How To Begin A New Relationship With
(or a new regard for) Your Ex.
One question I commonly receive from my clients is, “How should I refer to my ex? What should I call them?”
This question is borne from the fact that the marital relationship is over, and the couple is starting something new. Previous standards of behavior no longer apply. Personal history that mattered in the marriage is no longer relevant. When the marriage ends, the individuals build a new space, with a new layout.
If you’re finding yourself in this position, you might be asking: What does our new space look like? And how do I navigate it?
The bad news is that there’s no simple answer, because it’s different for everyone. The good news is that you can gain some clarity by following the steps below. If you and your ex can complete this exercise together, that’s wonderful! If not, that’s OK too. It will be helpful for you either way.
- Accept The End And Release The Past. I’m well aware that this can be easier said than done. However, it’s important to draw a line where your marital partnership ended. Go ahead and honor the grief process that comes with this step. You might also find it helpful to engage in some sort of sacred ceremony of release.
- Determine What You Are To Each Other Now. You might be two people who are attempting to untangle assets before parting ways forever. You might be friends who share a more intimate history. You could be cooperative coparents. Or maybe you’re less-than-cooperative parallel parents. Perhaps you’re strangers now, bonded only by memories shared between two people you used to be.
- Build A Structure For This Relationship.
- Set The Foundation. Identify the values, goals, and energy that each of you brings to the new relationship.
- Frame The Relationship. You’ve already gained a head-start on this step by answering the question in Step 2. Now consider this in a little more detail. Think about how close you are (or aren’t), and how you want to present yourselves to your children, your families, or the world in general. Ask yourself what others can expect from this new relationship. Example: My ex and I are friendly and cooperative coparents. Our kids know that they can count on us equally, and that we’re always committed to them even if we don’t live together anymore. We maintain a flexible coparenting arrangement and my ex is the first person I can call if I have to work late and I need someone else to get dinner for the kids. We still celebrate the kids’ birthdays together and enjoy Christmas Morning as a family.
- Build The Walls. Boundaries give you protection, peace of mind, and freedom. All healthy relationships have them, and now it’s time to determine yours. Think about where to place appropriate boundaries to maximize productive communication, personal autonomy, mutual respect, and peace between your homes. Example: My ex and I have a volatile relationship, therefore it’s best that we keep a lot of space between us. We meet on neutral territory when the kids are moving between our houses, and we communicate in writing through emails with a business “tone.” When it’s time to discuss any major shifts in our schedule, such as our summer vacations, we schedule time with a mediator who can help us have a productive conversation.
In the beginning, your new relationship will be just that: new. And you can expect it will be a bit difficult to separate it from the past. However, with time and practice, you and your ex will more fully embody the people you are now, and you will each more easily perform in accordance with your new relationship.
… Oh, and my answer when my clients ask what to call their ex? I typically recommend they use their ex’s name or make a conscious effort to refer to them as “my child’s other parent.