How many times have you heard someone try to lighten up a tough breakup by saying, “I hope we can still be friends”? Whether you’ve had this experience personally or one of your pals has, you know that trying to be friends after a breakup can be complicated. Sure, it makes sense that you and your ex might want to remain in each other’s lives… but how do you make sense of your messy feelings after a split?
Every breakup is different, and there’s no set formula for how you should make the transition from partners to friends. But make sure you’re prioritizing your needs and feelings as you heal from the heartbreak. Breakup expert Kate Galt says sometimes it’s best not to try to be friends at all to avoid ambiguity about where you stand. “When you decide to date again, it will just confuse all situations,” she tells Elite Daily. “It is too easy to slip back into your former relationship that ended for a reason.” Staying in contact after your relationship has ended could make it harder for you to start fresh, since you’ll be reminded of your ex on a regular basis. Even if you’re trying to keep it platonic, it’s inevitable that you’ll be confronted with memories of your past.
That being said, if you really want to try to be friends, the best thing you can do is be intentional about the progression. Galt suggests waiting a minimum of three months after the breakup, so you have time to let your feelings evolve. “If you rush too quickly, it’s obvious how you could slip back into old patterns and find yourself in the same red flag situations,” Galt explains. You don’t want to try to be friends immediately, only to slip back into a romantic situation and have to break up for a second time. “Backtracking from trying to be friends too fast might make the second breakup even more difficult to really cut off,” Galt notes. Even if your first breakup was on good terms, you risk creating animosity if you drag out a situationship under the guise of being “friendly.”
And sex is a definite no-go if you’re trying to transition from lovers to friends. "It’s natural to want to continue having sex even though you’re broken up,” Galt says. “I find that to be trickier than cutting off the sex and just ‘hanging out.’” Boundaries between friends are different than boundaries between partners, and you need to be diligent about setting up those boundaries with one another. At least at the beginning of your friendship, it’s probably wise to avoid situations where you’ll be completely alone together, especially when alcohol is involved. A hookup might feel amazing in the heat of the moment, but it will inevitably make it more difficult for you two to be friends down the road.
Galt suggests letting go of the notion that you have to stay friends with someone you’ve previously dated. “There are plenty of people in the world, so why torture your current lover or your ex by wanting to relive the past?” she queries. “If you are truly natural friends, give it a long time ... and keep yourself centered to your future goals.” Galt explains that sometimes it takes years before two people can truly become friends again. “As you move on with your life, and they do, too, there could be a situation that allows you to become friends again,” she says. “It will take a lot of communication with your new lover and boundaries with your old lover.” When you are truly in a place where you feel content and forward-focused, you can open your heart to an ex without the risk of additional pain.
All in all, friendships with exes are doable — but they should never be your first priority. Focus on healing your spirit before you try to mend your relationship with your ex. “If you are truly called to stay in consistent touch (true friendship), then I commend you and advise you to work hard,” Galt says. Pay attention to how you’re feeling about the situation at any given moment. If it’s the right time, you won’t feel conflicted about your relationship ending. You’ll feel confident, whole, and ready to move forward on a positive note.