Not many relationship questions are as divisive as whether you should stay friends with your ex. For each of us who tries to salvage some good and forget the worst of what happened, or at least make a concerted effort do so, there are those that feel its best to simply cut ties, move on, learn from whatever mistakes were made, and not look back.
To give you a better idea as to what the experts say about remaining buddies with a no-longer significant other, we’ve taken a look at a few guidelines on this prickly subject from experts like Rachel Sussman, author of The Breakup Bible and a New York-based psychotherapist. Sussman feels there are some situations where it could work, and offers guidelines that all of us should follow after a relationship ends. Let’s find out more about this often-sensitive topic…
When to Let Go
There are no circumstances that justify maintaining an abusive or manipulative connection, says Sussman. Put that experience behind you as soon as you can, and by all means try and get counselling so that you can work through the damage inflicted on you, so that you don’t carry any of it forward into your next liaison.
Even if your relationship was healthy, there is evidence to show you shouldn’t automatically try and transition to friends. Sometimes, however you need a bit of breathing room to see what’s what and, if you need a distraction there are so many other things you can do. Whether it is playing Roulette, going to the gym, or making new friends, find something else to keep yourself occupied as it gives you a chance to reassess the situation in your own time. There is no rush.
Sussman also says that if your connection was especially strong, and if your sex life was a very erotic one, staying friends is probably not possible. Chemistry doesn’t change, and keeping that person in your life may hold you back in terms of finding someone new. Your next lover may not be comfortable with your remaining close to whoever came before them, and taking this type of relationship forward may add unnecessary complications to your life.
When to Hold On
Sussman feels that if you have children with an ex-partner, remaining on good terms is important, since you are going to be in each other’s lives for a very long time, and you’re going to need to hash out things like education, living arrangements, and in time, even help your kids through their own breakups!
If you don’t have kids together but hooked up when you were very young, started off as friends, just dated casually, or were a couple for only a short period, you also have a good chance of a purely platonic relationship.
Research supports this. Studies have suggested that people who stay in contact with each other for the same reasons, whether sentimental or pragmatic, are more likely to be successful than those who have unresolved romantic interests motivating them.
Where Do You Start?
Sussman says that even if you want to stay friends, take a break first. Couples who end things romantically and leap straight into the friend-zone may not be aware of their true desires, and time doesn’t only heal, but brings with it insight into what your needs and desires actually are, and what you want going forward.
This break covers face-to-face interactions and virtual ones, says Sussman, and she advised unfriending and unfollowing for at least a few months after a breakup. Happening upon a picture or a news update regarding someone you love/d can evoke hurt feelings and simulate a reconnection that isn’t actually happening.
Boundaries are also vital for your new relationship, although these will be different from person to person. A good guideline, however, is not talking or even texting every day. Grabbing a meal or movie together every couple of months is fine, daily contact is not.
Sussman advises regular reassessment of how your new friend makes you feel too, and stresses the importance of your being honest with yourself. Most often, these friendly connections are hiding a desire to hold on to something and can be considered a kind of security blanket. If this is the case, it is healthier to let it go, no matter how much it may hurt in the moment.