Social Boundaries for Friendly Exes
My friend’s Facebook page is overrun with posts from his ex-wife. She sends him tons of friendship quotes, motivational posters and even news items. Big deal! She’s friendly.
Bigger deal! She has already remarried. So what is the real reason for her oversized presence in the life of her ex? She visits his house (without her husband) two or three times a week presumably to visit the pet dog they shared. She shows up (without her husband) at social functions which her ex attends. Nothing disruptive ever happens, but she’s just always there.
Without having all the facts concerning why, it is safe to assume that something is wrong with that picture. Could it be that she is not aware of the negative connotations of her behavior?
Here are some social boundaries for her and other exes who find it difficult to cut the friendship ties. Whether or not the ex was from a married or almost-married relationship, these principles will improve life and love going forward.
(1) Avoid Keeping Up Appearances
The posts on my friend’s Facebook page give the impression that he and his ex are entwined in a mutual friendship. Seeing them appearing together at social functions supports the idea. So imagine the surprise to hear him respond to her phone call with “What are you bothering me for, this time?”
The Sooner the Acceptance, the Sooner the Healing
Obviously, my friend’s ex finds it difficult to accept the end of marriage. Grief and hurt come with separation of friendships or marriages, but a healthy sense of self-worth, plus an attitude of humility and good judgment will help. There may be regret also, but none of these things can be cured by pretending that they are not there.
Fantasizing the continuation of the relationship only aggravates the negative emotions. Feeding the fantasy with an unrequited show of friendship adds constant rejection to the mix. The longer the futile efforts of friendship continue, the more pain the heart will feel when reality surfaces.
Probably, my friend's ex thought that her remarriage would help her feel better. It makes sense for her to invest her friendliness in that new relationship.
(2) Give Up the Previous Benefits
The end of a marriage cancels some legal and financial benefits which were automatic in the relationship. It also cancels social benefits.
The list of lost benefits after separation and divorce include (but are not limited to) the right to:
Sometimes, the man wouldn't let go. He returns with gifts.
- companionship at social functions;
- calls in the middle of the night, except for emergencies concerning the children;
- emotional support;
- financial help outside of legal arrangements;
- exchange of gifts for birthdays and holidays;
- invitation to family functions;
- unannounced home visits;
- introduction to new acquaintances.
This does not mean that exes cannot extend appropriate courtesies from the kindness of their hearts, but they are courtesies not rights. Their first concern is the interest of the present partner, and how the marriage is affected by their association with others.
3) Make Space for New Relationships
If previous mates or even longtime friends seem inseparable, someone who is interested in one of them may be afraid of having to befriend both. Who is willing to take on a threesome when the other two have the advantage of a common history in a longer relationship? The following scenario with Ben and Sue actually happened.
Ben and Sue entered a new community together as close, longtime friends. They were never married but they knew each other well. Whenever Ben tried to become friends with another woman, Sue succeeded in becoming her friend too. Eventually, Ben married another woman. Sue’s friendly interference broke up the marriage; then she and Ben got married. Their marriage did not last either, but Ben and Sue continued to be friends.
Before the New Relationship Begins
- Try to deal with every last emotional and practical [legal and financial] issue related to a previous marriage long before getting seriously involved with someone new.
- If you spend 10 percent of your waking hours thinking about your ex-spouse, you are not ready for a new relationship.
- If you are dating someone who keeps talking about the former spouse . . . the person has lingering issues to work through.
Excerpts from Beginning a New Relationship . . . by eHarmony Staff
Individuals are free to have friends on whatever level they choose. However, healthy marriage relationships do not have room for the friend of a friend, nor for the ex of a spouse.
If the friendship between exes is indispensable, they may not need anyone else in their lives.
On the other hand, if they consent to a mutual separation, and allow space for new relationships, the two people in the new relationship need private time and space alone in their bubble.
Friends and exes with healthy attitudes will allow them their right to enjoy their unique, intimate, romantic adventure. Special friendships between exes are not allowed after they marry other people. Any show of friendship must be extended to the bubble as a unit, and be accepted or refused by the unit.
(4) Respect New Relationships
“Since you got married, you seem to change your association with us,” said the mother of an ex-girlfriend to the newly wed husband.
“Pleased to meet you” the newly wed wife chimed in. “Since we got married we’ve been making all kinds of changes.”
Advice for Friendly Exes
Which of these bits of advice do you consider most important for friendly exes?
No individual is alone in a marriage, hence the wife’s response, “Since we got married” (emphasis on “we”). Neither one is free to establish or maintain relationships without weighing the effect on the new relationship. The Golden Rule implies that previous friends of the bride and groom will consider the rights and expectations of the new spouse—to affect changes in other friendships (just as they would want it to happen for them).
There will definitely be less time for exes. If they insist on overreaching their social limits, they can be dropped completely from the agenda. Marriage has many challenges, and the priority spot on that list is reserved for the present spouse.
Finally, special relationships require the release of friends from previous relationships on the same level. Letting go increases the power of self-control and self-worth. It also increases the ability to prioritize and commit fully to new partner.
© 2016 Dora Isaac Weithers