Should You Be Friends With Your Ex?
Not every breakup is doomed to end in animosity, but Anne Elliot (played by Dakota Johnson) was onto something in Netflix's "Persuasion" when she said, "Now we're strangers. No, worse than strangers. We're exes."
For some people, staying friends with an ex makes co-parenting easier. Others have mutual friend circles or genuinely like their ex but weren't compatible with them as partners. There's no way to know how long you'll need to process the end of your relationship, but you should pause before deciding whether to be friends with your ex.
"It can be an emotionally complicated process, and it is important to have time and space after the relationship to allow the possibility of friendship to emerge if that is wanted by both people," said Quincy Hock, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the owner of Transformative Intimacy in Andover, Massachusetts.
There's no timeline for being friends with an ex
Take it from someone who talked to their ex too soon and too much in the months following their breakup: You need space. Some people can be friends right after they break up, but for many others, it doesn't work that way. The timeline often depends on the relationship, as it did for Rory, a 31-year-old writer from Washington who requested her last name be omitted.
"Ex 1 and I had a short, romantic relationship that ended a bit awkwardly but not terribly. We were on friendly terms immediately after," Rory said. "Ex 2 and I had a bad breakup where there were a lot of betrayals and hurt involved. It took several months to even begin rebuilding that one."
But even after you start rebuilding a friendship with your ex, the process isn't linear. You both need time and space to heal, and you may find that after you start talking again, you need to step back.
"The length of that separation is dependent on many factors, including each person's ability to process and have acceptance about the relationship and its ending. This can take weeks for some people and months or even longer for others," Hock said.
Start slow and intentionally
Before you start the conversation about a post-breakup friendship, know your needs. Communicating your expectations from the start puts both of you on the same page so neither person crosses the other's boundaries.
"The most significant boundaries to work on are emotional, time and energy, communication, and physical and sexual boundaries," Hock said.
You might set expectations around what you want (and don't want) out of your friendship, topics you'd rather avoid, how often you talk to each other and appropriate behavior when you're with each other. If you're trying to be friends with the hope of getting back together, keep your distance and go slow.
However, being friends with your ex isn't always possible and you don't have to want it.
"Everyone needs something different, and I don't think everyone necessarily should be friends with their ex," Rory said. "Broadly, I think it's a matter of figuring out what you need in order to heal from the hurt, what things can be resolved, what things have to be let go and what things are deal-breakers."
The No. 1 rule for a healthy friendship with your ex: Move on.
Even if you don't want to leave the person in the past, your romantic or sexual relationship should probably stay there.
You didn't fail if being friends with an doesn't work
Most people who want to stay friends after a breakup cite reasons such as their ex being trustworthy, reliable and having sentimental value, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. But most exes can't step back into their friendship shoes as if nothing happened. Take your friendship slow and know when to step back.
"I didn't want to be friends with [my ex] after we broke up," Rory said of one of her exes. "The endeavor to repair our friendship came about almost out of necessity, because the other options were forever resenting each other and forcing our friends to take sides or cutting ourselves off from our entire friend group."
Rory and her ex addressed their feelings in a conversation, but it wasn't a quick fix. Remember, even if you were friends before you were partners, your new friendship with your ex will look different than before.
"It can help to start out slow, even if you do reestablish communication; have brief contact with an ex, then take the space to process your reaction and then recognize if it feels OK or not before engaging with them again," Hock advised.
She explained some red flags for friendship, such as both people being in different stages of processing, crossing boundaries, and unhealthy dynamics from your romantic or sexual relationship showing up in your friendship. In those cases, sometimes it's best to cut contact altogether.
Friendship with an ex looks different for everyone, but you should know that it doesn't always work. And that's OK. It's up to you and your ex to decide what's best, but being friends doesn't have to be worse than being exes.