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Stepmom’s, can you be friends with your partner’s Ex?

friends with ex

Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw once famously asked “can you be friends with an Ex?”. For those of us that have found love with someone who has children from a previous relationship the question is not only “can you” but also “should you be friends with your partner’s ex”. And more to the point, do you really want to?

carrie-bradshaw-writing“I got to thinking about the ex factor – in mathematics we got to learn that X stands for the unknown A + B = X but what’s really unknown is, what + what = friendship with an Ex. Is this an unsolvable equation or is it possible to transform a once passionate love into something that fits nice and neatly onto the friendship shelf. I couldn’t help but wonder, can you be friends with an Ex?” Carrie Bradshaw – Sex & the City S2, Ep18

When kids are involved the reality is that ‘the ex’ (otherwise known as the children’s mother) is going to continue to be part of your partner’s life and therefore in your life, whether you want them there or not. You cannot get around the fact that at some stage you will have to engage with the ex, because of the simple fact that their child spends time in your home. In this context it’s generally accepted that it is better for everyone to be pleasant than to be unpleasant.

If you and your partner’s ex can grow to become friends, great. If both stepmom and mum want it, are motivated for the right reasons and both have the drive and temperaments to ensure the relationship is healthy and respectful, then by all means becoming friends isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that friendship isn’t always the right thing or even possible for everyone. Especially when feelings are involved.  And especially if those feelings were hurt pretty badly and people are still trying to heal wounded hearts and egos left over from a messy divorce.

Whether we like it or not, it tends to be the ex that sets the tone of a relationship with a stepparent. I mean let’s face it, if the ex perceives (rightly or wrongly) that you were somehow involved or responsible for their marriage ending and/or that your partner/spouse was dishonest, insensitive and/or careless (during their marriage and/or the period around separation), then the last thing they might want is it to be your friend!  In these scenarios, friendship dilemma solved. On the flip side, we also all know how hard it can be, to be polite or considerate to people we believe to have hurt (or continue to hurt) people we love and care about. Out of love and loyalty towards your spouse, friendship might be the last thing you wish to cultivate with their ex. This is nothing that you need feel guilty about. Rest assured, the fact that you may not want to be friends with the ex does not make you wicked or evil, merely human.

But if the question of friendship is not so clear cut, how do you figure out how to handle that complicated twosome that involves, the ex/the mother of your stepkids and you?

I think first up, you have to remain mindful that there is are BIG differences between being friendly, having a relationship that might on the surface resemble friendship (i.e. being a Facebook friend) and having a genuine friendship.

It can be very easy to think that anyone behaving in a friendly way is a friend – think that person who greets us warmly and with whom we always share a joke with down the dog park, the person we tend to always stand next to on the sideline of little Johnny’s weekly football games, or those we are “friends” with on Facebook and who follow us on Instagram. This is not the case. There is an important distinction to made between being friends and being friendly and this can work to a stepparent’s advantage.

Friendliness and being friendly is usually associated with pleasantness, perhaps sharing a nice a smile or a joke, and is more about being polite, cordial and considerate. In a work place, being friendly towards your coworkers and clients is professional. At a social occasion being friendly is polite, considered good etiquette and tends to makes the event/occasion more enjoyable for everyone. We might see these persons regularly and know a little bit about them, we might even be “friends” with them on Facebook. But when it comes down to it, we probably wouldn’t visit them in hospital if they were having an operation or expect to be invited to their wedding. Our contact with them resolves around a shared interest or a common role e.g. dog ownership, your children/stepchildren attend the same school or playing in the same sports team, you are both on the same committee or volunteer at the same Hospice etc.

Friendship on the other hand implies more. Friendship is a bond. Last I checked, friends are people who tend to do the following:

  • Text or call to see how you’re doing or to share a secret or confide in you
  • Regularly invite you out to lunch, dinner or drinks or other social events
  • Hang out with one another, even if just to watch TV, go to the movies or have a quick coffee
  • Become a part of your significant life experiences
  • Get involved in important occasions, like planning birthday parties, weddings, baby showers
  • Be honest and constructive when needed
  • Celebrate the wins with you and be there to support the losses
  • Go the extra mile when you ask for help or if they see that you need it
  • Have your back when things are challenging and you’re going through tough times
  • Understand and respect boundaries
  • Be a person who sticks to their word
  • Is willing to put your happiness before your friendship
  • Like and value one another

Plain and simply, a genuine friend truly cares about you and about those important to you. They want, and actively seek, to maintain a relationship with you, even when life conspires to throw things in the way to make that difficult e.g. children, relocation, geographical distance or career choices etc. They are those with whom you can have meaningful, fulfilling conversations that make you feel seen, understood, appreciated, and supported. The emotional safety provided by friendship also means not always having to weigh your thoughts and measure words – something not necessarily the case with people you are friendly with.

For many stepmoms, being friends with the ex/mother will likely mean walking a fine line. The consequences of one or other of you stepping over that line might range from a simple “blip” in perhaps an otherwise positive relationship, to causing problems in your relationship with your spouse, perhaps exposing the children to adult tension and conflict or, worst case scenario, perhaps even causing problems in the parental relationship impacting on the sustainability of the existing parenting arrangement.

With social media blurring the boundaries between work, friends, family and the rest of our lives, stepparents need to consider how they can separate genuine friendships from other relationships. I mean, if you are active on social media, both friends and acquaintances may have access to things such as your Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram account. This means that, (unless you ensure your privacy settings are such that certain people don’t see all posts or comments), the ex could know what you’ve been up to during the week or on weekends. They could have access to, and can look at your personal photographs and keep tabs on where you go and who you see – how comfortable are you with your partner’s ex having this level of access to your personal life or vice versa. Additionally, do you really want to know this much about the ex? Also what happens if the friendship deteriorates – can or do you de-friend  or unfollow them? What happens if you find yourself in a position in which the ex talks badly about your partner (their ex) or uses their shared history to compete with you, or to cause you problems in your relationship?

I mean I know me and my girlfriends will occasionally have a vent about our partner, our kids and family when frustrations surrounding their behaviour and our expectations are not in sync (more often than not this conversation occurs over a glass of wine).  I have complete confidence in my friends to understand that some things said are said out of my frustrations. I also trust them not to re-tell these frustrations and complaints to my partner and family. How comfortable would you be having those types of conversations with the ex?

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As we have said before, for the sake of the kids, it’s always a good idea to try to establish a pleasant, friendly relationship with the ex/mother. After all, there will inevitably be times when you are hanging out at the same place at the same time because of a common denominator – i.e. the kids. As we have said many a time, stepfamilies however, are complex. It takes a lot of time and energy just to manage the inherent issues associated with merging individuals together in a stepfamily. In all honesty, have you the time and energy to commit to developing and maintaining a real friendship with your partner’s ex?  And if you do, are you prepared for all that could come with it?

Like all things stepfamily related, there is no right and wrong option. There is only what works for you and your family. If you and the ex are friends, that is fantastic. But when it comes down to it, we think that you don’t need to actually become close friends with the ex, it’s good enough to be just plain friendly.

So what works for you? Are you friends with your partner’s ex/the mother of your stepkids? Do you think you have to be? What are your thoughts about being “Facebook Friends”? Comments and encouragement are always welcome.

Thanks for sharing.

We like to share. How about you?

1 comment on “Stepmom’s, can you be friends with your partner’s Ex?”

  1. Shawn Simon Reply

    Well, I’m “friends” with my husband’s ex on Facebook because one day years ago, while looking at videos on facebook, my stepdaughter saw on the sidelines that it said “people you may know” and there was her mom’s name. She said, “Why aren’t you friends wth my mom?” Then she suggested I send her mom a friend request. So I did. Honestly, over the years, it’s gotten easier, but in the beginning, I know she talked poorly about me to the kids. When you know somebody says hurtful things about you, it’s hard to be friendly. For the sake of the kids, I have always tried. One stepmom I interviewed for my upcoming stepmom book, told me that once her stepson got married and had kids, she became actual friends with her husband’s ex. I said, “Oh! I don’t see that ever happening on this end!” She said she felt the same way, but the presence of new grand babies seemed to make a lot of that pain disappear. I’m open! So who knows… 🙂

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