Ex-spouse, New Friend?
When the divorce process has pitted you and your spouse against each other, training you to view each other as enemies, any form of future alliance can seem impossible. But if you have children, your ex-spouse is still your co-parent. "It's difficult for separated partners to remain productive co-parents when the legal process is making them enemies," says Lillian Messinger, a Toronto marriage counselor who specializes in post-divorce relationships. It takes a lot of maturity to make amends with the person who has torn apart your life, or who has been a monster in court. But just as it takes two to determine the marriage dynamic, it takes two to make a good -- or bad -- divorce. Quick emphasizes that "every couple has their own relationship dance. All you have to do is change your part in the dance." If you change your behavior, your relationship will change, too.
Mark and Sara (not their real names) were married for 12 years, and have now been divorced for three. "The first couple years of our marriage was pretty good, but it went downhill rapidly," says Sara. "For the last six years, we communicated in snarls, or through our son, Peter. A friend encouraged us to try mediation, and during the process we started to really talk for the first time in years. The mediator encouraged us to remember what we used to like about each other as we established our co-parenting relationship, and how to listen and 'mine for the gold' in what we said to each other." Both Sara and Mark report that their relationship is better post-divorce than it ever was when they were married. "We are much better as friends than as a couple," says Mark. "Some of the things that really bug you in a spouse just don't matter in a friend. For Peter's sake, we were committed to working on our co-parenting relationship, and the happy side-effect is that we really like each other these days -- which wasn't the case during our marriage."