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Can You Really Be Friends With Your Ex?

I am not entirely sure what is going on this summer but it feels like relationships are ending left, right and center. I have had a big influx of people coming into my counselling practice who have recently gone through, or are going through a break up. When a relationship ends there is a lot of sadness that comes up because not only is the relationship ending but usually it means a friendship is too. We usually at the end of relationship try to find a way to make a friendship work, even going so far as to promise you will still be friends. It sounds reassuring and everyone has good intentions but I am here to tell you that trying to stay friends with you ex is typically unhealthy and only delays grieving the loss of the relationship.

I know there are lots of things you will miss about your partner and the idea of remaining friends with them can be comforting. The challenge is that when we try to remain friends with our ex someone always ends up getting hurt. If you are the person who ended the relationship it is unlikely that your ex is completely over it. He/she will want more from those hangouts whether it is voiced or not and that will leave you both upset. You will end up feeling guilty for hurting him/her and in time, angry and annoyed that there are expectations of you that aren’t fair.

If you are the partner who was left, you will want more from that friendship. You will tell yourself you won’t but then when your ex cancels to go hang out with someone else, or you find out that he/she is dating someone else you will end up angry, hurt and anxious.

Both of these situations end the friendship you were hoping to have. The sad part is it drags one or both of you through the mud before you end up realizing that it just can’t work. While I can’t stop you from trying to make this happen what I would encourage you to do is to lean into the friends that you have outside of your ex. Perhaps it is your brother or sister, or maybe you have a really close best friend. They won’t make up for your relationship ending but they will have your best interests at heart and will be there for you in a way your ex can’t (or shouldn’t be). Keep busy and make plans so you aren’t alone all the time. If you and your ex had specific nights that you did things together, be sure to plan things for those nights. It doesn’t have to be big, even a movie night with a friend is better than sitting at home feeling lonely.

You will miss your ex – they brought a lot of good things to your life at one point. Try to make space to feel the feelings and not just avoid them. They are, after all, there for a good reason. Wherever you are at in this process, be kind to yourself. It is normal to want to keep them in your life. Take a few minutes to reflect on what you really hope to gain and, if you feel you aren’t ready to completely cut off any kind of possible friendship, then spend time investing as much as possible in those relationships are already healthy and uncomplicated.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • lisa Freedman August 18, 2014, 5:23 pm

    Morning Kaela…Interesting topic. I cant say this about all my relationships..but i am certain that my last one ( i was dumped )had to end…I could not see at the time that he was not meant to be my forever guy. I know now that without that vacuum…i would not have been ready to meet and be with the man I have spent the last seven years with. The interesting part is also that i ran into him about two years ago (the ex), and it was amazing , not at first,,,but we got talking, and I was very honest about the hurt he caused me…to my great surprise i got the king of all apologies, and all those hard feelings dissapated in an instant…that was a first for me. And almost ten years to the day since i had seen this ex. So I am here to say that your apolgy may be out there…it could just take awhile to get there!

    • kaela August 30, 2014, 4:35 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      I agree. I am still in contact with some of my exes and believe they are lovely. It isn’t that it can’t be done ever, but typically when a relationship ends it is not healthy to be friends right away. Sometimes when enough time passes and you both have healed or moved on you can connect again and have a friendship of sorts that isn’t tangled up with other emotions. Obviously there are exceptions with everything! Thanks for posting!

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