Ex-partners: – how would you describe yours?

Ex-partners: – how would you describe yours?


Ahrons (1983) has conceptualised five categories of post-divorce spousal relationships: Perfect Pals, Cooperative Colleagues, Angry Associates, Fiery Foes, and Dissolved Duos. The first two are appropriately referred to as functional co-parenting. The next two are dysfunctional relationships that can manage “parallel parenting” at best. And, the last category, Dissolved Duos, sadly for the children, consists of 100% solo parenting.

Perfect pals

Perfect Pals are best friends who were married and have made a mutual decision to go their separate ways. These parents like one another. They usually do all their own legal work and establish a parenting plan that is in the “best interests of the child.” They are flexible and have respect for each other, both as co-parents and as friends. These are the individuals who will be able to celebrate holidays together. Even after remarriage to others, they may, for example, all celebrate birthday dinner together. When graduation comes, they might purchase one present together for their child and sit together at the ceremony.

Cooperative colleagues

While still within the co-parenting category, Cooperative Colleagues have a difficult time when they separate. They most likely have legal representation or require a third party to assist in finalising plans of the marital settlement. Most often these people did not make a mutual decision to separate. They still do not necessarily like each other, but they respect one another as parents. They can separate their parenting from their partnering issues. They support the child’s involvement in each other’s lives and in the lives of the extended families. They are generally courteous to each other. A few times a year, they may have a disagreement that initially will require third party intervention, but they are able to resolve such disputes outside of Court.

Eventually, cooperative colleagues figure out how to avoid getting caught up in the drama of the former partner. At graduation, for example, they may or may not sit together. Either way, they are cordial and not overtly hostile. They will likely feel more comfortable purchasing separate gifts for their child and one might take the graduate to dinner while the other takes him or her to breakfast. These people have let go of each other. They permit and support the child having a relationship with the other parent. As years move on, each is less threatened by the other. The child has two houses and two families under one large conceptual family umbrella.

Now, we move into the more dysfunctional post-divorce relationship categories. Although many still refer to this as co-parenting, I suggest the use of the more apt term, “parallel parenting,” to describe these dynamics.

Angry Associates

Angry Associates do not know how to emotionally disengage from each other. They are “compatible combatants.”[9] They fight well together and thus remain in a destructive relationship from which at least one of the parties was truly attempting to leave. At least one of the partners gets stuck in the emotional process of divorce and cannot move on with life. This can go on for years or, perhaps, a lifetime. These parents are in a persistent and continual power struggle with one another. They regularly require third party intervention (mediators, lawyers, arbitrators, and judges). They do not respect each other as parents, nor as people. Their child becomes a pawn in this unrelenting conflict and his or her childhood is sacrificed to the immaturity of the parents. These are the parents who do not encourage the child to share time with the other parent. Involvement with extended family members is not often a real possibility for the child.

Certainly, if looks could cause harm, injury would happen, (and occasionally does) between these parents. They will definitely choose not to sit near one another at any of their child’s events. More than likely, the parent responsible for the child on graduation day will not encourage the child to acknowledge the other parent, in any way. These parents do not understand that, although they have separated or divorced, the child does not choose to divorce either parent. Unfortunately, these parents see things in black and white, win/loose, and either/or. There is no gray, no win-win in their consciousness. This child will grow up walking on eggshells and scanning the environment to figure out the “right” thing to say and do. The child’s base of operation is one of living in a “war zone.” This child cannot be the loving center of his/her parents’ world. This child exists as the “spoils of war.”

Fiery Foes 

The next relationship category, called the Fiery Foes, is one in which the dynamics of the dysfunctional relationship further exacerbate the intensity of the dissolution process. These parents have such disdain for one another that, for example, one of the parents cannot even attend the child’s graduation. Not only does each parent dislike the other, but the child and the eventual grandchild will have to carry the anger down through the generations as to how awful the other parent was as a parent, partner, and yes, human being. The therapist of this child can do nothing more than comfort the child during the therapy sessions. For, after these sessions, the child must return to the family war. The children of these parents suffer psychopathology of the worst order, distress that will assure them of the need for life-long psychotherapy. Often the risks (both physical and emotional) to the child of on-going efforts by their parents at co-parenting are too great. Decisive and sometimes dramatic Court intervention is a virtual necessity with Fiery Foes.

Dissolved Duos 

The final category is Dissolved Duos. These parents have reached such an extreme point of pain that one of the parents drops out of the child’s life entirely. The parent typically moves out of state and begins a new family, often never even telling the new spouse that there had ever been another family. This parent would not have even known that their child had graduated. Becoming the departing of the Dissolved Duo is one way to disengage from the emotional pain of divorce, but the price that the child pays in being abandoned is huge.


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