Charity at all costs. That’s a rule I do my best to live by. To me, charity means putting the good of the other person before my own good. Sometimes this means speaking the truth even though I know it will hurt. Most of the time, it means being willing to listen, going the extra mile to help, being patient, honest, and kind. But does charity at all costs mean you have to be friends with your ex-spouse?
That idea might make you cringe and I totally understand if it does. But since we are all called to forgive those who have hurt us, the question is not necessarily a moot point. I think this question of should or shouldn’t ex-spouses be friends crosses the minds of most divorced people at one time or another and deserves at least some consideration in the interest of the subject of forgiveness.
I’ve heard many divorce stories over the years and I can’t think of one that was truly amicable. They normally involve the devastation of a family – that would be the opposite of amicable, no matter how skillful you are at keeping your temper in check. For many people, it’s difficult to look into the future and imagine being friends with their ex-spouses but amazingly, it does happen.
One woman I knew bragged about how happy she and her new husband were to have her ex-husband and his new wife over for dinner. “We’re all great friends now and it doesn’t get better than that.”
I know another couple who has remarried and they both have children from their first marriages. They have learned how to have a healthy friendship with their ex-spouses and their new spouses for the sake of the children. They don’t hang out together, but they have agreed to show their children that they can be friends and will even sit and chat while they watch a soccer game together.
In my own post-divorce experience, I felt friendship was not only something I didn’t want, but I felt it was also inappropriate. He was remarried, I was not. We had no children or property in common that would link us together, so what really did we have to talk about? His new wife? Nope. My life apart from him? Nope.
Prudence is imperative in answering this question of friendship between exes. In my opinion, the best way to discern the answer for yourself is to answer these other questions first:
- Was the cause of your divorce bad behavior, such as infidelity, abuse or addiction? If so, would you say it is healthy to invite these behaviors back into your life? Even if you have reached the point where your encounters with your ex-spouse are calm and not totally unpleasant, you should probably exercise a lot of caution here.
- What kind of message will this send to your children? Contrary to popular belief, children don’t simply bounce back and adjust to the new normal. The scars of divorce on children are deep and difficult for them to deal with. Dr. Judith Wallerstein’s book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce - A 25 Year Landmark Study reveals incredible and heartbreaking information about the effects of divorce on a child. Dr. Wallerstein research found the only thing a child of divorce really wants is for his biological parents to be together. They care far less about the dysfunction that caused the divorce and this desire to see their parents reunite does not fade away as they become adults. So on the one hand, getting along with your spouse for the sake of the children is a great thing to do. But hanging out and laughing it up like nothing ever happened and then turning around and dating other people isn’t. In addition to further hurting and confusing your child, it makes a mockery of what God intended a family to be. It undermines the message of the permanence of marriage that all children should be growing up with.
- What kind of affect will this have on you as you work to rebuild your life? Forgiving the one who has hurt you is key in rebuilding your life after divorce. You will never truly be happy unless you forgive, no matter what other kind of “band-aids” you use to stop the pain. But after you have been able to forgive, will having an active friendship with your ex-spouse help you or will it get in the way? I leave this answer up to the individual, trusting that the first two questions have been given serious consideration. I do this because I have seen divorced couples come back together years later as friends and find much greater healing from the past.
Every situation is different but I believe discerning the right path and using charity at all costs is the best way to make this decision.