“We broke up recently, but we’re still good friends,” is a line you’ve probably heard (or said!) before. For some, maintaining a close relationship with an ex is important – after all, this person once meant the world to you. But in maintaining that closeness, the lines often get blurred. Others start to wonder if you’ve really broken up or are getting back together, which doesn’t help either one of you move on. For others, a breakup is so painful that they never want to see that person again, which can be a huge adjustment, especially if you both have close-knit circles of mutual friends.
Navigating a post-breakup relationship with an ex is a minefield, and many choose to avoid it altogether for good reason. Yet if your relationship first started out as one of friends, there may be many reasons you choose to hold on to the friendship. For one, you have someone who understands you better than most people and can weigh in with valuable insights when you have important decisions to make. And although your priorities in life may have changed, your personalities probably won’t change much. Who else will share your taste in music and recommend new reads that you will enjoy?
But is it really possible to maintain a healthy and platonic relationship with an ex? From my personal experience, most of the time it isn’t. However, on rare occasions, it is – provided you follow these guidelines:
1. Give yourself a complete break to come to terms with the end of the relationship. No phone calls, Whatsapps, IMs or Facebook comments on each others’ Walls. What?!? I thought this was an article about staying friends, not shutting each other out! It is – about staying long-term friends, not temporary pseudo-friends who still act like a couple instead of accepting reality. It is called a “breakup” for a reason – the keyword being “break”. Both you and your ex need time and space to move on. For some, it takes weeks, and for others, months or even years. True friendships stand the test of time, and if your friendship is meant to last, then giving each other time to heal will help both of you see past the hurt and disappointment.
2. Recognize that your relationship will never look and feel the same way again. While you may one day be able to have deep, meaningful conversations about life again, your relationship will never go back to the way it used to be. The physical attraction may take longer to wear off, but the easy familiarity you once shared will eventually fade into dusty memories.
3. Actually want to be friends with the person for who he / she is, not in hopes you will get him / her back. It’s not called “being friends” if you’re secretly (or not so secretly) harboring hopes that you will get back together with your ex. The relationship obviously ended for a reason, so why fool yourself into thinking that if you “stay friends”, you may get back together one day? You’re only setting yourself up for greater heartbreak and preventing yourself from moving on. If you can’t live without a person even though there are clear reasons as to why the relationship wouldn’t have worked out, then you need to re-evaluate whether it’s really love or the fear of being alone.
4. Respect his / her space, decisions and newfound freedom. Regardless of whether you were dumped or doing the dumping, the fact is this: your ex is going to move on with his / her life, sooner or later. He / she might do things and make decisions that you may not agree with. You don’t have the right to tell him / her what he / she can or cannot do. Your ex may choose to use this new season in life for self-discovery, traveling or just going wild, and you may find your Facebook wall flooded with travel pictures, party selfies and pictures with a hot chick / guy that he / she just met. Get used to this fact. Don’t be clingy. Nothing will put an ex off faster than desperate attempts to find out what he / she is doing in the middle of a random day.
5. Don’t trash talk him / her. It’s tempting to put your ex down to justify the breakup, but that satisfaction is only surface-level, and temporary. Eventually, word will get back to him / her about what you said, and if you really want a shot at a lasting friendship, then don’t ruin it by tearing it down with careless words.
6. Respect his / her new partner when the time comes. Another fact of life: your ex will probably one day meet someone new and end up in a new relationship with someone he / she may eventually marry. If you want your friendship to last, then don’t just respect your ex. Respect the new person who is making him / her happy once again, even if you don’t get along with him / her. You won’t make yourself look better by putting your ex’s new partner down. Respect their boundaries as well – if his / her new partner is not comfortable with the both of you going out alone together (for obvious reasons), then don’t.
7. Finally, realise that while you may have lost the intimacy you once had with your ex, you’ve also gained priceless memories and lessons that will last you a lifetime. These lessons will make you a better person if you allow them to. And the respect that you hold for the person who taught you those lessons will form the foundation of a friendship that will endure through time, heartbreak, healing and the changing seasons of life.