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Not all relationships are made the same. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, what warrants a breakup for one couple may not be a deal breaker for another.
The same goes for staying friends with an ex: some people feel capable of maintaining a healthy relationship with their ex, while others find it unnecessary, even impossible.
To remain friends with an ex, it’s important to consider the following:
🖤 Why do you want to be friends with your ex?
🖤 Was there a pre-existing friendship before things became romantic?
🖤 What lead to the breakup in the first place?
🖤 Do you have any shared possessions, assets (e.g., a house) or responsibilities (e.g., children)? (As this could impact the process in a different way than, say, for a couple with no ties.)
🖤 Does your ex also want to stay good friends? (Because you can’t force anyone to be friends with you.)
🖤 Is exposing yourself to your ex putting you at risk of wanting to start dating them once more?
🖤 How may this friendship impact your current partner, or future relationships? Does that matter to you?
The most important thing is doing what’s best for your long-term well-being and mental health. If you’re reading this and thinking,
ya, I believe my ex and I could and should maintain a friendship, then here are some post-breakup strategies for doing just that!
The Proof is in the Pudding
Personally, I have witnessed success stories of people who have stayed friends with an ex. Below are two examples:
Children and Travel
My friend Jay had a long-term relationship with a woman named Birdy. Throughout their five years together, Jay noticed their life goals were clashing. He opened the conversation with Birdy to explore whether these incompatibilities could be worked on together. In the end, Birdy was not able to ignore her desire of being a mother, while Jay couldn’t deny his dream of travelling the world without children. Their goals and timelines no longer matched, so they split up.
It has been 8 years since their breakup, and Jay is now the God Father to Birdy’s two children, and a dear friend to both her and her husband.
An affair worth leaving behind
A second example is my childhood friend, Courtney’s, parents. Her mother had an affair with a man she had fallen in love with. When Courtney’s father found out, he was devastated, and the separation began. Courtney recalls the tension between her parents, and how they minimized the communication, keeping the focus on things that pertained to their daughter. Fast forward a couple of years, and her parents were co-hosting BBQs! Eventually, their connection, which had existed since high school, brought them back together
How did both of these couples make the friendship work? That brings us to these strategies for staying friends with an ex…
Yes, I’ve said it: you cannot have a healthy relationship (or friendship) without communication (period!). Communication is a way to create and enforce healthy boundaries around ourselves within personal relationships.
When a relationship is heading towards the end, conflicts may arise. If remaining friends with your ex is important to you, then you can’t afford to skip out on
talking. Not only does communication minimize misunderstandings, but it also maintains connection and strengthens bonds. Take turns sharing how each of you feel, and what your needs are to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved.
In the end, you may discover that you both need a break from speaking entirely (like Courtney’s parents), to give breathing room and time to heal. This can help to lay the groundwork for transitioning from romantic partners to platonic friends.
Time and Space
When we’ve been with someone for years, building trust and fondness for that person, why do we feel obligated to let them go entirely?
The truth is, we live in a culture that asks us to prioritize our romantic partner above our platonic friendship. Additionally, the idea of being friends with someone whom you’ve been sexually and emotionally intimate with isn’t a highly supported notion. Both of these things may influence our need for a clean break when a romantic relationship is terminated.
The goal then:
Before pursuing a friendship with an ex, consider your intention behind that friendship. Then, it’s critical to give yourself a sense of (romantic) closure, which can only be achieved through time and space away from your former lover.
This may feel difficult, but the need (even desperation) to be around them is most likely due to unresolved romantic feelings, not a pure interest in friendship. If you really want to stay friends with an ex, you first have to stay loyal to the process of detaching, so you can build a healthy foundation for the future friendship separate from the romance you shared.
To remain friends with your ex, it’s important you establish some clear boundaries.
Straight out of the gate, this includes respecting each other’s needs and practicing patience. You and your ex may not be in the same headspace post-breakup. Be clear on where you’re both at and commit to honoring each other’s healing. Without this, you risk any chance at a future friendship and even positive outcomes in general.
Make the Choice
In the end, staying friends with an ex is a
This choice may require putting your ego and unresolved issues aside, and accepting that, unlike in your romantic relationship together, you may not be able to be
If you want to be friends with an ex, you can’t continue to hold on to past transgressions against each other. From my perspective, and having witnessed exes become close friends, the key is starting fresh – not letting the past romantic relationship impact the quality of what the present moment has to offer.
This may also require you to be the first person to initiate the conversation – the option – of starting anew, taking responsibility for your role in the relationship, and letting go of blame.
Reasons to Stay Friends with Your Ex
As mentioned, some of us may have no interest in maintaining a friendship with our exes. However, for those contemplating whether or not it’s a good route, here are a few positive reasons for staying friends with an ex.
You Value Them as a Person
Your ex is the type of person you want your future self to know and enjoy. They possess qualities you admire, and feel secure with, and they bring out the best in you.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best support can come from our exes. Because you’ve built an intimate foundation with them, they may actually know you better than most, and have your best interests at heart! They can offer a trusting and honest space for you.
You actually have fun together
You and your ex were interested in one another for a reason – perhaps, you bonded over a shared interest, or you made each other laugh like crazy! Whatever it is, having a friend with whom you have fun with is always a life perk.
When You Should Pull Away
Below I’ve included some scenarios where you
should take distance from your ex. These will help clarify whether your desire for a friendship comes from an authentic place or one of codependency…
You’re obsessed with their love life
Friends tend to be interested in each other’s love life. This comes from a place of love and excitement for their friend. There is a fine line, however, between interest and obsession. If you find you are desperate for information, or experience possessiveness, jealousy, or a need to control any area of their future relationships, you need to detach, and understand that friendship is probably a bad idea.
You can’t help but bring up the past
Whether you’re trying to celebrate the lost relationship or revisit unresolved conflict, this goes against the goal for the friendship: to start anew. If you can’t fight the urge to rehash old wounds or reminisce over your once-shared love, take more time to metabolize the ended relationship.
You expect your new lovers to fill your ex’s shoes
If your new partner doesn’t stand a chance because you’re always measuring them up to your ex, it may be a sign of lingering feelings or unrealistic expectations. Your new partner deserves a fair shot, and if your ex is getting in the way of that (whether they know it or not), you should consider taking a step back.
To Friend or Not to Friend
I am a firm believer that we can be friends with our exes under the right circumstances. That isn’t to say all exes can be friends with all exes. However, to lose an authentic friendship as a result of giving love a try is… Well, it’s sad!
If your ex, stripped of the romance, is someone you love and admire, apply these strategies so you can one day celebrate the friendship that you were meant to share.