By Richard Hogan
One of the most difficult relationships to navigate is the one we have with our ex-partner in the immediate aftermath of a separation.
It brings with it so many new challenges and yet it is something that really doesn’t get written about that often. The issues that brought the relationship to an end can be very present in our early conversations with our ex, post-separation.
There can be a multitude of residual issues left over from the relationship and this can cause much of the conflict in those early interactions.
And, in some cases, we often create a paradoxical situation whereby we allow the relationship to continue, even though we were the ones who brought about its dissolution and we are no longer living together.
So, as I said, forging a new relationship with someone you were once intimate with can be one of the most trying and exasperating relational dynamics that we find ourselves managing in our adult lives.
But how we go about creating this new relationship is an important facet of building a healthy and happy new life that is free from turmoil and conflict.
Of course, it is made all that more difficult when there are children involved. However, it is not impossible and if a few clear boundaries are in place, a functioning and respectful relationship can be achieved.
In my own clinical experience, I often meet one member of a separated couple that is finding it difficult to accept that the relationship has ended or they are struggling to come to terms with the fact that they must now allow the other the space to build their life again. The ending of a relationship is rarely mutual or peaceful.
And we must give ourselves time to grieve the death of all those dreams we had when we set out on that journey together. It is very easy to lose yourself in a relationship, and the thoughts of trying to find yourself again can be frightening, especially if you have lost some self-esteem as a result of that very relationship. But we must learn to find the inner strength we had before we set out in that relationship.
When I get asked about how to build a healthy relationship with an ex-partner, I generally offer the following advice:
1. You must establish firm boundaries very early on.
If you allow your ex to break these, you are setting yourself up for conflict down the line.
For example, your house must be that, your house. They can no longer come and go as they please – I often meet women who are struggling after letting this dynamic evolve.
They thought it was harmless at the start but now their private space is being intruded and they have to tell their ex to give them back their house keys.
This creates another kind of separation and could have been easily avoided if there was a clear boundary from the start.
You cannot let this develop, have boundaries around your space.
2. Allow yourself time to heal from that relationship.
Ask yourself, why do I want a relationship with this person now that we are no longer romantically involved?
Perhaps, the answer might lie in the fact that there are still some residual romantic feelings.
Listen to them, they will guide you in those early days. And if romantic feelings are there, give yourself space to allow those to resolve.
3. Do not allow yourself to be spoken to in a disrespectful way.
We allow people to communicate to us the way we believe we deserve to be communicated to.
We should never allow anyone to disrespect us, but if the communication patterns in that relationship were negative show your ex that type of communication is not acceptable.
If he/she shouts at you or uses profanity, refuse to continue the conversation. Keep your communication brief, if at all until they prove that they can be respectful to you.
Show them that you no longer accept that kind of behaviour. This should be a non-negotiable.
4. In the early days of a separation, try to keep your conversation off your feelings.
Protect your privacy, do not give your ex partner false hope by telling them how much you miss them or how sad you feel. Keep it impersonal and about practical things.
5.You should never involve the children in adult disputes. This is one of the single most devastating things a separating couple can do to disturb the mind of their children.
Never speak badly of each other. Your children will not thank you for this. Research shows that separation doesn’t impact your child as negatively as how both parents treat each other post-separation.
6. Give yourself and your ex the space to move on from that relationship.
Do not talk to your ex about any new relationship you are making. It is too early for that.
Perhaps down the line you might be friends but in the early days of separation avoid trying to force that relationship.
There is no doubt about it, forging a new relationship with someone we were once so romantically invested in can be one of the most challenging life events we go through as adults.
Often the nature of that new relationship is beyond our control. But with a few clear boundaries, we can ensure that the transition from romantic lovers to friends is as painless as possible.
Richard Hogan – Irish Examiner Columns
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