Can you be friends with your ex?
Can a love connection be reworked into a platonic relationship? Is it possible to be "just friends" with someone you used to date? The short answer is yes -- anything is possible -- but is it advisable? Is it a good idea to put time and focus into turning a romantic relationship into a friendship?
Break-ups are hard, while we might know that another person isn’t right for us, having them exit our lives completely can be painful. It is not surprising that many couples want to stay connected in some way after being closely attached. But how do you assure that you move on from this past relationship while maintaining a new “friendship”?
While there are times where it can be very important to be friendly or at least cordial with an ex, if you don’t share children or a workplace, remaining connected will be a conscious decision and one to truly think about. There are advantages and pitfalls to staying in contact with someone you were in love with.
First – look at the relationship you had – was it unhealthy, toxic or abusive? In these cases, you should embrace no contact. The toxicity will infect the connection and would continue to be harmful to your health. For your own wellbeing, a clean, complete break is best.
On the other hand – was your relationship very passionate? Was there a strong erotic connection? This can also pose a problem to beginning a friendship – It is hard to change chemistry and stop feeling drawn to your ex. It is very easy to find yourself in a “friends with benefits” situation or back in a relationship. This can lead to on again/off again interludes that keep both parties from truly moving on to partners they are better suited for.
Second, consider where you are after the break-up? Are you completely past your romantic attraction? Are they completely over you? It would be difficult to maintain a friendship if either side was hoping for more. Ask yourself – can you see them dating others? Would they be okay with you dating someone new? If either of you want to maintain a connection with the hopes that you will one day rekindle your romantic attachment, it would be healthier to take some space. Neither person wants to be waiting for something that might never happen.
Thirdly, ask yourself, what do you want? What do you expect from a friendship with your ex? Are you hoping to help one another through the breakup? While you might want to help your ex heal from the pain of the break-up, you can’t be their support and also be excited about their life. You will need to develop trust that you and your ex will lean on other people to get through this tough time.
Lastly, look at how this friendship will be defined. What sort of friendship are you looking for? Workout buddies? Movie friends? Foodie excursions? How often will you talk, see or text one another – daily, weekly, monthly? How will you be affected by seeing your ex? Will it keep you from eventually inviting someone new into your life? Will your ex enhance your life or make things more difficult?
Being friends with an ex can work if both parties have fully moved on and can now interact without feeling the pain from the breakup. Each side would have to maintain boundaries and feel comfortable seeing their former partner moving on with a new person. This works best if the friendship is anchored on bringing something positive into each other’s life whether it be collaboration, encouragement or support.
Written by Margaret Lorenz, LCSW