Ex Etiquette - Divorced with No Kids?
Don't Keep Fighting After the Divorce: Follow This Advice on the 8 Rules for Ex Etiquette
Dear April Masini,
After seven years of marriage, I just got divorced. I don’t have children with my ex, and I don’t know what to do, and what not to do, around my ex. Do you have any advice or tips for understanding how to act around an ex-spouse now that the relationship is over?"
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Ex Etiquette,
There are two kinds of divorces: those that involve children from the marriage, and those that do not involve children from the marriage. Other than that, they're pretty much the same – they all involve some fighting and disagreement as well as some agreement and looking back, sadly. Some divorces are mostly amicable while others are mostly angry and bitter, but they either have children or don’t. And this distinction is important. Why? I’ll tell you!
Divorces with Children:
When children are involved in divorce it is very important for parents to behave civilly, even though this is hard at first, and sometimes forever. In this case, you must see your ex when you communicate about the children’s health, school work and schedules.
You must also see your children at custody exchanges and sports, religious and academic events that are centered on the children. In these cases, the rules are easy: Be civil. Don’t speak badly of your ex in front of your children EVER. Even though it’s your ex, it remains your child’s parent. And honor your financial obligations and custody agreement. Be flexible when you can be, and if you can’t, stick to the schedule the court assigns. If you don’t like the schedule, change it through the court system as a last resort, and with your ex, if you can, away from the children. And that’s it. Although it can seem more complicated than divorces with no children, divorces without children are often even more confusing to divorced people because there is the possibility of never seeing a person you were married to and in love with ever again.
Divorces Where There are No Children:
If a divorce does not involve children from the marriage or the relationship there is NO REASON to maintain contact with your ex. Period. That's the good and the bad news. The good part of that news is that you don't have to deal with them again. The bad news is that you have to say goodbye and acknowledge that it's really over. Forget about anyone who tells you that they’re friends with their ex. That’s their divorce – not yours. There are no standards or laws governing a good divorce or a bad divorce, so you don’t get extra points for having a friendly relationship with your ex. Lots of people will tell you how great it is that so and so is friendly with their ex. Who cares? The most important part of a divorce is the opportunity it provides both parties to move on with their lives.
Let go and stop taking care of your ex. Anyone who tries to maintain a friendly relationship with their ex is doing it for themselves – not for their ex. Get it? They may get pay off from their friends and family for “trying” to keep the friendship or helping out the helpless without them ex even after the marriage is over. If that pay off is important, then that ex needs some therapy to build up their self esteem so they are okay without that payoff. While any good will between any two people is a good thing, a divorce means the relationship is over and there is no reason to maintain a relationship of any kind any more. In fact, it is often more helpful to cut off completely in order to move on. Lots of times an ex will maintain contact because they don’t’ want to move on.
Ending a relationship can be difficult -- even when the relationship is painful. Some exes may want to stay engaged in fighting because at least it’s some form of contact with an ex – as opposed to none. They may want to stay engaged in a friendly or even a dating and/or a sexual relationship so they don’t have to move and can imagine that their ex is still there for them – or they may want their ex not to move on and by maintaining a friendship, romance, or sexual relationship, they can manipulate their ex into believing that there is still “something there” and “a chance” of getting back together. I mean, think about it: What if your ex starts to get involved with someone else. How intimate can that relationship be if you keep up your relationship with them? How’s the new girlfriend or boyfriend going to feel? Probably not so great.
Can I Be Friends With My Ex At All?
Now, don’t get me wrong – it’s terrific to stay friends with your ex if the friendship is a natural one that you don’t force, and you do honor your divorce and any new relationships that you or your ex get involved in – that means putting the new boyfriend or girlfriend first, ahead of the ex-spouse. The way you can judge if your natural friendship with your ex is healthy is if you can stay friends and maintain your own identity without your relationship with your ex interfering in your life or your relationships.
And If You Can’t Be Friends:
Be civil. When you bump into your ex, say hello or, if you are able, shake hands or hug or kiss on the cheek cordially – the same way you would greet a business associate. And If you are paying alimony or spousal support, make sure you pay your checks on time to eliminate any need for contact.
April’s Rules For Ex Etiquette:
- Do not invite your ex to your wedding. There is no reason for your ex to be there and many reasons for him or her not to be there. Your attention should ALL be on your new spouse and his or her family and friends. If your ex invites you to his or her wedding, kindly decline -- by mail -- and send a modest gift that doesn't imply anything. A bowl is good.
- Do not call your ex, with whom you do not have children, to check in. Allow your ex to move on with his or her life, and you do the same. It will be easier for your new partner to get involved in an unencumbered relationship.
- Do not visit your ex or have lunch or drinks unless you want to get back together. Honor your divorce and your new life the same way you honored your marriage. And if you didn't honor your marriage, learn your lesson and honor your divorce.
- Do not call your ex or e-mail him or her to tell him about a promotion, the death of a relative, or a terrific trip you just took. Don’t try to make him or her jealous or express warmth. It’s over. Use your energy in new relationships or existing relationships with relatives or friends from whom you are not divorced.
- If you have children with your ex make sure your marital settlement agreement (also known as a custody order or divorce agreement) spells out all details right down to the penny and the hour and minute and that it is signed by the court and is enforceable. While this sounds harsh, it helps avoid misunderstandings. Adhere to the agreement, and if it is violated, seek judicial relief. In other words, honor your divorce agreement. It keeps the peace.
- If you have children with your ex don't give your children false hopes of your getting back together with your ex -- even if it means keeping distance between you two. It is more important for the children in divorce to accept the reality of their new life no matter how painful it may be. This way they can move on. The divorce affects them, too. Don't have dinner with your ex unless you want your kids to be anxious that you are going to get back together again -- and break up again.
- If you have a new partner, and you and your ex are friendly, you may have dinner with your ex and your children. If your partner is along, too, and your ex's partner, if he or she has one, is included. Never disparage your ex in front of your children. It is damaging to the children.
- Do assist your children in purchasing gifts and cards for their parent from whom you are now divorced. Take your children shopping so that they can buy their parent from whom you are divorced Christmas, birthday and Mother's Day or Father's Day gifts that are strictly from the child (not you!). Even if you hate the ex, it is important that you allow your child to honor the parent-child relationship.
And when you think you're ready to date again, check out my book Ideas for A Fun Date -- it's full of great date ideas to do with kids.