How often have you heard, or asked, “can we still be friends?” For such a simple question, the answer to whether or not you should be friends with your ex is incredibly complicated. By ‘friends’, I’m not talking about being ‘friendly’. We should always aim to be respectful and cordial, especially if you work or have kids together.
What we’re talking about here is being proper friends, in terms of hanging out on a regular basis. This includes spending time alone together and appreciating each other’s company on a purely platonic level. This sounds ideal, right? In the best circumstances, a friendship with an ex demonstrates emotional maturity and health. Most importantly, it shows that you both legitimately want the best for each other.
Why is it then, that being friends with the ex is so often a bad idea? Before we dive into seven questions that’ll help you discover if it works for you, let’s take a look at a case study.
Caitlyn and her ex agreed to split up, however, it was ultimately his choice. They discussed breaking up on awesome, mutual terms, by pushing through the process and proving everyone wrong about the concept that former lovers can’t transition straight to being friends.
This was a worthy goal, but Caitlyn was still emotionally attached to him. It’ll come as no surprise that she was heartbroken when he met his new girlfriend. The thing is, there’s a significant difference between normal male/female friendships and those between ex lovers. A study done at the University of Connecticut on Cross-Sex Friends who were once Romantic Partners shows how difficult it can be.
The results of the study done by Carl S. Schneider and David A. Kenny published on the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships by SAGE Publications indicate a significant difference in the feelings towards each type of friend with more positive qualities associated with the platonic friend and more negative qualities, in addition to more romantic desires, associated with the ex-romantic partner friend. It is suggested that the relationship between ex- romantic partners is qualitatively different from a platonic cross-sex friendship.
So, although this is a complicated topic, there’s just one question you need to ask yourself to begin with:
If your ex posted a Facebook status today that said, ‘in a relationship’, would you hit the like button and genuinely mean it? In other words, would you truly be happy to see him happy with another woman?
If you just felt your stomach drop or that lump forming in your throat, this might be the reality check you needed. Those feelings are letting you know that your intent to be friends with your ex isn’t coming from the right place. Most likely, it’s driven by the desire to be with him again or, at the least, it means you’re still emotionally attached to him. When this is the case, you can’t be friends with your ex as it’s going to hurt you more in the long run.
You need time to process through your emotions in order to heal. After your emotions settle, it’s important to acknowledge the lessons you’ve learnt to give yourself closure.
It’s normal to feel strange about your ex starting a new relationship. However, there’s a big difference between feeling a small tug on the heartstrings and heading towards devastation all over again. If you feel confused about what you’re feeling, these seven indicators will help to clear it up.
1. You’ve had 90 days or more of no contact
Depending on how integrated you were in each other’s lives, along with the depth of the relationship, time is the main key towards detaching emotionally. This is why it’s virtually impossible to break up and transition smoothly into a healthy friendship straight away.
You need time to process through your emotions in order to heal. After your emotions settle, it’s important to acknowledge the lessons you’ve learnt to give yourself closure. With no or limited contact for 90 days or more, you’re in a much better place to try and come back together in a new way. This new perspective forms the basis needed for a successful friendship.
2. You’re not doing it for his emotional support
Another reason for taking a significant amount of time apart is to ease out of the emotional reliance on each other. If you launch straight into friendship, chances are he’ll be the first person you call with every problem. Leaning on him in this way only prolongs the inevitable. That is, once he’s in a new relationship, it’s likely you’ll find yourself left out in the cold due to delaying your own healing process.
It’s only when you’ve reinforced your support network that you can comfortably let go of his. When you’re naturally reaching for your friends, family or other support systems, along with feeling empowered within yourself, you’ll know that you’re ready for a healthy friendship with him.
3. Things ended mutually and respectfully
How did your relationship end? If there was a lot of toxic behaviour, someone cheated, lied or anything else that created a disaster, forming a healthy friendship isn’t going to be easy. We lose respect, trust and even interest for each other during break ups that result from negative situations.
It takes a sincere amount of effort, over a long time, to reinstate healthy boundaries and new memories in order to stay friends. However, if your relationship ended well, in that perhaps you both simply wanted different things out of life, you’ve got a much better chance of future friendship.
4. Your intention isn’t to hurt him by being friends
Although it’s not usually conscious, there’s that shadow side of all us that wants to show our ex partners how well we’re doing in life without them. Especially if they left us. For example, let’s say you find happiness with a new guy or reach a huge career goal. If a win for you drives you to initiate catching up with your ex, chances are you’re doing it to stick it to him – even if it’s just a little bit.
You know that he’s likely to find out anyway, right? If you’re happy with a new partner, and your ex is doing his own thing too, a friendship can develop naturally provided both of you have genuine intentions. Focus on you and your future, with the knowledge that hurting someone else – even unconsciously – is only hurting yourself.
5. You’re not doing it to appease him
If your ex wants you back or simply wants to keep tabs on you, you’ll know. He’ll make it obvious via his actions or your intuition will tug at you when you hear from him. Either way, when you’re certain that it’s over, remaining friends to pacify him or because you feel guilty doesn’t do anyone any good.
Be upfront and honest in order to let him move on. This also allows you to disentangle yourself from emotional attachments that lead to feelings like guilt. A sincere friendship between the two of you isn’t going to happen until you’re both on the same page with regards to the intent for the friendship.
6. His positive qualities add to your life
Does your ex have qualities and personality traits that add to your life on a purely friendship level? If so, of course you’ll want to be friends with him after a break up. There’s an easy way to know if this is possible or not. When you genuinely enjoy your time with him, but you’re able to leave his company without wanting more, you’re well on your way to a successful friendship.
7. Something brings you together to be friends over
What does friendship with your ex look like to you? A catch up over coffee every few months, or seeing each other weekly or fortnightly? If you’re talking about being real friends who see each other often, it’s wise to have something to catch up with beyond the fact that you’ve been in a relationship. Spending a lot of one on one time with a former flame is a dangerous game, aka ‘sex with the ex’.
If you can do something you both enjoy together, your relationship will transition much more naturally into a friendship. For example, do you both love tennis? Hang out with the same friends? Love taking art classes? Aim to make the majority of your catch ups about doing something fun together so the friendship vibes take centre stage.
Do you agree with some of these indications? Can you honestly say you’d be happy to see your ex post a new relationship status? If so, the answer to that simple question of should you be friends with your ex might just be a ‘yes’ for you.