairs in other couples, you can reflect on your own relationship.

If you are single, reflect on what you hope for in your next relationship. If you're looking for a partner who is also your best friend, think in advance about what you can do now to make sure that you never have to see an ex and treat him or her like a stranger.

At the end of the day, the real goal in life must be to integrate all of the various parts that make up who you are: your feelings, motivations, beliefs, and dreams. Though some of them may not be pretty, or may not make perfect sense, all of them together reflect who you are. Too often, men and women end relationships and feel that they made a mistake in choosing the partner they committed to in the past because the relationship didn't work. But such a perspective betrays the bigger picture, that relationships are one of life's greatest classrooms, and it's within this conext that we figure out what we need and learn how to move closer to true fulfillment.

Barring cases of abuse, learning to forge a friendship with your ex after divorce can be a truly healing experience and allows for an important integration of your past with the present.

PLUS: Dr. Seth’s new book, Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Find the Love You Deserve, is about how to stop repeating bad patterns in your relationships. Dr. Seth shows you how to stop repeating these patterns: falling for people who are emotionally unavailable, unfaithful,or wounded souls who have tons of potential but are emotionally broken in some way. With an introduction by a # 1 New York Times Bestselling author, Dr. Seth's Love Prescription is available in bookstores or at Amazon.com.


petevicable said...

i know someone who keep tell her wife that he don't love his ex-wife, does this mean to say he still love her deep inside? he admit that he love his ex very much before and the ex did betray her husband and trick my friend that she is divorce. she did leave her husband just to be with my friend. until he got the sympathy of my friend and they got married and the same thing she did to friend. she found other man later and divorce my friend. my friend and his wife now always in fighting each other because his wife feel he still misses his ex. but he always says he don't. but my friend say's ...........his actions. speaks more than the words he say's.... his wife keep try to keep their marriage work. not knowing her husband and ex still enjoying phoning each other.

petevicable said...

What you do if you found out your husband still missed his ex?
He cannot stop himself until he call his ex if don't see her in person?

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Jami Patin said...

Being friends with your ex-spouse after the divorce can be hard. The task can be mentally and emotionally intimidating for both parties. But being friends can be beneficial, as it is a sign of acceptance of the situation. And it will make communication with one another regarding sensitive matters much easier, especially when it comes to the topic of child custody.

@Jami Patin

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jami, being friends with each other after a divorce can be beneficial, not only to the parents, but also the children. Sometimes, a divorced parent has to be both a father and a mother to the children, which makes it hard for the kids. In some cases, they feel they are being deprived of parental love. So maintaining a good relationship after a divorce can help the children ease the feeling of loss that they might encounter after the divorce, and help them move forward in life.

@Louisa Matsuura

Mike said...

I think one benefit of couples being friends again after a divorce is that they can negotiate and enter into a fair and reasonable agreement. They can talk about issues related to division of property, the custody of the children, child support and spousal support. Yes, being friends is hard to sustain, but it is a sign of acceptance and can help make the situation easier for the whole family.

Mike Clark

Darcy Nimmons said...

I think staying friends with each other after a divorce can be beneficial, especially when co-parenting the children. It can give them both the time together with the kids and can make it easier for them to be engaged and involved as much as possible. And, it is easier for them to communicate regarding the children, as well as accept the fact that they are divorced, and move on with their new life.

Darcy Nimmons

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