The other day a client of mine asked me the question – ”Is it acceptable for one partner to have a close friendship with their ex-partner?” and I must admit, that it took me a few days to think about this and phrase the best answer.

You see, there is not a straight forward “yes” or “no” answer. It so much depends on the circumstances.

When we were young we used to say, “there is no real friendship between a woman and a man. One of the two wants more, wants a loving relationship.”

Now I know of many friendships between woman and man where there are no hidden agendas or secret hopes of intimacy involved whatsoever. Still looking at my best friends, they are all male, except for my very best friend (which is of course, my wife).

Over the years I have been in rare contact with ex-girlfriends and it does interest me more or less to see how they are going and that they are happy in their lives.

Do I seek this contact? No.

Do I intensify any contact? No.

Do I sometimes think of them and wonder what they are up to? Yes.

That’s a fleeting thought. I’m not interested in any regular contact, because the past is the past and I am so much happier now. And I hope they are too.

The most interesting part about this question though are two words – “close” and “acceptable”.

Personally it would irritate me greatly if my wife would have a close friendship with one of her ex-partners. “Close” for me means they call, email or meet on a regular basis.

I would ask my partner why they feel the need to seek out the regular exchange with their ex.

The important thing here is the intent behind the regular contact. Is it to talk about old times and shared memories, is it to talk about every day on-goings, is it to give a helping hand, or is it because one of them is still not over the relationship and has secret hopes of winning their old partner back.

What is the intent?

Acceptable” lies in your own judgement. There is no universally accepted rule of thumb when it comes to contact with your ex-partner.

You need to be comfortable with the behaviour of your partner. If you are not, it is not acceptable. If you are, fine.

Let me give you two stories from my circle of influence, to try to illustrate my point, that what works for one couple may not work for another. The answer is entirely dependant on what you feel is acceptable within your relationship –

A friend of mine went through divorce after they’d been together with their partner for over 25 years. They have one grown child, their separation was very amicable and they still see each other on a regular basis.

My friend continues to send his ex-wife flowers for her birthday and even offers to help when things need mending at her new place. I would say he is still a close friend of his ex-wife. And his new partner for over three years seems to be okay with it. Still, I have spoken to my friend to alert him to the importance of honestly communicating his intentions of helping the mother of his children to his new partner, in order to help her feel respected and a part of the ‘acceptable contact’ decision making process.

Another friend of mine went through an amicable divorce five years ago and their children are still teenagers. They are constantly juggling the responsibility to look after their kids and trying to make sure the best is done for them. There is a mutual understanding and knowledge of strength and weaknesses between my friend and his ex.

She has since remarried and my friend is in a serious relationship. Both new partners know about this remaining contacts and are fine with this arrangement. It is all clearly communicated and it is working for all involved, especially for the children.

You obviously could also look at these questions to get a better understanding of what is going on.

  1. How long have you been in a serious relationship with your current partner?
  2. How long ago did their previous relationship end?
  3. How long did their previous relations last?
  4. Do they have children with their ex-partner?
  5. Who initiated the break-up?
  6. Do they live in the same city or even neighbourhood?
  7. Have they ever broken contact completely?

To conclude, I find a close friendship between ex-partners irritating and would be on high alert. Still it would be acceptable if you are relaxed about it.

What are your thoughts?

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