Fewer revelations can cause the eyebrows of new acquaintances to shoot up faster than when you divulge that you have remained on friendly terms with your ex-spouse. From your point of view, the relationship took time to evolve, and you're proud of it. But to other people, your divorced relationship just doesn't seem normal. So now you're wondering: Is it? In general, psychologists and marriage counselors frown on talking to an ex unless the couple shares children. Here's why.
Assess Your Motives
You don't have to tell anyone else what you're thinking, but you should be honest with yourself: Why do you want to talk to your ex? In other words, what do you stand to gain by continuing to talk with someone whom you either chose to divorce or who chose to divorce you? These questions may seem harsh. But psychologists point to research, which reports that an ex-spouse relationship can interfere with your ability to begin a meaningful relationship with someone new, or, if you've already moved on, undermine the new relationship. In both cases, maintaining a dialogue with an ex-spouse is more than abnormal; it also can be unhealthy.
Children Are the Exception
The one caveat, however, to the “no talking zone” is if you and your ex-spouse have a child or children together. As psychologist Jill Weber says, “The only legitimate reason for contact not to be avoided is if you have children and must communicate about co-parenting responsibilities. Otherwise, continuing, or attempting to continue, communication with your ex will only prolong your suffering ‒ and prevent you from beginning a productive process of letting go.”
In fact, your co-parenting agreement – a legal document – may require communication about such important issues as your child's health, safety and education.
Communicate About Kids – and Only Kids – With Respect
Many divorcing couples with children are required by law to take a co-parenting class before their divorce is finalized. However, it's easy to forget some of the sensible rules these classes attempt to teach about ex-spouse contact. These include:
Speak to each other in a cordial, respectful manner. (If your ex-spouse crosses a line or you find yourself beginning to do so, end the conversation and agree to pick it up at a later time.)
Restrict your communication – phone, email or text – to parenting issues. This may sound impersonal – and it should be. You're divorced now, so even talking about your fears and concerns about your children could unwittingly open the door to a confusing emotional entanglement. Keep that door closed – and start regarding your former life partner as more of a business partner. Never involve your child (or children) in communication that should remain between the two of you. (Such an arrangement can create undue stress for everyone and risk miscommunication of important details.)
Repeat a Four-Point Mantra
If you have no children, it may help to repeat a four-point mantra if you think that talking to an ex is normal. Such communication serves only to: 1) make it more difficult to heal from the divorce; 2) divert energy from new experiences and pursuits; 3) perpetuate a fantasy – no matter how latent – that your former relationship still exists; and 4) remind you of the mistakes or missteps that led to the divorce in the first place.