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Should You Stay Friends With Your Ex?

Updated on September 15, 2016
Staying Friends With Your Ex
Staying Friends With Your Ex

Let's Be Friends - What if They Mean It?

"Let's be friends," it's an old euphemism for breaking up. At best it means that the other person wants to downgrade your relationship from a romantic or sexual relationship to one where you will be just friends. But usually, what they really mean, is "I am breaking up with you and I never want to see you again. Don't Let the door hit you on the way out."

But what if they really mean it when they say that they still want to be friends? Can you just be friends with your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend? Should you even try. This article examines some of the pros and cons of staying friends and the pitfalls that you may encounter.

It's Never Easy to Be Just Friends

It is not easy to go from being lovers to being just friends, but each type of break up carries with it different challenges. If you did not initiate the break up, you have to deal with the anger and resentment that your girlfriend / wife / boyfriend / husband did not want you. It will be even harder if the other person cheated on you or moves on to another relationship quickly. It is probably easier to stay friends if you are the one who wanted to end the romance, because then you are in control and let's face it you are offering your ex a bit of a consolation prize. They can't have you as a lover or spouse but you are willing to still give them the privilege of being your friend and maybe having to get a 3am phone call so you can cry on their shoulder the next time you break up with someone.

The decision whether to stay friends is a personal one. Sometimes your pride or your resentment just won't let you. But if you genuinely still like your ex and you would have been friends with them in the first place even if you had never slept with them, then you might want to remain friends with your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend.

Will You Get Back Together With Your Ex?
Will You Get Back Together With Your Ex?

Reasons to Stay Friends With Your Ex

There are a number of reasons to stay friends with your ex, and your own list and priorities will vary. Here are a few common reasons why people stay friends even after a break up"

  • Staying Friends For the Sake of the Children - if you and your ex have children, staying friends will help your kids deal with the separation by not involving them in a painful and psychologically damaging struggle between the two of you. If the parents can remain friends, it will help them co-parent and it will help the children not feel that they are betraying one parent or the other by having to choose sides. Some really successful divorced parents make a point of still sending each other small gifts at Christmas and on birthdays to reinforce that they still have a special relationship. It's a good example for the children as well.
  • Staying Friends Because You Have Friends in Common - One of the consequences of breaking up is that your circle of friends also gets broken up. Friends who were closer to your ex or who knew him or her before the two started dating will tend to side with your ex if it was an acrimonious breakup and your social circle will shrink. Even if the breakup was not bitter, his or her friends will tend to remain closer to your ex. On the other hand if you and your ex remain friends, and are still willing to socialize together with your old friends, it removes the awkwardness and it gives permission "your friends" to remain friends with your ex, and vice versa.
  • Staying Friends Preserves Relationships With Extended Family - Even more than mutual friends, relatives tend to circle the wagons and shut out the ex. If you have developed a relationship with your ex's extended family and want to preserve those bonds, staying friends may allow you to do that.
  • Staying Friends With Your Ex Preserves an Important Relationship - If you were genuinely friends with your ex before the breakup and it is just the romantic part that was not working, staying friends preserves that relationship. If the friendship is important to you, then putting aside any bitterness over the breakup may be rewarding and fulfilling.
  • Staying Friends May Expand Your Dating Options - Staying friends may lead to a better love life or sex life. Sometimes, your ex is not only a friend but also a friend with occasional benefits. Plus women like to set up their unattached male friends with their girlfriends, so if you are a guy staying friends with your ex-girlfriend may help you meet more women. But this reason for staying friends, can also have real drawbacks.
  • Staying Friends May Get Your Ex Back - If you want to reconcile and get back together with your ex, staying friends may help you maintain a relationship and eventually rekindle your romance. But be careful, as discussed below this strategy can lead to a lot of confusion, resentment, jealousy and keep you from moving on.

When Should You Not Stay Friends With Your Ex

Okay, what are the drawbacks of stay friends with your ex?

  • The Post Break Up Relationship Would Be Painful For You - You don't have to be a nice guy or good girl and please your ex by remaining friends. If continuing a friendship would be painful for you, move on and make no apologies. For example, if your ex is a lying user, they will probably also be a bad friend. Remove toxic people from your life. If you can't stand the thought of seeing your ex with another woman or another man, don't hand around with them. Move on with your life and make a clean break.
  • Staying Friends Keeps You From Moving On - In some cases staying friends keeps you from moving on and living a good life. You remain stuck in a half-relationship, like a cloudy day, which is neither sunny nor really dark, but something in between. It may keep you tied to the past and sometimes the best thing is to learn from your mistakes and move on.
  • Staying Friends May Ruin Your Future Intimate Relationships - Unless you have decided to live the rest of your life alone, you will probably start dating again after this breakup. If you are still friends with your ex, it will cause problems with your new boyfriend or girlfriend. Let's face it, most people you date will feel threatened by the fact that you are still exchanging text messages etc with your ex. And they may have good reason to be, since they know you were once romantically linked and perhaps the spark has not gone completely gone out. Keeping your ex as a friend may make it much harder for you to find true love.
  • Staying Friends Leads to False Hope and Jealousy - If you are staying friends with your ex because you hope to win them back some day, you may be wasting your time. You may be investing in a dead relationship, holding yourself back from finding someone new, based on an unrealistic expectation. Sometimes this works, but if you stay emotionally attached with your ex-partner, a lot of times you will have to deal with the resentment and jealousy that comes from seeing them start a new relationship and be happy. A lot of these friendships end badly when this happens because the ex who was holding out hope cannot cope with the new realities.
  • Your Ex Will Use You For Free Counseling - Some exes that become friends use each other for emotional support. In extreme cases your ex, now friend, will call you to complain about her current boyfriends, or vice versa, and use you as his or her own personal and free counselor. Friends should be supportive but having to listen to your ex talk about his or her sex life with other people is a bit icky and if you fall for this kind of relationship you are being a doormat. Move on.
  • Staying Friends Means Having to Break Up Over and Over Again - Sometimes your ex will ask you to try again or want to get back together again. If there is some casual sex between friends this may lead to even greater misunderstandings and bitterness when you explain that you did not want to get back together. Every time your friend asks to get back together and you say no, you will essentially have to break up with them, and this can be painful and awkward. If you are the one asking to get back together, and your friend/ex says no, then you will be rejected again. Sometimes it's better to just avoid the temptation to try again and make a clean break.

Why Staying Friends is a Bad Idea, Even if You Want Them Back

Are You Friends With Any of Your Exes?

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Can We Still Be Friends?

So the answer to the question, "Can we still be friends?" is up to you. If it was not a bad break up and you actually like the person, you may want to give it a try. But be careful of being stuck in the past, and know the risks that being friends with an ex poses to your future relationships and your ability to move on with your life. If you stay friends with your ex be prepared for the danger that the friendship may not work out either. Sometimes it is best to just make a clean break and avoid these ambiguous emotional entanglements between ex lovers.


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    • Globetrekkermel profile image

      Globetrekkermel 5 years ago from CALIFORNIA

      Absolutely-granting that he wants it too.I'm friends to my exes and even friends with the wife of one of my ex boyfriends of which i am even the godmother of their eldest child.they are like family to us .my husband and i visit them when we go to europe.

    • Lawrence63 profile image

      Lawrence63 5 years ago

      Hi, Quotations!

      Very nicely written and balanced article, I thought. Having emerged from a relationship where ex-friendships was a major reason for the breakup, I'm probably rather biased (oddly enough, it was a Canadian ;).

      I know some people can make ex-friendships work, but for me a rule of thumb is that if it's causing problems with your partner - assuming they aren't insanely insecure or jealous - it should be firmly placed on the back table.

    • tamarawilhite profile image

      Tamara Wilhite 5 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      If you have children together, you should certainly work to stay civil, if not friends.