“I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore. It’s not you, it’s me. But can we still be friends?”
The classic break-up script: a few lines of generic explanation that draw the blame away from the person being dumped and onto the person who is doing the dumping, with a booby prize peace offering to finish: “Can we still be friends?”
Relationship break ups are a part of life. Chances are, you’ve gone through at least one of these in your time.
But here’s where things can get messy: what kind of relationship can you have with your ex following a break up? Is it okay to be ‘friends’? Or does the tie need to be cut completely?
As relationship experts, we have concluded that:
Majority of the time, being friends with your ex DOES NOT work.
BUT, there are some exceptions (which we will be going into at the end).
First, let’s take a look at all of the reasons why being friends with your ex usually doesn’t work out.
1. Break-ups are hardly ever mutual
Break-ups are hardly ever completely mutual. Usually, there is one person is the heartbreaker and one who gets dumped.
So how does the promise to be ‘friends’ even come about?
Because the person who does the breaking up feels like less of a bad guy by offering the chance of friendship – rather than severing the connection completely.
However, although the offer of friendship may be done with the best intentions, often this actually makes it harder for the person being dumped.
Offering your ex the chance to be friends, especially if they still have feelings for you, will allow them to keep hoping that there may be a chance of getting back together. They are not being given the chance to grieve and move on.
They are constantly reminded of the person who ripped out their heart whenever their ex make contact, which may make their period of grief extend out for weeks or months later than what it may have if they had had a chance to move on.
Remember that if you’re the heartbreaker, you can’t be the one to see your ex through the breakup. It’s not your job to check on how he’s doing and hold his hand.
2. You’ve been way past the zone of ‘friends’
How many of your friends have you been physically intimate with? My guess is not many, if any at all. As hard as it is to accept, it’s difficult to backtrack a relationship after you’ve been ‘all the way’ with someone.
Unless you and your ex were really close friends before you got together, you probably don’t even know HOW to be their friend. Your relationship was never even in the same plane as ‘friends’.
You will always have an image of that person naked, and all the intimate details of your experiences in the bedroom. Once you have been to that level of intimacy, taking things back a few notches just feels awkward.
Friends is not something you can simply ‘go back to’, it is something new you’d have to learn to be altogether.
And don’t you both have enough friends already, who don’t come with all the emotional baggage?
You’re better off leaving things feeling like people who had a connection, rather than trying to force ‘friendship’ and ending up feeling like strangers.
3. You can’t talk the way you used to
Your ex used to be the man who you could share all your deepest fears and desires with. Now, the atmosphere between you is totally different.
Be honest to yourself: even if you and your ex did go out for coffee to ‘catch up’, what would you really be catching up about?
You may be able to make polite conversation about friends, family, work, and what you’ve been up to lately.
But none of this is likely to even brush the surface of what’s really going on in your life right now.
The thing is, at this stage in your relationship, some topics are simply too sensitive to talk about. Your love lives, for instance.
How are you meant to tell your ex about the new guy you’ve been seeing, or the date you’re really looking forward to this weekend? How can you tell them that you went to that great concert the other night, without telling them who it was you went with?
The fact is, you can’t. And neither can he. So you won’t talk about it, but wondering whether your ex has moved on (and vice versa) will just become the big elephant in the room.
And even if you feel you can talk to your ex about any new men in your life, be wary that he might not receive it well. No matter how much you are trying to be friends, there are still likely to be some hard feelings between you, including bitterness, resentment, and regret.
Which brings us to our next point, involving the jealousy and competitiveness that can arise following a break up.
4. You both suffer the pain of jealousy and competition
The reality is that no matter how much our feelings may have faded, we are still going to struggle with the image of our ex being with someone else.
There can be a feeling of someone ‘taking your place’, and it’s hard not to feel a little jealous and resentful, even if you were the one who did the breaking up. You don’t want the new girl on his arm to be able to live up to you, or make him as happy as you once did.
Because your ex is likely to be feeling these same feelings at the thought of you finding someone new, it can start feeling like a competition as to who can find a new partner first, and therefore demonstrate that you have ‘moved on’ from them.
This is where a continued relationship with your ex just doesn’t meet the definition of ‘friendship’. While a friend is usually someone who is supportive of you dating people, and can talk comfortably with you about your love life, your ex just isn’t going to be that person.
Be honest to yourselves – unless it is a long time down the track, and you’re both happy in new relationships, it’s going to be hard to be sincerely happy for one another.
5. There may be some sparks left in the fire
No matter how things ended with you and your ex, chances are there is still some chemistry there. And seeing each other after you have broken up may only bring this up again, and tempt you to go back to what has essentially died.
Rather than making it easier, having ‘break-up sex’ or starting to have romantic thoughts about your ex again will only bring you right back to how you felt right after the breakup. Which brings us to our last point:
6. You can’t move on if you still have one foot in the past
Having your ex lingering in your life is a constant reminder of the past, which makes it hard to move on with your life, meet new people, and make a fresh start.
Whether you were the heartbreaker or person being dumped, it is important to understand your motives for wanting to be friends with your ex. You could be resisting letting go of the relationship because you still have hopes of getting back together, or are afraid of being alone.
Having your ex’s presence in your life is like a roadblock to finding new love – a warning sign hovering over your head that tells potential new partners to ‘back away: baggage included’.
And even when you do manage find someone new, you need to be fair to your new partner.
How can you fully focus on letting them into your life when part of you is still stuck in limbo with your ex?
Respect the fact that your new partner might feel uncomfortable if you are continuing to maintain a relationship with your ex, and this could hinder the chances of a great thing working out.
Although the idea of happily remaining friends with your ex after a break up can be a nice thought, the reality is that this simply isn’t usually the way it works.
You will always have memories of the times you shared with your ex, but now’s the time to move on and pay attention to all the great people and elements that make up your life today.
However, as mentioned above, there are SOME situations where it may be appropriate (and even preferable) to remain friends with your ex.
Especially these listed below:
1. When you have children together
The closest bond two people can have is a child together. And when parents break up, it’s usually in the best interests of everyone involved if they can remain friends (or at least be civil) with one another.
Obviously, sharing children with your ex means you will need to be communicating and occasionally seeing each other. It will be better for your children if they can see that you can still be friendly towards each other, rather than have interactions full of bitterness, accusations, and resentment.
If you feel that you and your ex need outside help to work out how you are going to maintain some form of your relationship for your children’s sake, then go for it. Ask your ex if they are open to going through some counselling together for this exact reason.
Of course, things may have ended so badly with your ex that there is no hope of reconciliation in the near future. If this is the case, you’ll both just have to be the best parents you can to your children regardless.
2. When you have a close tie to each other outside of the relationship
Another situation where couples may benefit from remaining friends after a break up is when they have a strong mutual friend group, or are involved in the same sport, club, hobby or interest in which they will be continuing to see each other.
If you and your ex got together from being involved in the same friend group, and have been heavily involved in this same friend group throughout your relationship (as equal members), then it may be preferable to try and remain friends.
This means that neither of you would have to leave behind a great friend group, which may be a big chunk out of your life.
Also, making your friends chose loyalty between you could cause a lot of awkwardness, and everyone will probably be more comfortable if you can remain friends. Although, of course, all of your friends should respect that you will both need some time to adjust to these new dynamics.
The same goes for if you belong to the same club or organization – when something is such a big part of both of your lives, it is usually not going to be worth throwing this away after you and your ex break up.
3. When you were really good friends beforehand, and broke up because you are both more comfortable as friends
Occasionally, when really good friends get together, they end up discovering that they were actually better off just as friends.
If this is the case for you and your ex, then the friendship may definitely be worth saving. But there are conditions.
Firstly, that the break up was completely mutual. Secondly, that you are able to remain completely open and honest with each other. Thirdly, that there are no more feelings of physical attraction involved.
And lastly, that you are both COMPLETELY okay with the other seeing other people (although it is fair to expect there to be a certain period of ‘recovery’ time before this happens).
How to continue your life while remaining friends with your ex:
Even in these situations where remaining friends with your ex is the best option, it is important to give each other a bit of space following the break-up.
You still need time to grieve, reflect and experience being on your own, without the comfort of constant connection with your ex. This means resisting the urge to text or call simply to catch up, unless it of course regards children or something else that is really important.
It is important to be honest and respect each other, especially when it comes to seeing new people. Obviously, you don’t want to go around flashing your hot new man in front of your ex soon after you have broken up.
It is often better just to be open about things, rather than leaving him not knowing. For example, you could give your ex a call or text to let him know that you are seeing someone else, and wanted him to know. This way, he doesn’t have to experience the shock of finding out through someone else or seeing you together at an event.
Being honest is the deal that comes with remaining friends with your ex. It also means being honest with any current partners and taking their feelings into account, rather than sneaking around meeting up with your ex behind their back because you don’t want them to feel hurt by the continued relationship.
As soon as your ‘friendship’ with your ex starts compromising your relationship with a current partner (bar when children are involved of course), it is time to ask yourself the question of whether you are really prepared to lose your new partner in order to remain friends with your ex.
If your current partner is completely on board with your friendship with your ex, however, there are no secrets involved, and they don’t feel threatened, then this is okay.