Relationships

Should you be friends with your ex? Probably not

It’s difficult to be friends with an ex, and it’s often not a very good idea — at least until you’re healed

Special to The TribuneMay 27, 2014 

20080512 Sorrow

RICK NEASE — Detroit Free Press

Your relationship is over. It’s time to call it quits. Still, in the back of your mind, you’re wondering whether the two of you can remain friends.

Trying to be friends with your ex isn’t recommended. Sure, it seems to soften the psychological blow of the breakup. It makes the end seem a little less final. But it can interfere with the important work you need to do to finish this relationship. First, there’s a reason you’re breaking up. There are obviously issues between you that you haven’t been able to resolve. Switching from lovers to best buddies fails to address these concerns and perhaps keeps them solidly in place.

You won’t fully experience your emotions. If you caught him in bed with your roommate, you’re going to be filled with anger and rage. The betrayal could take weeks, maybe months, to process. Anything less merely shoves it in the closet and prevents healing from taking place.

Any attempts at friendship interfere with moving on. You’re still talking and texting multiple times throughout the day, so you’re not likely to close this chapter in your life.

This is especially true for people who have trouble saying goodbye. They cling to dying relationships with a tenacity that turns every breakup into a Dostoevsky novel.

A YourTango.com poll found that 71 percent of respondents admitted thinking about their ex “too much” and more than 57 percent of singles said that “thinking about their ex prevents them from finding new love.”

Friends and family are rightfully confused by your sudden attempt to shift relational gears. One night, they see you entwined in a passionate embrace; two weeks later, you swear up and down you’re just good friends.

Their mystification is understandable and reflects your own lack of relational clarity. You’re not sure whether you’re in or out.

Others are equally at sea.

In spite of all the pitfalls, many couples manage the lover-to-friend transition. According to a 2004 NBC.com poll, 48 percent of people surveyed said they stayed friends with their exes after the breakup. Those odds increase when there’s been ample time for healing and conscious effort from all parties involved.

How to be friends with your ex

  • Allow your relationship to end. Put all your time and energy into separating from your lover. Be lonely, disappointed and sad. Don’t think about stopping by after work. Experience what it’s like to be out of each others’ lives. Don’t even think about being friends yet.
  • Get enough distance. Go off to college. Join a new gym. Move across the country. Take a job in another city. Let life redefine itself without your ex. This step may require several years.
  • Date others. Get involved in new relationships. Fall in love and break up again and again so this one incident loses its grip.
  • Forget about your past. When you’re finally ready to reconnect with your ex, you’ll need to forgive and forget. Don’t reopen old wounds. Don’t seek closure for things that happened long ago. Relate in the here and now. If you can’t do this, don’t attempt to have a friendship.
  • Keep sex out of it. You tried intimacy once before, and it didn’t work out. And sex is a sure-fire way to ruin a friendship. Yes, your ex may be incredibly gorgeous, but don’t go there.
  • Recognize why you separated. Hopefully, you have a better perspective as to why your relationship failed. Perhaps you were too young, or one of you wasn’t committed. Use that wisdom to guide your current behavior and choices.
  • Keep it casual. Don’t contact each other every day. Make meetings brief and in public venues. If the new relationship starts to feel awkward or begins to interfere with your love life, pull the plug ASAP. It wasn’t meant to be.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.

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