Oct 08, 2021
How to stay friends with your ex after a breakup - more importantly, should you?

"Could we stay friends?" This could be either the best or the worst phrase to hear at the end of a relationship. You're not together anymore, but should you keep in contact? Or would it be better to cut the cord and move on with a clean slate?

You're far not the first person to ponder those questions. Ending a longtime connection with someone is a big life change. It's only natural to want to keep someone around if they have been a big (and hopefully positive!) part of your life.

So you think you'd want to stay friends? Let's have a quick look at whether that would be a good idea. The only ones who can make that decision are you and your former partner, but we can provide some ideas to think about to help you come to a decision.

Is it a bad idea to stay friends after a breakup?

Staying friends with an ex can be a bad idea. In some cases, it means it's a bad idea right now and you can revisit the idea later in the future. In other cases, you should steer clear of rekindling any kind of relationship with that person, romantic or platonic. Not sure how to tell the difference? This handy list should help you.

You were in an abusive relationship

First and foremost: were you in an abusive relationship? If the answer is "yes", stay away, give yourself both physical and mental distance. By attempting to stay friends, you can easily fall prey to their manipulations again. That person is not good for your health.

Also, please don't think you can fix them. That is most definitely not your job and the only person who can make the change happen is themself. Even if their abuse stemmed from past issues, that can be a reason but not an excuse. Your task is to take care of yourself and get some distance.

The hard part is recognising that your relationship was unhealthy. Abusive people have a way of making you doubt yourself and think you were to blame for everything. If you're not sure if your relationship was abusive, check out some of these common signs of mental and emotional abuse in this article from Healthline. Better safe than sorry!

You're still in love with your ex

If you're still in the "how do I get over my ex?" phase, friendship is not the best idea. Keep it for when you don't have any unresolved romantic desires towards them anymore. Pretending you can be friends while your heart still yearns for more will only cause you unnecessary pain. Take time to get over them first.

You're not exactly cyberstalking, but…

Let's face it, it might be cyberstalking. Are you still obsessively checking your ex's social media? Keeping track of who comments and likes their posts? Nope, stop that right now! You are done. Put a temporary block on their accounts or unfriend them if you can't control yourself.

If you cling to your ex like that, you are not allowing yourself to move on. Fill the void with something else, pick up a new hobby if needed. Animal shelters always need dog walkers, go do that instead of stalking your ex online - or even worse, in person.

You're keeping them around for sex

The relationship is over, but the sex was great? Or perhaps it was just okay, but it's the best available option right now? And it would be just so convenient to have sex on demand available from a convenient person, right?

Wrong. If you're serious about wanting to stay friends with your ex, mixing a friends with benefits situation in there is a bad idea. It's all too easy to get tangled in emotions when you're tangled in bedsheets.

You're keeping them around as backup

Is the relationship technically over, but you want to keep them around just in case your new love interest doesn't work out? Bad move. Nobody wants to be treated as backup, as the "guess you'll do" option. End the relationship properly before you move on to the next person. Both the ex and the potential new partner deserve that much.

You think it's something you "should" do

If your feelings lean more towards "I should do this" instead of "I want to do this", you may want to take another look at whether friendship with your ex is a good idea. You could just be looking for the easy way out. You might want to avoid the inevitable confrontation that comes with "I don't want to stay friends with you" or you could be reluctant about hurting their feelings. But what about your feelings?

Friendship should be a choice you actively make every time you have contact with the person, not something born out of obligation. If you were mature enough to be in a relationship, you are adult enough to also face the results of the end of said relationship. Do yourself a favour and consider what you need in this situation - and whether dragging someone along in a friendship you're not interested in is really the best way to meet your needs.

When could you consider staying friends with your ex?

So, you might be interested in remaining friends after a breakup and there are no glaring red flags that say you really shouldn't do it (yet). That's a good start! Are you not sure whether it would be a good step for you?

There is no list that can definitively give you the right answer. However, we can help by explaining some reasons people choose to remain in contact with their ex and some predictors for being successful in that endeavour.

You have practical reasons for remaining in contact

First, one of the big ones. Depending on how long the relationship lasted and how entwined your lives got during that time, you can have significant factors tying you together. Some of the most common ones include living together, being workmates or having kids.

None of these reasons are a predictor for having a higher chance of friendship working out. These are just strong reasons for keeping the communication polite, at the very least. The relationship is over, but it doesn't have to have a negative impact on the rest of your future lives.

You had an amicable breakup

Behaving as mature adults during the breakup is a good sign you could also handle being friends after the fact. You both agreed it was best to split up - or at least if one of you didn't entirely agree, the decision of the former partner was respected.

If there are no hard feelings on either side, there is less baggage to work through before all parties are ready to move on. The main thing is keeping the trust and mutual respect alive in your communications. With all of that covered, you're on a good path towards a healthy friendship with your ex.

You were friends before the romantic relationship

A very strong predictor for a viable post-breakup friendship is having been friends before the romantic relationship started. If you had already built a strong foundation before romantic feelings got involved, you are more likely to miss the platonic connections you had with that person.

According to the study by Griffith et al., 2017, "Staying friends with ex-romantic partners: Predictors, reasons, and outcomes", LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have healthy friendships after breaking up. This was attributed to the key role friendships play in the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals. They were more likely than straight people to fear losing the friendship after a breakup, making them work harder to keep the connection alive.

You don't have to be a part of the queer community to have a strong attachment to your former partner though. Depending on how long you were together and how much you had been through together, severing contact entirely can leave a large gap in your social and support circle. It definitely is a valid reason for wanting to keep them around.

You can handle them moving on

A good sign you're ready to be friends is that you have figured out how to deal with your ex moving on. Seeing them with someone new doesn't hurt you and you don't feel jealousy or anger when someone flirts with them. Your romantic relationship with them is over and you have closed that chapter of your life.

This is a good base for moving forward with friendship - you know how to be a good ex and they don't feel stressed around you. If the idea of them being with someone that is not you still stabs at your heart though, give it more time. There is no need to torture yourself and possibly sabotage your ex's future relationships.

Being friends after a breakup

So, you have decided you would like to stay friends with your ex. You didn't check any boxes for the reasons you really shouldn't go for this - or you recognise some issues you do still have and are ready to work through them. Also, you have a good (non-romantic!) reason for wanting them to stick around. How do you then actually reconnect with your ex, especially after a bad breakup?

Give space and take space to heal after breakup

Don't rush it. Take space for yourself to heal and get over any lingering romantic feelings. If you think you don't need it personally, check with your ex if they need space. Pushing for friendship before both parties are ready for it can seem to work in the beginning, but it is likely to fall apart in the near future.

Delete social media connections or use blocking where needed

Okay, you have decided to take some space for yourself. Somehow, you still find your fingers automatically navigating to their social media page or you feel the need to keep messaging them. Unless there is a social media outage that prevents you from cyberstalking, just take the necessary step yourself. Block them for a bit. Or even delete them from your contacts.

Of course, if you still plan to reconnect with them later, be an adult about how you handle the blocking. Be honest and tell them you need to take a break in communications. You spent a long time with that person and it's probably second nature by now to share news with them first and check out what they're doing. Help yourself to break that cycle. You can always go back later once you've healed.

Resolve issues from the breakup / relationship

There is a reason you broke up. Whatever that reason is, it clearly meant you couldn't continue with the relationship as it was. If you're wondering how to reconnect with an ex after a bad break up, you first need to deal with the reason the relationship failed.

Finding the reason and resolving it is, unfortunately, outside the scope of what this article can do. That is something for you to deal with, either by yourself or with the help of some friends or, perhaps, a therapist.

If the issues are left unresolved, the resulting problems can still be present in your friendship and break that apart as well. To have a stable friendship, you need to let go of the grievances of the past.

Set clear and healthy boundaries

A good relationship is built on a healthy foundation of mutual trust and boundaries. That goes for both platonic and romantic relationships, though the boundaries in each can be very different. When transitioning from being together to being friends with your ex, analyse what you need from both of those situations and where they differ.

Effective boundaries must also be communicated so everyone can be on the same page. It can mean sitting down with your ex to discuss how things are going to work going forward. Be gentle but firm in setting those new boundaries in place - they are there for protecting both of you in this new situation.

What boundaries should you set with your ex? That depends entirely on your communication and needs. For some, it can be helpful to agree on how often it would be okay to contact each other. For others, any amount of communication is fine, but they would rather have some topics they don't discuss anymore as platonic friends. A popular topic that people steer clear of with recent exes is their new romantic encounters.

Offer friendship, don't demand it

Relationships are all about consent and ideally it should be enthusiastic consent. The same should go for friendships. Don't force it on your ex if it looks like they would rather not keep in contact.

The best thing you can do is to extend an offer and make it clear that there are no obligations or expectations attached. Say you would like to remain friends and that if they are interested in friendship as well, they can feel free to reach out to you whenever they are ready. Give them time and don't be pushy.

Accept if it doesn't happen

Sometimes, no matter how much you try, it just doesn't work out. As devastating as it can feel, it is okay. It's normal for some friends to drift apart over time and the same can happen with those you've been romantically involved with.

Take time to heal your wounds and deal with the disappointment. Accept the situation as it is and move on. As special as that person once was in your life, you survived before them and you will be just fine after them. If it doesn't feel fine yet, give it more time.

Time to put it in practice

Relationships and breakups can be difficult to navigate. Hopefully, this article gave you some helpful tips to assess the situation and move on - no matter what your decision was in the end.

Most of the tips written here could be summarised with one simple sentence, called Wheaton's Law: "Don't be a dick." Respect the feelings and needs of both yourself and your former partner, behave as a responsible adult and do your best to communicate clearly.

In all of that, don't forget that sometimes, despite your best intentions, things just don't work out. In that case, relish the memories of the good times you had and move on. There will be more good times in the future, with or without the friendship of your ex.

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