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Divorce & Annulments

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.

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16 Comments

  1. John-875120 August 30, 2012

    Sometimes it just proves impractical or impossible. My ex had multiple personality (raped by a family member when a very young girl) and she sought somebody about the age of the perpetrator (me) and proceeded to work things out, but eventually I was her scapegoat for every evil on earth, used child against child, lied, and had serious very cruel mental illness issues. I never knew her true person until the end and had nothing in common with her. The person I “married” was in fact a mere projection. All children returned to me eventually. The two oldest currently are separated from her entirely and a third I spent a small fortune for psychological counseling to remedy “maternal rejection.” I pity my ex, but can’t trust her. I KNOW forgiving her in person would lead to another 6 years of court and 11 more attorneys, so I placed my forgiveness of her in the Heart of Jesus, the perfect Judge and find complete peace with that. He will forgive what I have no idea when to do. Please pray for me to be a good father and husband – to marry in the Catholic Church. Upon the advice of 5 conservative priests and one deacon, my union I tried to make a marriage for the sake of my children, but ultimately I told the truth with charity to Tribunal and the union was annulled. I know I have a vocation to be married. As far as my ex goes, I have had to brush the dust off my feet and leave her to God entirely. Even a court appointed psychologist said my ex lies constantly, so it is neither healthy nor productive to attempt (again) to forgive ex in person. Establishing a healthy “line in the sand” is imperative to setting a meaningful and charitable limit to further exposure. It also allows a complete bonding with future spouse because I have left all baggage that didn’t belong to me behind me.

    • Lisa Duffy
      Lisa Duffy August 30, 2012

      John,

      Thank you for your candid explanation of your circumstances. I am so sorry to know that has happened to you and your children. I know you’ve been through incredible heartache and your level of faith and trust in God is a wonderful example to us all. Thank you for sharing and count on my prayers for you as you experience a new chapter of life and God-willing, a new relationship.

      Sincerely – Lisa Duffy

  2. Stephen-725391 August 30, 2012

    Catherine Perry wrote this in one of her blog posts here on CM – “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

    I think – Lisa – the better term would have been “civility”. I have discussed “charity” with a Servite (Order of Friars Servants of Mary) whose ministry at “The Grotto” which is the popular name of The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother in Portland, Oregon, is counseling for marriage and relationships among other areas. In this context and all contexts, charity one expresses allows for the inclusion of all things and circumstances to be taken into consideration. Friendship implies an intimacy that divorce, even on the best terms, destroys.

    • Lisa-727959 August 30, 2012

      Hi, Stephen! Yes, for some ex-spouses getting to the point where they can be civil to each other is a HUGE accomplishment. I know that my ex-spouse and I were able to become civil but it took a lot. I’m not pushing for all ex-spouses to be chums by any means but I do think “civility” is an important thing to work toward.

      Thanks for your comment. – Lisa

  3. Daniel-634934 August 30, 2012

    Friends with my ex? That’s hilarious.

    • Stephen-725391 August 31, 2012

      I’m sure a water moccasin would be more friendly!

      • Daniel-634934 August 31, 2012

        That’s the honest truth. This article was more about “touchy-feely” than reality.

        • Lisa Duffy
          Lisa Duffy August 31, 2012

          Forgiveness is a real issue, Daniel, and we all should be working toward it. As I wrote to Stephen, I’m not suggesting that all exes should be best buddies by any stretch. But we all should be working toward forgiveness or civility as Stephen put it. I know there are some couples that will never be in contact with each other again, but the forgiveness still needs to take place within their hearts.

          17 years after my own very bitter divorce, my ex-spouse and I were able to have an honest and candid conversation that became the final layer of forgiveness. Although we don’t keep in touch on a regular basis and have never seen each other since the divorce in 1993, I count him as a distant friend.

          But I understand your sentiments because I felt the same at first, too. I’m grateful to hear your opinion on the subject and assure you this isn’t touchy-feely.

  4. Kat-881112 August 31, 2012

    It takes Grace to forgive.
    Beautiful article Lisa! Bless you!!

  5. Cassie-777341 September 2, 2012

    Lisa, I think it’s wonderful that you could do this. I don’t see myself ever being friends with my exspouse for the fact that he’s bipolar and alcoholic but more so because of the terrible abuse I suffered at his hand and by his family and friends. I have to work on the forgiveness part but I truly don’t know if I will ever be sble to do that fully. I ask God to help me with the
    forgiveness but it’s hard ay this point in time because he showed no mercy or concern when he hurt me and moved forward to destroy me and my life through the entire divorce. I

  6. Michael-908646 October 19, 2012

    My ex and i are working on being friends, i have dinner over there everyso often too. Actually i found forgiving her to be easy and she says she has forgiven me. To my amazement and torment the divorce has not affected the way i feel towards her at all. I still love her just as much as I always did, Im hoping and praying for reunification. Im doing everything possible in terms of getting help to analyze any character defects and shortcomings I had to contribute to the demise of the marriage. Here soon I will approach her will a huge list detailing just about everything i can remeber that i did to hurt her,, explain why it was bad, such as being selfish , inconsiderate, or bad decisions based off fear, admit to pride, lust problems(no infidelity or porn), envies, jealousies, and other sins. I will take ownership for all my garbage and tell her im so sorry and that i hope she will gain deeper forgiveness for me.Its gonna be emotioanl i can see myself crying over some of this stuff. With that comes hope. I believe we are supposed to do what we can to reconcile.Jesus said divorce was only allowed because folks have such hard hearts, so i pray every day we will gain soft hearts which are pure. Of course our problems are not as bad as some of the problems other have faced. Mostly its been poor communication, bad tempers, and crappy conflict resolution tactics. I just hope that by working to change myself to become a better person it will rub off on her and she will love me again, though she did say the other night that she does miss me. The work i have done on myself does seem to be somewhat contagious for she has been more willing to accept that she too was not perfect and did bad things to me aswell. Its not over until she wants to marry someone else, in the mean time i will just search for friendly relations on a platonic level

  7. Evelyn-911074 October 27, 2012

    Well my divorce literally ruined my family it affected my children to the point where they were basically angry most of the time. I have forgiven the person who did this. We had a good communication this past summer for the first time, but due to my daughter who is 19 years old inviting a friend to his new wife and his home he did not like it. Since that point on he has made several insulting calls to me about my youngest daughter and her interactions with her first boyfriend who I currently know and am very proud of him because he is a very nice person inside and out. However my ex-husband has literally made my life a living hell. So I don’t think I will be talking to him in the next few years. As far as having an effect on my life it has taken a giant load off my shoulders not having to communicate with him. I really am not interested in interacting with him anymore 20 years was enough for me.

  8. William-832883 February 22, 2013

    The statistics for children of divorce deeply saddens me…I have prayed often that my children could lead normal lives. I will continue to pray for this and maybe prayer can overcome the statistics.

  9. Debbie-514749 March 25, 2013

    Thank you Lisa, for this article for it is something I have pondered deeply. You see.. my ex & I are now friends & there is peace between us… not the grin & bear it type but an actual good will. It took several years but I think we both realized that this was the best attitude to help the children flourish despite the divorce. Deep down I know I still wrestle some anger & resentment towards him for breaking up the marriage, but we both seem to be better off out of it.

    What I wonder about though, is that maybe there isn’t enough of a “break” in order for both of us to move on in our lives. Neither one of us is dating anyone else right now, but what’s going to happen when that time comes? How are the kids going to handle that one when there will be even more changes in family structure to deal with? There is no chance of reconciliation, but I definitely don’t want to live the rest of my life alone just because my family is comfortable with a sort of family. Will there ultimately be more hurt & misunderstanding when either one of us remarries?

    This is for me to ponder before the Lord, but I’m wondering if you know of any others who have dealt with this type of situation? Thanks so much for your work here Lisa. I read all your blogs because of the well thought out & deeply spiritual advice you offer…

    His Peace,
    Debbie

  10. Dennis-754668 June 29, 2014

    Howdy Lisa…

    In many divorces there have been too many things that happened during the marriage and divorce that would make a friendship impossible… As you know, friendships require trust, honesty, dependability… With these things in mind, my former wife and I can never be friends… I know… I should never say never… hehe…

    My former wife and I can be around each other though… She has stayed at my house with our children when I had to be away overnight or the weekend, or longer… We are also in social situations from time to time, mostly things that the children are involved with… I dont confuse this with friendship though… This is just being civil to one another… There are to many things missing, for the two of us to be friends

    Even though the two of us will never be friends, I do believe that forgiveness has taken place… For me, forgiveness is about, letting go of the past, letting go of the hurt, letting go of the bitterness, letting go of the guilt, letting go of the vengeance… Forgiveness is about my well being and letting go of all the things that get between myself and God…

    One of our parish priest once gave me his thoughts about what forgiveness is all about… He said to me, Dennis, don’t be waiting around for an apology from this person, I doubt it will ever happen… This person has moved on and so should you… While looking into my eyes he said these words to me, in a loving and caring way…Dennis, forgiveness is not about being friends… Its about your well being… There are consequences of not forgiving, and these consequences will have a grave affect on you… Dennis, the words I’m about to say to you, please dont take them the wrong way… Dennis, it is foolish not to forgive… Now I want you to take some time to think about that… That sure was some food for thought, and very wise advice…

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