Less than a month ago, Gwyneth Paltrow shocked her Instagram followers by posting a shot of herself with ex-husband Chris Martin’s longtime girlfriend Dakota Johnson. The sweet image of them in coordinating cozy garb holding hands and smiling at the camera left the internet stunned to say the very least. It seems the idea of being friends with your ex’s partner is not only rare, but also a bit impossible a concept to grasp for many. But, like her split with the Coldplay frontman (which made "conscious uncoupling" a thing), Paltrow has had a very kind and laidback response to inquiries about her dynamic with Johnson. In fact, she’s downright gushing at times. Back in October 2023, during an impromptu “Ask Gwyneth” session on Instagram, the Shakespeare In Love star claimed to be “very good friends” with Johnson, calling her a “wonderful person.”
Paltrow isn’t the only one who has managed to crack the code on cultivating a healthy relationship with an ex’s new love. Other A-listers like Miranda Kerr and Katy Perry (Perry is partnered with Kerr’s ex Orlando Bloom) and Jason Mamoa and Lenny Kravitz (who built a friendship while Mamoa was coupled with Kravtiz’s ex Lisa Bonet) have developed similar connections and they all seem to live in relative peace and harmony. Which begs the question: How do they do it? Are they fluke exceptions to the no-fraternizing-with-an-ex’s-new-partner rule? Or is this harmonious existence easier to achieve than we think?
The answer, according to relationship experts is a bit more complicated as there are several components at play here. First and foremost, a key (and obvious) rule before pursuing or entertaining a friendship with your ex’s new love is to determine how necessary it is. “If your ex is going to be a mainstay in your life because you have kids, you work together, or you regularly run in the same circles and their new partner has become a relatively permanent fixture, it may be time to figure out how to make nice,” says Dr. Morgan Cutlip relationship expert and Flo Health medical expert. “Use these two benchmarks: Their level of commitment and your level of interaction with your ex; to decide how to move forward in your relationship.”
Now that we’ve gotten the cardinal rule out of the way, let’s dig into a few more expert tips on how to channel Paltrow and Johnson and successfully navigate a friendship with your ex’s partner.
Don’t Force It
When it comes to this type of unconventional dynamic, slow and steady truly wins the race. “If [you and your ex] have remained friends since the breakup, and they would like to introduce you to their new partner, then there is an opportunity to explore, or you may already be friends with the new partner,” says Dr. Lee Phillips, psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist. “If this is the case, it can be an adjustment. It is important that all friendships start by exploring, and most of them take a warming up because friendships are built on trust.”
Don’t expect to jump right into vacations and double dates right away. Take your time figuring out the best pace and environment in which this relationship thrives. Maybe it’s only in a civil group environment where the children are present for a while until you become more comfortable with each other. “If possible, give yourself permission to have an exit plan when you’re together,” advises Dr. Cutlip. “You can be friendly but not love hanging out with your ex and their new partner. If you want to get out of there, and the circumstances allow it, by all means head for the door.” Just make sure you go at a pace that feels right for all parties involved to allow that trust and comfort to develop naturally.
Make Sure There Are No Residual Feelings
Sometimes seeing an ex with a new love can bring up unresolved or residual emotions that you didn’t even realize were there. If this is the case, a friendship with their new beau is not the best idea. “If there are still lingering romantic feelings or if anyone involved isn't quite on board with the whole friendship idea, it might be a bit of a rocky road,” Jacqui Rubinoff, love coach, relationship expert, and co-owner of pheromone perfume brand Eye of Love. “Feeling discomfort or foreseeing potential drama? Those are signals to maybe hit the pause button and reconsider. Friendships work best when they're smooth sailing and drama-free.”
Oh, and if you’re even thinking about being intimate with your ex or their new partner, a friendship is most definitely off the table. “This should be obvious… but don’t sleep with them,” says Zach Zane, sex and relationships expert at intimate toy company Fun Factory. “Even if you’re polyamorous, that’s just asking for trouble.”
Be Mindful Of Red Flags
This may seem like an obvious tip but, as we know some red flags can be hard to detect right off the bat, so keep your spidey senses up when navigating this often tricky friendship. “If your ex or your ex’s new partner is unhealthy or toxic toward you (and especially if you have kids) this is a clear reason to avoid having a friendly relationship,” says Dr. Cutlip. “Words like ‘toxic’ can be thrown out flippantly so consider things like does your ex or their new partner disrespect you to your face or in how they talk about you to others, have addiction issues, abuse you in any way, or intentionally throw their relationship in your face. These are all red flag behaviors suggesting it may not be wise to have a friendly relationship with an ex’s new partner.”
Keep Key Boundaries In Tact
Like with most things in life, boundaries are of utmost importance, especially when an ex is involved. Dr. Phillips says it’s especially crucial to keep your respective relationships separate here. “Don't discuss the ex-partner with the new partner unless the ex-partner is involved in the conversations,” he advises. Dr. Cutlip seconds this notion adding, “Try to be respectful of the new relationship and maintain tight boundaries around what you share about when you were with your ex and do your best to not talk about your ex in a negative light. It may be tempting to exchange stories with their new partner, but it doesn’t portray you in the best light or serve their relationship. You don’t want to be the cause of arguments or disagreements.”
This also includes digging in to deeply into your ex’s new relationship. “Avoid getting tangled up in the details of your ex's current relationship,” advises Rubinoff. “Let their personal matters stay personal, and focus on building a friendship that's separate from their romantic journey.”
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