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Can you be friends with an ex? Here’s everything you need to know

It’s a tale as old as time…

It’s not you, it’s me. But don’t worry, we can still be friends.

Heard this before? Or maybe you’ve said this before? Either way, we’ve all wondered…

Can you be friends with an ex?

The answer may not be as simple as you think. It depends on the people in the relationship and just how bad you want to be friends with the person.

But then the further question lies…is it even worth it? Is it even healthy for you?

I’ll go over everything in this article so you can decide whether you should be friends with your ex or if it’s even possible.

Why do people want to stay friends with an ex?

Look, there are some people who can’t imagine being friends with an ex. Which is completely normal.

You spend a lot of time with someone, and when a relationship ends, it’s not usually for good reasons.

In fact, when you look up the top 10 reasons why people break up, you’ll find these:

  • Bad habits
  • Cheating
  • Misdirected anger
  • Unsupportive of partner
  • Standing up for toxic people
  • Withholding affection
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Lack of communication
  • Giving up on the relationship

So, yeah, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when a breakup comes along. It makes sense that you might be asking, why do people even want to stay friends with an ex?

Well, it’s not always a black and white issue.

Maybe, you really enjoy having the person in your life. Maybe you spent many years with them and can’t imagine not having them in your life in some way.

Maybe you have kids with them. Or maybe, you just like leaving things on good terms.

Whatever the reason, it’s valid. There are people out there that want to be friends with their exes.

And no, they aren’t crazy.

But, this isn’t possible for all relationships. For some, friends is an easy thing to slip into. For others, it’s nearly impossible and can cause even more damage.

Where do you lean? It all depends on what the relationship was like, how long it was, and what you’re thinking post-breakup.

The reality is, you probably invested a lot of time in this person.

To be so close to someone and then have to cut ties to nothing is intense and hard. Oftentimes, your partner is the person you tell everything to. You become extremely vulnerable with them.

A breakup hurts, and while it can sometimes be a relief, you also realize that you didn’t just lose a love partner, but you lost a friend.

And so a lot of people think that maybe it’s possible to lose the romance but not the friendship.

So, is it?

One study found that the main reasons someone wants to stay friends with their ex is either for:

  • Civility
  • Unresolved romantic feelings
  • Practicality
  • Security

Can you be friends with an ex?

No one is stopping you from being friends with your ex. Even if everyone says you shouldn’t, you get to choose.

This is your life.

But, is being friends with an ex truly possible?

You see it in the movies all the time—someone tries being friends with an ex and then ends up hooking up with them. One thing leads to another and it can get pretty messy.

It’s not often that you see true friendships and partnerships that are born out of broken romance.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Maybe you can be friends with your ex. Though you should know…

It’s not going to be easy.

If you think that you’ll slip into being friends with an ex without problem, you’re probably living in a dream world. You were with your ex for a reason, and with that comes feelings.

Romantic, in-love feelings.

That doesn’t just up and disappear because you say you’re going to be friends.

The problems still exist

Remember all those things you’d point out about your ex that you hated? Maybe you were frustrated with how they handled situations or some of the stuff that they’d say.

As a romantic partner, you probably did some nitpicking.

As a friend, you can’t do that.

So the problems still exist, and you’re just going to have to deal with them. When they say something that frustrates you? Well, it’s no longer your problem. Because it no longer affects your life like it did when you were together.

But, that’s easier said than done. Because taking a step back from a very involved relationship into a platonic friendship is difficult. You’re going to be used to saying something, and now you shouldn’t.

Feelings can still exist

How great did your ex look when they wore that favorite shirt? Or what about their smell and their perfume or cologne?

The fact is, that person affected you. Their looks, their smells, a lot of things they used to do, affected you.

Being around them as friends can be hard. Because those things may pull you right back in. Feelings can still exist.

And maybe you weren’t the one to call it quits. Maybe they broke up with you and now you have to deal with those feelings alone.

Doesn’t sound like too fun of an idea, does it?

It can be a gateway to trouble

You know that the two of you don’t work out as a couple—that’s why you’re broken up.

But when you’re around someone you loved and used to be attracted to, you start to question your choices.

Was the relationship really as bad as you thought?

Could they like you once more?

It can be a gateway to trouble, more heartbreak, and fail to give you closure.

What the experts say

Still, some people are friends with their exes. It’s obviously something that happens frequently.

But what do the dating experts say about it all? Should you be friends with your ex?

Well, ultimately, it’s going to depend on what you think is best for you and the past romantic partner.

However, there are some studies on the topic.

As it turns out, if you become friends with your ex, it may not be that great of a friendship.

In a study, they found that when exes formed friendships, their friendships were a lot more negative than a regular friendship between a man and a woman.

There were more negative qualities and it often ended up hurting both people more.

That’s not the only problem. Another study found that being friends with your ex is more likely to hold you back from moving on. Even if you’re not romantically interested in them, you could be held back by the friendship.

And as it turns out, friendships can lead to a lot of negative outcomes for yourself too. Those who stay friends with an ex tend to have more feelings of sadness and disapproval from their friends.

Those who are introverted are more likely to remain friends with their exes because they don’t make friends easily. Extroverted people who tend to make friendships easier often disregard friendships with ex-partners.

But whether you’re introverted or extroverted, you’ll have to ultimately make the decision for yourself.

However, there are a few key reasons to stay friends with an ex and cut ties with an ex.

When to be friends with your ex

It can be hard to decide whether or not you should be friends with an ex. But, some of these reasons are pretty common.

You have kids together

Obviously, one of the most prominent reasons to stay friends with an ex is if you have kids together. Children who grow up with parents in different households will suffer much more if you’re constantly fighting with your ex.

It puts the kids in the middle of the relationship, which is something you never want to do. So as hard as it may be, being friends with an ex when you have kids together is one of the smartest things that you can do.

You both know the relationship won’t work

If you both accept that the relationship won’t work, it’s okay to be friends. But this can be tricky. Both parties need to acknowledge that a romantic relationship is completely off the table.

The relationship didn’t last long

Were you not together very long? Maybe it won’t matter then. If the relationship wasn’t years of your life, there’s not a lot of harm done. If you want to be friends with the person, do it.

Oftentimes, couples stress because so much of their lives were intertwined together. So when they breakup, it’s a huge change. But for couples who didn’t date long enough, there’s not too much of that worry.

You were friends first

Maybe you’ve been friends for years and decided to date. Then, dating didn’t work out. Well, it’s okay to go back to being friends.

If you were already friends to begin with, slipping back into that old pattern won’t be too difficult. However, this one is easier said than done. A lot of people try this and fail. But there are plenty that do it and succeed too.

You were young

Ah, young love. If you dated when you were just kids, you can be friends. When you’re young, you make a lot of mistakes. Chances are, it was those immature mistakes that caused the relationship to fail.

And also, you probably weren’t going to be together in the long run anyhow. There’s no harm in being friends with someone you dated very far in the past.

When you shouldn’t be friends with your ex

On the flipside, there are a lot of times when you shouldn’t be friends with your ex. If any of these reasons sound familiar, it’s probably better to make a clean break.

The relationship was abusive

Under no circumstances should you be friends with someone who was abusive or toxic. If the relationship ended badly, wasn’t ever fully resolved, and was either physically or mentally abusive, call it quits.

There is no reason to be friends with someone like that. You deserve to feel good about yourself and move on, not stay tethered to toxicity.

You still have feelings

Whether you still have feelings or they still have feelings, it’s not a good idea. There are people who fall back in love with the person, and it can lead to years of on-again and off-again until you have given up a large chunk of your life.

When there are feelings involved, take a step back and don’t try and be friends. Let the emotions run their course and try to circle back to it later.

You want the breakup to hurt less

Staying friends with the person is not going to make the breakup hurt less. In fact, it’s only going to make it worse. This is not a good reason to stay in contact with someone.

Relationships are meant to have a clean break. Sometimes, that’s what you need to truly change. As tempting as this is, don’t fall for it.

How to be friends with an ex

Before I close, let me just say that being friends with an ex is okay. If you go into it with the right mindset, it can be good for both you and your ex-partner.

But, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t be controlling
  • Don’t dig into their love life
  • Don’t nitpick over things they do that you don’t like
  • Be supportive
  • Be friendly and nothing more
  • Set boundaries before being alone together
  • Don’t let yourself fall back into familiar patterns
  • Live separate lives outside of the friendship

Can you be friends with an ex?

The answer is yes, you can be friends with an ex.

Whether you should or not is up to you and your ex-partner to decide. Just be prepared for there to be a few bumps in the road or some awkward first hangouts while you’re figuring out this new relationship.

It may not always be perfect, but breaking up with someone doesn’t mean they have to be kicked out of your life completely. Just make sure you’re staying friends for the right reasons.

New video: He reveals the truth about chasing emotionally unavailable men (hint: don’t do it!)

Jess Carpenter

Written by Jess Carpenter

I studied at The University of Utah where I earned both my B.S. and M.S. and am a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES certified). My favorite spot to write is wherever I can see my toddlers to ensure they aren’t jumping from the second story or coloring on the walls.

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