You’re reading Shout Out To Your Ex, our series on breakups, bouncing back, and why the end of a relationship can be the start of everything else
“We can still be friends though, right?” The last words you want to hear after a tricky breakup, as if it will soften the blow (spoiler: it does not).
Some people swear by keeping things sweet, even after an explosive ending. Just look at Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and almost every sitcom under the sun. But how do you know when there’s something worth salvaging from a relationship? And if you’re feeling burned by it, is it even worth finding out?
“As with most concepts in life, there are pros and cons to trying to forge a friendship with an ex partner,” psychologist Lee Chambers, tells HuffPost UK.
There are some situations where you definitely shouldn’t keep that person in your life. “If your relationship was abusive, whether it be physically, mentally, emotionally or financially, this toxicity will follow through into any friendship, and separation will always be the best pathway to take,” Chambers says.
“Even when coercion and manipulation were not present, we have such intimate knowledge of each other that we are likely to focus on the negative, especially if we find ourselves ruminating about the past,” he warns.
Staying friends with an ex can also cause you to be less open to new relationships, Chambers adds, which may be another reason to let go.
“Fears of dating and explaining that an ex is part of your friendship group can be awkward territory that feels uncomfortable for both parties,” he says. “It can also lead to falling back into a romantic relationship, creating these on-off relationships that stop us from opening ourselves up to new people and experiences, especially if we ourselves are struggling.”
There are situations where a friendship might feel appropriate, particularly if your former partner is part of a wider friend group. But it’s important to consider why you want to stay friends, and what you are looking to achieve by doing so.
“Friendship is a balancing act, and a healthy friendship fulfils needs on both sides,” says Chambers. “Another thing to think about is: were you friends before lovers? If you were, you have a valuable reference point of what your friendship could be like, and sexual chemistry is less likely to continue to force the friendship outside of its boundaries.”
If you have dated casually or the relationship was brief, it can also be easier to make that transition – as long both parties share the desire to be platonic. Children are another big reason to keep things cordial. “If you have children together, then it’s likely you will have a relationship to maintain,” he adds.
Alex Mellor-Brook, a dating and relationship expert and founder of Select Personal Introductions, says there are other situations where it might make sense to remain friends.
“It’s important to remember that the best relationships are built on friendship and if that remains intact and solid, even though the romance has fizzled out, then it’s a good idea to hold on to it,” he says. “Just remember that you’re doing a relationship shift to hold on to the friendship you had from the get-go. Don’t be tempted to revisit the romance, step back, take a breather, and be willing to accept the change, keeping it amicable and workable.”
If friendship is the goal, it’s vital to keep your feelings in check when in each other’s company, whether it’s just the two of you or in a larger group. Like Chambers, Mellor-Brook warns against slipping into old, romantic patterns – or staying too close when distance would give you the best chance to heal.
“If you still have feelings for your ex, it’s a car crash waiting to happen,” he says. “Every time you see your ex with their new partner, you’re going to feel hurt, frustrated, with perhaps a tinge of jealousy, especially if your ex does something they used to do with you.”
There’s also a chance that when you’re at your most vulnerable, you may have the brilliant idea of launching a kiss in the direction of your ex in the hope of reigniting romance.
“Stop. This is a risky business. It might work out, but if it doesn’t, you may well have ruined any chance of your friendship surviving,” says Mellor Brook.
“Be certain that any romantic gestures or advances will be well received, and remember that you will still need to work at resolving the underlying issues that brought the relationship to a standstill in the first place.“
Ultimately, it’s about open communication, figuring out your priorities, and mutual effort in maintaining a friendship. If those things are missing, it might be time to reconsider why you even want to stay friends.