How can you be Friends with your Ex?
If your relationship ends on good terms, it is perfectly reasonable to wonder if it is possible to be friends with your ex. After all, this person is probably someone you really like and enjoy spending time with, as well as someone with whom you probably share experiences, ideas, values and interests. To give all that up just because you realized that a romantic relationship between you will not work can be a waste.
So let’s talk about how to be friends with your ex –and when it does and does not work.
Is it a good idea to be friends with your ex?
Yes, it is absolutely possible to be friends with your ex. Whether it is a good idea depends on the situation and the people involved. Some people are able to have healthy, positive relationships with their exes without problems or complications, while others find that it becomes unnecessarily messy or even painful to remain friends.
Sometimes two people find out that they don’t work as romantic partners, but that there are aspects of their relationship that are still valuable and can be maintained healthily through friendship.
Being friends with your ex can be a good idea if other aspects of the relationship were valuable to your growth, development or life goals. If you and your ex determine that you are better business partners, workout buddies or friends, and you are able to maintain healthy boundaries with each other, then creating an authentic friendship can work.
It can be especially beneficial if you and your ex have children together. While she says friendships are not necessary for successful co-parenting, it can create an easier environment for both parents and children. It can also provide more flexibility in managing schedules, discipline issues and the general flow of information.
That said, being friends with an ex can sometimes make it harder to successfully move forward with the relationship if there are still lingering romantic feelings for each other or if tension arises when you both start dating other people.
When you can stay friends with an ex:
- You have taken time to process and accept the end of the romantic relationship.
- You have both accepted that the relationship is really over (and understand why it happened).
- You feel you have moved on emotionally from the relationship, and so has your ex.
- You no longer have romantic feelings for each other and no longer want a romantic relationship.
- Your relationship with each other no longer feels emotionally charged;it feels energetically similar to your other friendships.
- Both you and your ex can spend time together without it feeling painful, tense, distracting or inappropriately intimate.
- You no longer feel attached to, dependent on, or “partnered”with each other. You both have completely separate, independent private lives.
- You are both able to maintain appropriate boundaries and deal with nostalgic feelings that may arise without falling into them completely.
- You both feel completely comfortable and happy dating other people, and you want the same for each other in an authentic way.
- You have children together or are in some way in each other’s social or professional environments and you need to maintain some level of interaction with each other.
- The friendship adds something positive to both of your lives, whether it is fun, camaraderie, cooperation or practicality.
When ties break:
- You secretly hope you will get back together.
- You still have romantic feelings for your ex and are struggling to move on.
- You feel (or know) that your ex is not quite over you yet.
- You hold on because you can’t imagine ever dating someone else again or ever having such a strong connection with someone else.
- You persist because you are afraid or unwilling to separate your lives and start living independently of each other.
- You are holding on because you feel guilty for ending the relationship or because you feel you somehow “owe”him your attention.
- Your ex is taking up your time, energy or headspace, and that affects your ability to go out with other people or be present in other parts of your life.
- The idea that they are dating someone else makes you feel jealous, uncomfortable or upset.
- Talking to them or spending time together feels painful, tense, distracting or inappropriately intimate.
- The friendship feels one-sided, exhausting or otherwise unhealthy.
- You have trouble maintaining your boundaries and you keep falling back into old habits from when you were dating.
- It just doesn’t feel right to be friends with him or her.
- Remember that just because you decide not to connect for now does not mean you can’t still care about each other and eventually get back together in the future to foster a new friendship. Sometimes you just need a little space first.
Can you be friends with an ex you still love?
It is difficult to be friends with an ex whom you still love, but it is possible. For some people, love is not something they ever really “take back,”even after a romantic relationship has ended. They may continue to love and care deeply for their former partners, but those feelings are no longer connected to wanting to keep dating. As long as you wholeheartedly accept that the relationship is over and actively move on with your life, you can still maintain a friendship with an ex whom you love.
That said, if the love you have for your ex still feels intense, warm, emotional or wistful, staying friends may make it difficult for you to let go of the relationship and fully move on.
How long do you have to wait after the breakup?
There is no set timeline for how long it takes to get over a relationship breakup. For some people it only takes a few weeks or months, while for others it can take years. It is important that both people feel they have moved on –or are in the process of doing so successfully –before trying to become friends. The friendship should not prevent either person from moving on;if it does, it is probably too early to have contact.
Setting boundaries with your ex.
It is important to set boundaries with your ex, whether or not you intend to remain friends. These boundaries can be physical, emotional, temporal or energetic. It is up to each of you to decide what boundaries you need in order to remain friends without things getting messy, painful or slipping back into romantic territory.
You might consider the following:
- How often you communicate with each other
- How much you rely on each other emotionally
- How much information you share about your personal life
- Whether you will share information about your dating lives or new partners
- Whether you feel comfortable spending time alone together or prefer to hang out in groups alone
- What level of friendliness is comfortable when you see each other in person
- How much time or energy you expect from each other
As for physical boundaries, some people are fine with sharing physical intimacy with their exes –including casual sex –but it varies greatly depending on the people and the context. Having a sexual relationship with an ex often blurs boundaries drastically, but it is possible if you both agree to be friends with benefits with no expectations or obligations.
The key is to make sure that the relationship you have with your ex does not interfere with your ability to move on and (if that is what you want) possibly connect with other people.
If you discover that you or your ex are unable to maintain boundaries with each other, then you should cut ties. If you really want to move on and find that your ex is still occupying the romantic space that your future partner should have access to, then it is a good idea to cut ties with your ex completely.
Tips for making it work:
1. Give it time.
Try not to rush into a friendship you are not yet ready for. You probably need at least some time and space immediately after the breakup before you can start trying to be friends with your ex. There should be enough distance between the old romantic partnership and the new friendship you are trying to build.
2. Make sure you are really all over each other.
The key to making a friendship with an ex work is making sure you are both really over each other. Notice how you feel when you are with your ex, is the energy charged or tense? Is there a certain attraction between you? Do you feel a rush of butterflies or a wave of sadness when you see his name appear in your text messages? Does the idea of them dating someone else fill you with anxiety? These are all signs that there may still be feelings.
Also make sure you take mixed signals or signs that your ex is pretending to be over you seriously. Sometimes people sometimes lie to their exes –or to themselves –about how “OK”they are with the breakup, partly because they’re just trying to speed up the process of moving on. We want to be resilient, but it’s important to be emotionally honest with ourselves about where we really are in the stages of processing a relationship breakup.
3. Make sure your relationship is really different now that you are no longer dating.
Many exes make the mistake of making the friendship too much like the romantic relationship. This usually does not work in the long run.
Your friendship should not be identical to your previous relationship. There should be differences in your dynamics in terms of how integrated your lives are, how much you rely on each other and how much intimacy you share. If your relationship is about the same as it was before you broke up, did you really break up? Remember:Relationships without labels are still relationships.
4. Only interact with each other as much as feels good for both of you.
Friendships should feel good. There is no reason to maintain a friendship with your ex if it doesn’t really help you or add anything positive to your life. If the main feeling you feel when hanging out with your ex is anxiety, exhaustion, heartache or just plain confusion, you don’t need to continue it just because it’s your ex. (And an ex who keeps showing up in your life and pulling you back into his orbit against your will is riling you up –and that’s reason to just quit altogether).
5. Accept when you need more space.
While it is certainly possible for exes to be friends, for some people and some situations it just doesn’t work.
Be objective about any signs you notice that indicate that a friendship is not possible. For example, if one or both of you get jealous when the other starts dating someone new, there may not be enough separation between the old relationship and the friendship.
It is OK to decide that you need to step back when you realize that it is too emotionally complicated to maintain a friendship with your ex. You can gently explain that you would like some more time and space, for now or for the near future. You can wish each other well and indicate that you care about your ex, even if you name your need for space and end the friendship.
And remember, even if you don’t remain actively “friends,”you can still be –and should be –cordial and kind to each other when your paths cross. You don’t have to actively maintain a friendship with each other to still be caring for each other.