Somebody That I Used to Know: Can Exes Be Friends?

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You two used to be together, but then everything changed. Both of you build new relationships, and you no longer play an important role in each other’s daily lives. Can you still be friends? For many people, this question turns out to be more difficult than it seems.

Couples break up for different reasons, and if your breakup wasn’t extremely negative and emotionally damaging, staying friends with an ex may feel like the right thing to do. People may want to be present in each other’s lives, see each other, and stay friends even after a breakup. After all, they used to have deeply intimate relationships so it would be weird if they became complete strangers after one breakup conversation.

However, you should also keep in mind that being friends with an ex can affect the life that you’re building right now. While some people actually become best friends with their exes and keep healthy relationships with them by simply changing the format of these relationships, things don’t always go this smoothly.

Quite often, friendly relationships with ex-partners turn into a complete mess, not letting people move on with their lives. Romantic relationships have a very complex nature so there are many factors that may come into play, including self-esteem issues or the lack of boundaries.

There is a reason why you were not just friends, in the first place. Therefore, you should clearly understand what exactly motivates you to stay in touch with your ex. Similarly, your breakup also happened for a reason, and that’s what you definitely shouldn’t forget. 

Can exes be friends? The short answer is yes… and no. All relationships are different, and there’s no single right answer to this question. Let’s consider relationships with ex-soulmates in more detail so that you can come up with your own answers.

Why Stay Friends?

Romantic relationships have been studied by researchers for decades. Research data shows that there are several reasons why people decide to stay friends after a breakup. One of the most common reasons is that people tend to perceive their ex-partners as trustworthy and reliable, and much fewer people decide to stay friends for practical reasons.

There are also gender differences in what reasons a person is likely to consider when deciding to stay friends with their ex. Men tend to rank pragmatism and sexual access as more important reasons than women.

However, pragmatism is generally a popular reason why exes stay friends because many people appreciate an opportunity to exchange information and resources even after a breakup. At the same time, when evaluating the quality of friendship, most people tend to rank their ex-partners lower than friends they didn’t have romantic relationships with. 

Another study showed that, along with practical and security reasons, people may stay in touch with their exes because of unresolved romantic desires. Here’s where staying friends with an ex becomes complicated. People who choose to stay friends because of their unresolved romantic desires are more likely to reach negative outcomes, while practical and security reasons are associated with more positive outcomes.

At the same time, the reasons why exes decide to stay friends may also determine how long such a friendship will last. If you consider becoming friends with your ex because of practical reasons, such a friendship is less likely to last in the long term.

Why It’s So Difficult to Just Let Go

Your attachment style may stop you

Our attachment to people in our lives, including our romantic partners, largely depends on our attachment to our parents. We become attached to our parents from the moment we are born, and we may experience the same emotions later in life when we develop a romantic attachment with a partner.

The attachment to your partner can be as strong as what you experienced as a child, so just letting go may seem impossible. When a relationship is over, you may miss the stability that you had. Our romantic partners can make us feel desired and loved so some people keep seeking these feelings even after a breakup and see friendship as a solution.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that you can also feel attached to and loved by other people. If you cannot move on after a breakup, staying friends with your ex may stop you from looking for positive feelings elsewhere.

If you have a hard time trying to move on because of your attachment style, a great solution is to try therapy. A licensed therapist can help you understand what fuels your attachment to your ex and figure out what you should do.

You didn’t have enough time to get over your ex

The more intimate our relationships with someone are and the longer we stay in these relationships, the more difficult it can be to get over your ex. Being friends with ex-partners can be just an excuse for keeping these people close, and if you want to stay friends with your ex, you should make sure that you’re not making such a decision too soon.

According to research, people need at least three to six months to get over their ex-partners. If you have been strongly attached to a certain person or your relationship lasted for a long time, you may need much more time to get over your relationship, and staying friends with an ex won’t help this.

Take some time to reflect on your past relationship and breakup so that you won’t have any unresolved romantic desires. If you’re looking for a healthy friendship with your ex, you should be sure that you won’t intentionally or unconsciously use it to win them back.

You may want to get back together

If you still have feelings for your ex, staying friends with them is definitely a bad idea. It will be impossible for you to see this person and spend time with them without uncomfortable feelings and awkwardness messing up your communication from time to time.

As we’ve already mentioned above, when people stay friends with their exes because of unresolved romantic desires, such friendships are more likely to end quickly because people are less likely to build a strong friendship that will be comfortable for both of them.

What You Should Keep in Mind

As you can see, when it comes to being friends with an ex, the main thing is to be aware of your emotions and inner motives. You may want to stay friends with them if you enjoy your conversations or if such a friendship is practically beneficial. However, if you still cannot get over the breakup and still have feelings for your ex, staying friends is a bad decision.

After all, if you want to win them back, the best solution is to be open about your intentions and just tell them about it. If you really want to stay friends and make this friendship work, here are some things that you should keep in mind.

You broke up for a reason

Don’t forget why you two broke up, in the first place. Keeping in mind the reasons for your breakup will help you avoid using friendship as a reconciliation opportunity. Thoughts about giving your romantic relationship with this person a second chance can create emotional problems for both of you and negatively affect your friendship.

Clear boundaries are the key

If you and your ex want to keep being present in each other’s lives, clear boundaries are crucial. You should set boundaries to make sure that your friendship won’t spiral into reconciliations or turn into unhealthy relationships. For instance, you two may agree to only talk on social media or to meet occasionally for lunch. 

Don’t be a back burner

If you want to maintain a relationship with your ex, you should also keep in mind that you may become a “side option” for them. Being a back burner can seriously damage your self-esteem and therefore negatively affect new relationships that you will start to build.

Wrapping Up

Being friends with an ex can be much more difficult than it seems. A breakup may leave you with some unresolved emotional issues so you should figure out your inner motivation to understand whether or not staying friends is a good idea.

If you keep asking yourself, “What should I do if my ex wants to be friends?” the answer depends on whether or not both of you are ready to move on and change the format of the relationship completely. You should set clear boundaries and make sure that none of you has any unfulfilled expectations.

If you realize that it’s too difficult for you to move on, the best solution might be to try therapy. A licensed therapist will help you figure out why you want to remain part of your ex-partner’s life and help you deal with any emotional issues associated with the breakup.

While in-person therapy might be too time-consuming for people with tight schedules, online therapy platforms like Calmerry enable you to talk to a therapist from virtually anywhere, with no need to commute to their office. Learn more about the benefits of therapy and don’t hesitate to get professional emotional support.