How to stay friends – or at the very least, civil – after you break up
As I sit down to write this column, social media – and Pakistani TV – is awash with coverage of Reham Khan’s tell-all book about her life and short-lived marriage to Imran Khan. The book is yet to be published but even before its release, cricketer Waseem Akram (among others) has filed suit against it. And Imran Khan’s first wife, Jemima Goldsmith, has threatened that if the book is published in the UK she will sue for defamation on behalf of her son.
I don’t know how the story will have developed by the time you read this, but it doesn’t really matter. This column may have been triggered by one bitter ex-wife wrecking revenge on her ex-husband by dishing the dirt on him (allegedly, I hasten to add, I haven’t seen the book myself) but it is really about how you can prevent your ex (wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend) from going all bunny boiler on you.
Success is, by no means, guaranteed. But if you follow these simple rules, you will at least, have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried your best.
· Get closure: Don’t just ‘ghost’ people once you’ve decided to excise them from your life. As in, don’t close all doors of communication and have nothing further to do with them. Accord them the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting in which you have an honest conversation about your relationship before it ends. Yes, it may get teary. It may get acrimonious. It may even get violent. But you owe it to the other person to let them have their say. And you owe it to yourself to listen.
· Cooling-off period: Rare is the couple – married or otherwise – who can go seamlessly from being a romantic pair to becoming really good friends. No matter who broke off with whom and why, residual feelings always linger after a long and meaningful relationship. There’s wisdom in acknowledging that and allowing one another space to grow apart before you try and come to a new accommodation – if that is, in fact, what both of you want.
· Stop re-litigating the past: If you have managed to re-establish a friendship, then stay focused on the present and the future. Stop looking back to see where you went wrong. Don’t fight about who did what to whom when you were together as a couple. Draw a line in the sand and stay on the right side of it.
· Don’t presume on old bonds: Once you have moved on, stay in the new space that you have found. Don’t revert to old habits just because your ex is still in the vicinity or part of your extended group of friends. It is not his or her job to pick you up because you’ve had too much to drink. And nor is it your job to clean up their messes just because that’s something you always did when you were together. You are in a different space now. And the rules must be different.
· Don’t bad mouth one another: I know, this one is hard. Its human instinct to vent when you are unhappy. And when you are angry with your partner, the temptation to slag them off to anyone who will listen is hard to resist. But resist it you must. If that seems impossible in the immediate aftermath of your break-up then set a deadline for yourself. Give yourself a week, a month, or even a couple of months to get all that bile out of your system. And then shut the hell up. Going on and on about them after all that time is just allowing them to live in your head for free. You don’t want to do that.
· Respect their new relationships: Nobody expects you to become best friends with your ex’s new partner (least of all your ex!) but a little civility goes a long way when you’re dealing with your replacement. So say hello, be pleasant, maybe even pay him/her a compliment on their taste! But whatever else you do, don’t perform that old do-you-remember-when dance with your ex while their new partner listens in, feeling increasingly awkward with each new anecdote.
· Don’t drag the kids into your battles: If you share children, then you are going to be stuck with your co-parent for the rest of your life, no matter what. So, whatever your problems with your ex-husband or ex-wife may be, keep them to yourselves. Your children love both of you. And they need both of you. Trying to turn them against either mom or dad is just setting them up for therapy for the rest of their lives.
· Try and remember the good: When a relationship ends, it’s human nature to focus on its last, dying gasps. But when we do that, we forget the promise of love and romance with which it all began. So, when you are being split apart, throw your mind back to what brought you together. That may encourage you to be more loving and respectful of your partner even as you separate. And who knows, in time, it may even bring you back together as friends.