When Gwyneth Paltrow posted a photo of herself holding hands with her ex-husband Chris Martin’s current partner, Dakota Johnson, the internet went wild. The image doesn’t just depict a civil relationship between two women who have dated the same man but a close friendship as well.
It’s not the first time Gwyneth has shared her comfortability with her ex-husband’s new relationship. In 2018, she posted a photo of Dakota to Instagram, where she wrote “Happy Birthday to this absolute gem.” Not long after, photos emerged of Gwyneth and her new husband, Brad Fulchuk spending time in the Hamptons with Chris and Dakota. Then, in a 2020 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Gwyneth gave us another insight into the pair’s unlikely friendship.
“I love her,” Paltrow told the outlet. “I can see how it would seem weird because it’s sort of unconventional. But I think, in this case, just having passed through it iteratively, I just adore her. I always start to think of the ampersand sign—what else can you bring in, instead of being resistant to or being made insecure by? There’s so much juice in leaning in to something like that.”
Gwyneth isn’t the only celebrity sharing her unique relationship with her ex’s new partner. Sienna Miller seems similarly happy to hang out with her ex-fiancé Tom Sturridge, and his new girlfriend (and Sienna’s old friend) Alexa Chung.
In an interview with British Vogue, the actress even admitted to stealing some of Alexa’s clothing via her daughter, Marlowe, who brings them home.
“I’m really happy for them. It’s genuinely lovely,” Sienna said. “Think of the wardrobe access that Marlowe will have between the two of us…Marlowe comes home with Alexa’s jumpers that I steal. I’ve got one upstairs…”
On TikTok, there are entire channels dedicated to relationships like these, where the ex-wives and the new girlfriends share their uniquely close friendship with thousands of interested viewers. It’s hard to stop watching the unlikely pairs share the parenting duties, drink wine and bond over their frustrations with the same man. These videos literally bank on society’s fascination with the relationship, which at the same time, feels both so unnatural and yet so obviously understandable.
So why are we fascinated by these relationships? Is it really so unusual for two women, who have happened to share relationships with the same man at one time or another, to become genuine friends? It’s something that a lot of us would like to think we would be able to do—but in reality, we all know it’s a little more complicated than that.
Relationship break ups can feel earth shattering and even in the best of circumstances, it’s hard to reconcile the thought of that person distancing themselves from you and finding that intimacy with someone else. It’s a colossal shift in the status quo of your relationships.
According to Elisabeth Shaw, clinical psychologist and CEO of Relationships Australia NSW, your ex’s new partner can also bring up other insecurities.
“If you are unresolved about the breakup, the new partner can represent the loss of hope,” Elizabeth tells marie claire Australia.
“It is hard not to measure yourself against them: what have they got that I don’t? If you see your partner change in ways you would have loved when they were with you, that can also ignite another wave of anger or jealousy. ”
These unlikely friendships usually seem to arise when children are involved. This is the case for Gwyneth and Chris, who share children, Apple and Moses Martin, and Sienna and Tom, who share Marlowe. It’s understandable of course, once you have a child with someone, they’re never really going to be out of your life—why not make the best of it? Well, for a lot of people, this is also where it gets hard.
“If you have children and have to regularly hear about the new partner, how great they are, you can feel torn,” Elizabeth explains.
“On the one hand you want a kind, good person in your children’s life, but if you are not yet re-partnered, it can make you feel compromised and more lonely. If your ex left you for this new person, it can be really hard to ever see them neutrally.”
The child’s role in these relationships might also be the reason so many of us are fascinated by them—it’s the ultimate wish fulfillment for children of divorced parents: the situation where a broken marriage doesn’t mean a broken family. For the children, it’s the dream of their parents still loving each other and for the separated parents, it seems to represent the ultimate success—they have put their children’s wellbeing above their own.
This idea, however, can place a huge amount of pressure on separated parents, who while navigating a challenging life change, may also feel like they should be in a better place with their ex and their ex’s new partner as well.
“It is the ideal for children. They need to feel free to love both parents and to move forward positively with whatever happens in each household.”
“In heads we know that” Elizabeth adds, “but in our specific situation we can feel that is impossible because of the type of ex we have, the circumstances of our break up, or the new partner chosen.”
In this case, it’s important to remember that social media doesn’t represent real life, and we don’t know exactly how much work it took for each partner to get to a place where they felt comfortable with the friendship, or even what the dynamic really looks like offline.
“Where a friendly connection is possible, it depends on many things, such as whether you and your ex do have mutual respect and care for the relationship you once had, whether the two of you can focus on the children, whether you are happy with the terms of the separation and where your lives are up to now. Often the couples you see doing it well have actually taken some years to get to that place, and even then, there can be bad days,” Elizabeth explains.
Of course, children aren’t the only reason you might feel the pressure to have a relationship with the new partner—it might be a shared pet, friendship group or even workplace. No matter what your situation is, Elizabeth says that you don’t have to become best friends with your ex’s new partner to maintain a healthy relationship.
“Getting on in a broad way, respecting each other’s roles and being polite and pleasant is important,” Elizabeth says. “That will depend on having good boundaries between you and if there are children then making sure that the actual parents carry the load around communication, especially initially. Taking time for it to unfold and not expecting too much too soon is a good rule of thumb. Maybe you can’t ever do joint events, or maybe just not this year. ”
But if Gwyneth cute pictures inspired you attempt a more positive relationship with the Dakota in your life then Elizabeth has says it’s all about giving it time.
“Take time to work through your separation experience, and where your own reactivity sits. Pace yourself. Be open about where you are at, and speak to the aspirational end state if you have one, as that will help your ex know that things could be different in the future. So it might be ‘I’m not ready yet but am working towards that, please give me time.’ Or ‘I know I am more keen to move along than you are, and I want to respect your position and give this more time.'”
While there’s no pressure to be like Dakota and Gwyneth, we wish you luck if you decide to go for it.