'My partner's ex-wife has become my best friend': The benefits of befriending your other half's former lovers

Marie Claire Dorking
·5-min read
JJ Barnes (left) and Kate Marris have formed an unlikely friendship. (Caters)
JJ Barnes (left) and Kate Marris have formed an unlikely friendship. (Caters)

A woman who has formed an unlikely friendship with her partner’s ex-wife wants to normalise friendships between former lovers and new partners.

JJ Barnes, 35, a screenwriter from Stafford, admits to initially feeling "weird" when her partner, Jonathan Mckinney, 38, revealed he is still good friends with his ex-wife Kate Marris, 36.

But more than five years on, Barnes and Marris are now the best of friends, with the pair seeing each other daily and often going to the pub together.

“When I first met Kate in 2015, I was intimidated by her beauty and intelligence," Barnes explains. 

“I did find it quite nerve-wracking that she was still on the scene. But their marriage ended as they were more like friends than lovers. They kept in touch for their seven-year-old son Ezekiel, which is amazing.

“I instantly respected Jonathan when he made it clear that Kate is an important part of his life because she is his son’s mother.”

JJ Barnes (centre) and Kate Marris have both been in a relationship with Jonathan Mckinney. (Caters)
JJ Barnes (centre) and Kate Marris have both been in a relationship with Jonathan Mckinney. (Caters)

Mckinney was going through divorce in 2014 when he met Barnes, who was also divorced and was a single mother to Rose, then three, and Buffy, then five months.

After a couple of months of dating, Mckinney introduced Barnes to Marris and the two women have been inseparable ever since.

As well as often completing the school run together, the unlikely duo will often get together for a cup of tea, a glass of wine or dinner while the children play. 

They have also spent Christmases together and enjoyed many child-free nights out.

“It was strange at the start for me to understand it all but they always included me," Barnes explains. 

“I had to get used to how their friendship works.

"Then it suddenly fell into place. Kate became a friend who we hang out with. We see Kate every day as she lives five-minute walk away.

“My daughter Buffy, [now four], calls her aunty Kate as she has always been a part of her life.

“Our friendship is like any other - we text a lot and sometimes I even complain about Jonathan not picking up his socks as we have a shared frustration.”

Watch: Halle Berry says dating a friend's ex is a cardinal sin

Barnes admits her friends and family were a little confused and worried about the situation at the start.

“There is an assumption that a break up means you hate each other," she explains. 

“But relationships can end for all kinds of reasons.

“Most people think it is strange and weird that we are all pals but now they have got used to it.

“I think women are often cat-fighting with an ex's new partner and it’s not necessary.

“If there are children involved then it is important that everyone gets along. It makes everything healthier, our children don’t see angry or hatred.

“It doesn’t occur to our children that mummy and daddy would fight.”

JJ Barnes (left) describes Kate Marris as one of her best friends. (Caters)
JJ Barnes (left) describes Kate Marris as one of her best friends. (Caters)

In the beginning Mckinney says he never imagined the two women would form such a strong friendship.

"People have relationships, sometimes they come to an end, it can be sour at first but it doesn’t have to stay that way," he says.

"I’m glad that JJ and Kate get on. I hadn’t really considered that they would develop a friendship.

"My main thing early on was to ensure that I was respectful of the various emotional dynamics that I could predict," he continues. 

"I wanted my son to grow up in environments where the adults parenting him were positive about each other, and reinforced each other’s rules and philosophies and so on."

Should you befriend your partner's ex?

According to psychologist Dr Meg Arroll, while being friends with an ex can be beneficial for the children of the family, there can be plus points for the adults involved too.  

"We’re often inclined to forge a good relationship with our partner’s ex for reasons such as ‘the sake of the children’, which is of course a good motive, but it completely misses out how a positive relationship with your partner’s ex may benefit you," she explains.  

"When we don’t know an individual directly, it’s very easy to see them in quite absolute ways – the ‘psycho ex’ or the former 'perfect partner', and this can cause insecurities at best, problems in your current relationship at worst.

"Once you get to know someone, you’ll see that they’re human after all – not a demon nor an angel. This intrinsic motivation to get to know his/her ex is also much more sustainable than developing a relationship for external reasons, and so is more likely to be maintained."

How to begin to connect with a partner’s ex

Open the discussion

It is important to first discuss the situation openly with your partner as transparency is key here from all sides, Dr Arroll advises.

Find common ground 

This can be any children from your relationships, but it would be helpful to find other things in common including mutual interests and hobbies. 

"Think about how you begin relationships with new people and recreate these interactions," Dr Arroll explains. 

Leave preconceptions at the door

Remember there are two sides to every story, so cultivate this relationship with an open mind.

Set clear boundaries

Boundaries are important in all relationships so do have a line drawn in the sand to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable.

Additional reporting Caters.

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