It's Complicated

Can You Be Friends With Your Ex After Divorce? Should You?

It could work, says a therapist, but there’s one big caveat.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Baby Gold
The Divorce Issue

We've all seen the photos of exes Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin on vacation together years after "consciously uncoupling," looking like the picture of best-friend bliss alongside their current partners. But just because Gwynnie and Chris make remaining friends after divorce look easy doesn't mean it's the right thing for you — does it? I mean, is it even healthy to constantly hang with your ex after splitting up?

Remaining friends after a divorce isn't a must and is definitely a big ask for many former couples — even if you’re co-parenting together. But when it comes to the benefits of remaining friends with your ex after divorce, therapist Salima Shah, MS., tells Scary Mommy there are many: "They can still be a part of your support system. They know you more than most people in your life."

Like anything, though, where you go from here is dependent on you and your relationship with your ex. Whether you’re hoping to maintain some semblance of a friendship with them after you split or you’re already post-split and lowkey worried your friendship with your ex could be unhealthy, here are a few things to consider.

Is it possible to be friends after divorce?

The short answer: yes. The caveat: only after an extended period of no contact, says Shah.

"Using that period of no contact to create a fuller life for yourself, to reflect and heal, and most importantly, coming back home to yourself," she says. "During a marriage, almost every decision is made with your spouse in mind. This is the era of 'you'. All the things you once sacrificed are now yours to reclaim. This other person played a large role in your personal growth. It's time to re-discover your identity without being part of a unit."

Then, and only then, she says, can you revisit the idea of becoming friends with someone with whom you once had an intimate and legal bond.

"Your past life will be like a faded photo in an old photo album, nostalgia and cherished (or not so cherished) memories packed away," Shah explains. "Allow some dust to settle before you revisit it."

What are some reasons why being friends with your ex after divorce might *not* be a good idea?

While remaining friends with your ex is a nice idea in theory, sometimes it's not the actual best thing for you and your relationship.

"Old wounds can resurface; unresolved issues can cause friction," Shah says. "[There could be] jealousy when trying to develop a new partnership. There may be a glimmer of hope to rekindle things, [but] the marriage ended for a reason, right? It can take an emotional toll ... their presence can act as a constant reminder of the past."

If it was a traumatizing relationship, Shah says becoming friends would only cause further pain. And if you both grew apart and no longer have aligned values, that would make a friendship challenging as well.

How can you approach being friends with your ex after divorce?

If you don't feel jealous when your ex talks about starting to date again or has a new partner, it doesn't feel painful to see them, and if you both still cheer each other on from afar and respect each other's boundaries, Shah says those are good indicators that a friendship with your ex could actually work.

Before you do, she suggests asking yourself why you want to remain friends in the first place.

"It's so important for you to find your why and to make sure that why is not coming from a place of fear, attachment issues, and your own trauma," she says. "Let's assume that you've found your why, and it's for healthy reasons. It's pretty simple: Start with an intentional and direct conversation. Sit down and let them know your intention is to only be friends because of XYZ, and if they are interested as well, start to set up what boundaries might be important for you both."

Boundaries can always be changed, says Shah, so keep that in mind. "You might realize you need more or less boundaries than discussed and that's pretty normal," she explains. "Have ongoing check-ins to make sure both of you continue to be on the same page!"

What's the critical first step to friendship with your ex after divorce?

"Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries," Shah says. "This needs to be discussed and not assumed. An example could be the perimeters on how you spend time together. Another could be frequency of communication. Everyone has different needs, so talk about what friendship looks like to each of you."