The Pros and Cons of Staying Involved With an Ex-Spouse

One of the most difficult aspects of a marital breakup is communicating with a former spouse. In the immediate aftermath of a separation, feelings are raw, and emotions can be overwhelming. Regardless of how long couples have been married, the trauma of a separation can cause a significant emotional wound. When individuals are feeling abandoned, hurt, or in pain, the first person they want to turn to for comfort is their spouse. Sadly, this is usually the same person that is the source of the pain. This conundrum can cause some newly separated individuals to continue a relationship, either platonic or sexual, with their estranged spouse. The need for a sense of security and safety that cannot be found in friends or family members is what most often drives a hurting spouse into the confidence or arms of their ex. Although doing so may provide immediate emotional relief, the effects on psychological well-being in relation to the separation are not clear.

Ashley E. Mason of the University of Arizona recently led a study to determine how sexual conduct with an ex-spouse (SWE) and nonsexual conduct with an ex (CWE) affected the psychological adjustment of spouses who were recently separated. For her study, Mason interviewed 137 partners who had separated within the previous 6 months and found that acceptance of the separation influenced the outcome for some, but not all, of the individuals. Specifically, there was no relationship between acceptance and adjustment for those who had no contact with their exes as well as for those who had SWE. “Thus, the significant correlation between separation acceptance and psychological adjustment was largely driven by people having CWE and people not having SWE.” Additionally, Mason discovered that participants with less acceptance of the separation adjusted better when they did have SWE than those who did not have SWE. Mason believes this could be a result of separation acceptance needs being met through sexual closeness. In sum, the results of this study demonstrate that contact with an ex-spouse can be both beneficial and detrimental depending on an individual’s acceptance and attachment.

Reference:
Mason, A. E., Sbarra, D. A., Bryan, A. E. B., Lee, L A. (2012). Staying connected when coming apart: The psychological correlates of contact and sex with an ex-partner. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31.5, 488-507.

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  • janice

    janice

    May 15th, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Look, the only people that this kind of lack of contact would be detrimental to is the kids if there are children involved. You and your ex at least have to be grown up enough to behave like adults when you are around them or talking about them and the stuff going on with them. Suck it up and put your big girl pants on- you once loved this person enough to have kids with them, and just because you are now divorced does not mean you can totally cut ties with this person. Fine if there are no children involved, but if there are, then you have to at least find a way to work it out and talk for at least a while longer.

  • Beattie

    Beattie

    May 15th, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    Take it from the voice of experience:
    unless there were children in the marriage (and even then I question whether it is wise) there are no, I repeat, NO pros to staying involved with the ex spouse. He or she caused you heartache before, and believe me, they will do it again.
    End of discussion.

  • Kandy K

    Kandy K

    May 16th, 2012 at 5:41 AM

    If I personally were to never see my ex again I would actually be a little sad. We are one of those rare couples who actually do still like each other, and we can even talk without feeling like we are wanting to strangle one another. A large part of this is for our children, but in many ways I think that a large part of it is for us too. I mean, this is a man that I devoted a large part of my life to and he to me, things just didn’t work out. But we have managed to work past all of the hard feelings that we had nd get to a place where we can like each other again.

  • virginia

    virginia

    May 16th, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    There is no better way to be a wonderful role model to your own children than to model for them what it is to still be friends with someone who has hurt you. That doesn’t mean that you have to let this person walk all over you, but it does show them how to remain cool and civil at times even when this is not exactly what you feel like being.
    I very strongly think that it is situations like this that gteach our kids about being valuable members of society and how, even when we don’t want to, to treat everyone with respect.

  • Liz

    Liz

    May 16th, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    While maintaing a CWE or an SWE with a former spouse could be be civil in some cases, I firmly believe it will only cause problems in the long term for most people.

    Its not easy to get over your spouse but having contact and establishing somewhat of a relationship goes against the very idea of separating,isn’t it?!

  • uy

    uy

    October 3rd, 2012 at 3:40 AM

    children or not, it is a sign of maturity and good relationship skills to treat an ex partner with respect and appreciation. blocking off contact is just denial. its unhealthy. communicating during challenging times and supporting one another through transitional process of separation is a life enhancing, healthy and positive experience for everyone. this is the ideal that should be aspired to and be more the norm rather than the exception. how can you possibly ‘move on’ or ‘get over’ anything/anyone by avoidance?!! if a relationship or person is significant in your life, then to cut off from that person is not living in integrity with the truth, children or no children! true there are cases when an ex partner is abusive at every opportunity of interaction but still its not an accomplishment to cut off from them and apply that rule to every instance to everyone else as if its the right way or the only way to conduct oneself – it is a harmful extreme and should only be practiced when there is real danger of sever abuse from the ex not otherwise. I am yet to hear anybody say ‘it is with a heavy hear i had to refrain from communicating with my ex and he/she was —– and i still am willing to do everything in my power to foster a healthy respectful life enhancing positive relationship between us as friends if he/she would be willing to do so’. No one except me that is! I have always maintained that that is my stand towards my ex partner and it will probably always remain so :)

  • uy

    uy

    October 3rd, 2012 at 3:49 AM

    children or not, it is a sign of maturity and good relationship skills to treat an ex partner with respect and appreciation. blocking off contact is just denial. its unhealthy. communicating during challenging times and supporting one another through transitional process of separation is a life enhancing, healthy and positive experience for everyone. this is the ideal that should be aspired to and be more the norm rather than the exception. how can you possibly ‘move on’ or ‘get over’ anything/anyone by avoidance?!! if a relationship or person is significant in your life, then to cut off from that person is not living in integrity with the truth, children or no children! true there are cases when an ex partner is abusive at every opportunity of interaction but still its not an accomplishment to cut off from them and apply that rule to every instance to everyone else as if its the right way or the only way to conduct oneself – it is a harmful extreme and should only be practiced when there is real danger of sever abuse from the ex not otherwise. I am yet to hear anybody say ‘it is with a heavy heart i had to refrain from communicating with my ex as he/she was abusive to me and i still am willing to do everything in my power to foster a healthy respectful life enhancing positive relationship between us as friends if he/she would be willing to do so’. No one except me that is! I have always maintained that that is my stand towards my ex partner and it will probably always remain so (regardless of whether my ex ever does or not) I feel that taking this stand is empowering for me (and every one else) and is in harmony with the true facts and not in denial, and most of all it honours – honours the truth, honours what is significant and honours ones heart… now if this stand was the one respected by society (rather than the ‘accomplishment’ of being able to ‘cut off’) it would support those values that are truly ethical and healthy and life enhancing/sustaining rather than respecting cutting off/avoidance (at best) or covert acts of violence and emotional abuse (at worst).

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