It’s a question as old as time.
Before you consider whether you can (or want to) be friends with a past partner, you should ask yourself why you have friends and what you get from your friendships.
Can your ex fulfil these needs and expectations as a friend? Do you already have enough people in your life who do?
There’s a difference between being friends and being friendly. It’s OK to stay in touch with an ex without having to force a friendship if it doesn’t serve you.
While it may be possible to be friends with an ex, whether it’s a good idea or not will depend on the situation and the people involved.
We look at situations where it may be possible to have a healthy, genuine friendship with an ex – and when it might be better to cut ties.
When it might work
Again, it all depends on your individual circumstances and dynamic. But these are some situations where it might be possible to have a healthy friendship with your ex.
You were friends before you dated
It’s easier to go back to being friends if your foundation was initially built on friendship.
If you miss the friendship and not the romance, this is a good sign you may be able to be in each other’s lives as friends again.
You ended on safe and respectful terms
No breakup is free of negative feelings. But your breakup should have been civil enough to know you can trust their character.
If your breakup was toxic and nasty, consider taking friendship off the table.
You’ve forgiven each other
No true friendship can flourish with lingering resentments.
Forgiveness can take time, and if you have any chance of nurturing a genuine friendship with your ex, you should give yourselves time and space to process any hurt or blame first.
You’re comfortable with them dating other people
Are you prepared to see your ex with someone new?
If seeing your ex hand-in-hand with someone who isn’t you makes you feel more queasy than happy for them, it might be a sign you’re not over them and can’t enter a friendship – yet.
When it might be a bad idea
There may be some situations where being friends just isn’t a good idea or healthy for your wellbeing.
The relationship was abusive
Any form of abuse – whether physical, emotional, psychological, or other – is a big red flag that the relationship is not safe or serving you in a positive way.
Maintaining contact with this person could be unsafe and damaging for you, and it may be best to walk away and seek help to heal.
You had an unequal power dynamic
Did your partner always wear the pants and make all the decisions? Did they seem self-important and treat you as less than?
This in itself is a form of abuse, but unfortunately, it can be common even in friendships. Any relationship that has an unbalanced power dynamic is not healthy.
Steer clear if your ex makes you feel bad about yourself in any way.
Your friends and family didn’t like them
If your loved ones saw your ex as a walking red flag or didn’t like how they treated you, they’re probably not friend material.
While we don’t have to rely on other people’s opinions when it comes to choosing our friends, our friends and family normally have our best interests at heart, and we can generally trust them to help us make positive choices.
Romantic feelings are lingering
Be honest with yourself – do you seek a genuine platonic friendship with your ex, or are you holding onto hope that you could end up back together?
Forcing a friendship when someone still has romantic feelings is never a good idea.
Avoid potential hurt by cutting contact and reconsidering a possible friendship once both parties have truly moved on emotionally. This could take months or even years.
A friendship with an ex can be highly rewarding in the right circumstances. But it’s more than OK not to continue a relationship or be in contact with them at all. Do what feels best to you and helps you move forward on a safe and healthy journey.
If you’re struggling through a breakup or relationship, talking to a counsellor can help.
You can learn more about our counselling service here, or call 1300 364 277 to book an appointment in person, over the phone, or via Zoom video call.
We offer tips to heal from your past relationships in this blog post.