What Really Determines If You'll Remain Friends With Your Ex

by Alexia LaFata

If you've ever known love, you've also definitely known heartbreak.

Unless the first person you've ever had feelings for becomes the person you marry and stay with forever, you've most certainly experienced a breakup, whether that breakup was wonderfully relieving, massively heart-wrenching or perfectly amicable.

Besides the obvious fact that you are no longer dating, there are lots of ways your relationship with your ex changes after a breakup.

You could never speak to your ex ever again, denying he or she exists and breathes the same air from the same earth as you.

Or you could actually become friends, turning all of those sour feelings into positive learning experiences and then into an actual, real, true friendship.

But how possible is it to genuinely befriend someone with whom you once shared a great romance?

Most of the time, it seems impossible.

Too much baggage, too many hurt feelings, and the far too many times that person saw you naked often cloud the path to friendship.

Despite this, curious scientists have attempted to uncover the relationship qualities that indicate the highest likelihood of remaining friends with an ex after a breakup.

One study found if your relationship ended on a positive note, and if you had a strong support system of friends and family to help you get through the breakup, you were more likely to keep up a friendship with your ex after the relationship ended.

Another study found the existence of a friendship before the onset of romantic involvement was a factor that determined if you stayed friends after a breakup.

Researchers in this study found regardless of if you did the dumping or if you were the one who was dumped, if you were friends with your ex before your relationship, you were more likely to remain friends after the relationship ended.

Perhaps the most interesting collection of findings comes from a study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

In this study, researchers found those who were the most committed to each other during a romantic relationship were more likely to be friends after the relationship ended.

Over the course of a year, researchers analyzed data from 143 heterosexual people aged 18 to 30 who were in a romantic relationship.

Every four months throughout the year, researchers interviewed the participants to assess the levels of investment, commitment and satisfaction in the participants' relationships.

The participants whose relationships ended during the year were then asked how positively or negatively they felt about their exes, how frequently they communicated with their exes and the type of relationship they had with their exes, such as if they had no contact at all, if they were friends or if they were best friends.

All of these factors were combined into a total post-breakup "closeness" score.

Participants were also asked how much they wanted to get back together with their ex, which researchers called "desire reunification," and how likely they were to date again, which researchers called "reunification likelihood."

The researchers found those who felt more attached to their partners -- in other words, who had higher levels of investment, commitment and satisfaction -- during the relationship were the ones who were most likely to still be close with their exes after the relationship ended.

Exes who valued their relationship partner as a platonic companion didn't want to lose that friendship connection just because the romantic connection was over.

Researchers also found those who had high levels of desire reunification and reunification likelihood were most likely to still be close with their exes, which makes sense: If you want to date again in the future, it helps to not completely cut your ex out of your life.

So, it's apparently true that a number of circumstances determine your likelihood of being friends with your ex after a breakup.

These studies suggest the existence of a somewhat magic formula off which to base the likelihood of a post-relationship friendship.

But is that friendship actually a good idea?

People like to say it's "mature" to maintain friendships with exes, but blocking an ex on social media or cutting them out of your life isn't immature. It's just taking care of yourself.

Sometimes, it's really not a good idea to be friends with an ex who cheated on you, who abused you or who really, really hurt you -- and that's okay.

Ultimately, the most important thing to consider when determining if you're going to be friends with an ex is not the scientific circumstances that will lead to the likelihood of a friendship forming.

Instead, what's most important is the reason you want to be friends in the first place.

It doesn't matter how positively the relationship ended, how supportive your friends and family are throughout the breakup, if you were friends before you started dating or how attached you felt to your partner during the relationship -- your intention for rekindling a friendship is what's crucial.

For example, that last study found two main intentions for rekindling a friendship post-breakup: to fulfill companionship needs or the possibility of continuing the romantic connection into the future.

That little "or” is the most significant part here. What if you both have different intentions for the friendship?

What if you're sticking around for the benefits of your ex's wonderful companionship and attention while your ex hopes to relight the fire one day?

Sure, there will still be a friendship there regardless of whether or not the intentions are the same, but you'll both endure years of being "friends" while having completely different definitions of the word.

And unless those definitions align -- unless both of you genuinely enjoy each other's platonic friendship, secretly want to rekindle the flame or, hell, feel some combination of both -- a real friendship with an ex is probably unhealthy.

Just be real with yourself. Overall, the benefits of remaining friends with your ex should constantly outweigh the negatives.

There's also an important difference between having a friendship and being friendly.

A friendship might involve somewhat frequent communication, watching Netflix or going out together and bitching about your job or your latest fight with your mother.

But being friendly might involve waving "hello" across a crowded room or engaging in a two-minute surface level conversation and then going your separate ways.

For the sake of those in your social circle, being friendly with your ex at a party or at a mutual gathering is probably better than, say, picking a fight about a picture of someone he or she"liked" on Facebook.

All of this is not to say it's impossible to have a real friendship with your ex.

It's merely a warning to be honest about every single part of the so-called friendship. After all, honesty is the foundation of any good friendship, including one with an ex.