Most divorces and breakups unleash demons, corroding a couple’s relationship. Even when the divorce or breakup is done, many people still feel stressed by their exes. The trouble is, we often need to maintain some kind of relationship with our ex. For many of us, we feel that when it comes to interacting with our ex-partners, we can’t escape the tensions of the union’s end.
But it’s never too late to be amicable. It’s never too late to have a cordial, even easy, relationship with your ex. (Yes, even yourex.) Don’t let those demons from the past keep doing their awful work. Banish them, on the surface at least, which is where you mostly interact with your ex anyway.
It doesn’t matter how awful your past was… that is, if you’re open to moving on. You. Not your ex. Maybe they really are a scourge. But all that matters is you. Because you control you.
Is real healing possible? Perhaps that’s too much to ask. So go into this exercise thinking that while things may not get healed, they can get soothed. They can get removed from the list of woes swirling in your head as you’re trying to sleep. Want to shorten that list? Here are six ways to let go and be amicable with your ex:
Step 1: Define the goal.
Start by asking yourself this question: If I could somehow stop my relationship with my ex from being painful, would I be happier? I’m not asking you to question if you would be happy. That’s too ambitious. But would you be happier? Even just a little?
For most, the answer’s a simple yes. Who wouldn’t be a little happier if a painful relationship, wasn’t? It’s a modest goal. Are you in?
Step 2: Give yourself permission to try. And to fail.
How do you shed ex stress? Only by trying. This may be difficult, and you may fail or feel like a wimp.
Don’t pre-judge – you don’t know how this ends! Maybe, just maybe, it ends well. So give yourself permission to try to be amicable, and to fail. (You probably will once or twice.) And then give yourself permission to start again. Don’t let the wagging finger in your head shame you. The past is past. You’re not re-litigating, not score-settling. You’re just moving on.
Keep in mind, this may not involve forgiving. That’s a much higher mountain to climb and not necessary to being amicable. You’re not absolving anyone. You’re just looking ahead. You’re betting you’ll be a smidgen happier if you can stop looking back.
But to know if it’s a good bet, you have to roll the dice. Permission granted?
Step 3: Change the narrative.
Is this you? “My ex is a jerk. He enjoys my pain. I loathe him.”
Welcome to the human race. You have valid reasons for feeling this.
But does that mean it’s impossible to be amicable? Not at all. Your mission is not to change anybody or resolve tough issues. It’s to take a first step, with a great reward: ease, not unease. That’s it.
But to get there, you have to change the narrative. Yournarrative. That old story about your relationship and partner in your head can’t be your default story anymore. No matter what’s transpired.
So tell yourself a new story. Not a lie. Just a new story. One that’s every bit as true. Instead of “My ex is a jerk. I loathe her,” how about:
“My ex is a jerk. I loathe her. But I can’t let her pollute my head anymore. My past is taking up too much headspace. I need more mental energy for my new life. So I’m treating my ex amicably. It makes life easier.”
It’s the same situation and history, but with a focus reset from the past to the future. Is your ex still a jerk? Probably. But, whatever. Your ex is no longer allowed to pollute your heart and soul. You have more important things to do.
Can you tell yourself that story? And believe it? (Because it’s true?) No, it’s not easy and it might not stick at first. So if you try and fail, just dust yourself off and try again. One day, it’ll stick. One day you’ll be so tired of the stress, it’ll stop being a story, and start being reality.
That’s how humans cope.
With a new narrative in place, you’re ready for the real world.
Step 4: Make small talk.
It’s one thing to reset your mind and emotions. But there’s still the challenging, practical task of actually interacting with your ex. Maybe you’ve set the goal, given yourself permission and changed the narrative, but you get somewhere with your ex and poof! All that inner work disappears and you’re overwhelmed, can’t think straight…
Make small talk.
It’s hard, but you can do it. Just go into default mode as you would with a stranger or acquaintance. Chat weather, sports or even remark (nicely) on their appearance. For most of us, that’s an easy, auto-pilot mode. Engage auto-pilot mode. Ignore prickly words and negative body language or facial expressions from your ex. Just make small talk.
One great technique is to ask them about themselves. As my salesman dad liked to say, “If you want people to relax and like you, interview them about themselves.” It works. You don’t have to care about their answers, just be attentive and keep asking them light questions about themselves. The whole tense situation will become innocuous, and you’ll feel great. You’ll feel mature, relieved and successful.
Step 5: Deflect!
Of course, there will be situations where you have to face touchy topics like your children or finances. If your ex seems confrontational or stresses you in any way – just deflect, politely and warmly. If your heart is racing, take a deep breath or two. When you feel ready to speak evenly, you can simply say “Sorry, great question and important issue, but I need a little time to think it over.” If your ex is unhappy with that, stay cool and sweet but stick to deflecting: “I’m sorry, you’re right, we need to figure this out, I owe you an answer, but I’m not ready right now. I need a little time.”
And of course, do get back to them in a timely way when you’re ready, and be prepared to talk amicably.
Step 6: Say sorry (even if you’re not sorry!)
A great way to unwind a tense situation is to use the flattery of saying the word “sorry.” Whether you’re actually sorry doesn’t matter – you just want to diffuse the situation. Saying sorry can simply be a negotiation technique –a way of diffusing stress by showing nominal respect. If it works, use it. The payoff’s huge.