This is a common but difficult question. One answer alone won’t suffice.
Here’s how I break down the question, which we’ll all eventually face.
Can you be friends with an ex-wife?
Yes and no. If you had kids together, yes. You probably can’t be good friends but you can be friendly. You should for the sake of the kids.
Can you be friends with an ex-wife when you didn’t have kids? No. Without kids in the picture, there’s nothing to bind you and make you act civilly. You’re divorced. There’s no reason to stay in contact.
Can you be friends with an ex-girlfriend?
You can, but you shouldn’t. Think about it. How many times is a breakup truly mutual? Almost never. One person wanted to keep the relationship going, and that person is going to look for any spark to rekindle the relationship. It could be a glance that’s interpreted as renewed interest. It could be a casual brush of the shoulders that’s viewed as a romantic gesture. When love is involved, the mind operates in overdrive. The only way to stop the madness is to end contact with the ex-girlfriend. Plain and simple.
What do other people say?
I’m one voice. I’m a guy who’s been through the marriage and dating wars and has some opinions. Below is a sampling of what some other writers and experts say.
Yes, you can remain friends with an ex, according to the article by Ami Angelowicz. She lists six rules for remaining friends with an ex:
- Allow a mourning period. “Let hearts heal and flames fizzle out before hopping on the friendship train,” Angelowicz writes.
- Keep the relationship platonic. “No sex, no kissing, no hand-holding, no flirting, no monkey business,” she says.
- Set emotional boundaries. “Feeling down, having issues, looking to get your emotional needs fulfilled?” Don’t confide in the ex.
- Meet someone else. Don’t let feelings for your ex keep you from re-entering the dating waters.
- Don’t analyze the old relationship with the ex. “If there is some closure you still need and you want to discuss it, wait until you have some distance,” Angelowicz writes.
- If your feelings for your ex pick up, wait back before acting on them. “Some people do get back together, but you should be very mindful about opening that door again unless you are sure,” Angelowicz says.
This article concurs that it’s possible to be friends with an ex. It’s written by Marni Kamins, co-author of the Breakup Repair Kit, and it quotes several experts.
“Even if a romance loses its spark, you can still enjoy each other’s company,” says Patricia Farrell, author of How to Be Your Own Therapist.
Another expert quoted in the article says it’s even possible to have regular sex with an ex without restarting the relationship.
“Not only are you already comfortable with this person sexually, but also there’s little at stake since the relationship aspect is over,” says Tina Tessina, author of the Unofficial Guide to Dating Again.
With other exes, it’s better to talk only periodically and avoid sex, Kamins cautions.
“Because you’re not involved in each other’s lives, you can get some distance from your feelings and start to see him [or her] as a person, rather than an ex who only inspires heartache,” says Janice Levine, author of Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
This article takes the opposite stance from the other two. It says flatly you cannot remain friends with an ex. The article is written by Heidi Muller, a relationship correspondent for the site.
“As hard as it is to accept, it’s difficult to bring a relationship back to its normal state after having been intimate with someone,” she says. “You will always have an image of that person naked, and memories of the trysts will always be triggered by the smell of her skin or perfume, or even by hearing a song that you once made passionate love to.”
Muller offers other reasons to forget being friends with an ex:
- There will always be one-sided bitterness.
- Jealousy is unavoidable if the ex gets in a new relationship.
- Sexual feelings may never go away unless you make a complete break. “This is a recipe for disaster because it means that every time you get together under this new ‘friendship’ premise, the lust and passion you have makes it more likely that you’ll end up in ‘one more’ night of unbridled ‘goodbye’ sex for old times’ sake,” Muller writes.
So, you have my views and those of others. Pick and choose the advice you like best. In affairs of the heart, no one can really tell you what to do.
It’s never easy breaking up. And it’s rarely comfortable to remain friends with your ex. Try if you want, but there are many obstacles to making it work.