Zach Braff and Florence Pugh may have broken up last fall, but it seems the pair have remained friendly. They posed on the red carpet together at the premiere of their film “A Good Person” earlier this month, and Braff wished Pugh a happy birthday in January.
But is being friends with your ex a good idea?
It depends. The key things to keep in mind are setting boundaries, taking time for yourself and knowing when it’s OK to call the friendship quits.
“The truth is, you broke up for a reason,” says Cecille Ahrens, a licensed clinical social worker. “Although a healthy, platonic friendship is possible after a break up, it’s also not the easiest thing to achieve.”
When being friends with your ex is a good idea
The best romantic relationships are rooted in friendships. Just because a romantic spark sputtered doesn’t mean a friendship should fall apart.
“It is absolutely OK to be friends with an ex, particularly when there were personality traits or commonalities in value and experience that brought the individuals together in the first place,” says Maryanne Fisher, a psychology professor at St. Mary’s University in Canada.
A friendship, particularly after a long relationship, can help people work through the breakup. “For some people, staying friends with an ex can be a healthy way to maintain a connection and work through any lingering emotions or unresolved issues,” says Miranda Nadeau, licensed psychologist.
Plus, “psychological research shows that people who remain friends with their exes tend to report higher levels of personal growth and satisfaction with their post-breakup lives,” Nadeau adds.
When being friends with your ex is a bad idea
If you’re only trying to be friends with your ex to stay in their life – and hope they come to their senses and want to get back together – that’s not the best call.
“If you have some form of unresolved, romantic feelings toward them, it’s never going to be appropriate,” says Raquel Martin, licensed clinical psychologist.
Ditto if it’s about control: “It can be harmful if one party is hoping to use friendship to re-insert themselves into the other’s life, or to destroy future romantic relationships,” Fisher says.
Even if romantic feelings aren’t involved, you may still feel territorial about who your ex dates.
Keep in mind that your current partner may also feel uncomfortable if you maintain a relationship with your ex.
What to consider before staying friends with your ex
- Boundaries. Don’t want to hear about your ex’s life, like who they’re dating? Probably a sign to keep your distance.
- Build in some transition time. That doesn’t mean a few weeks. Try months. “You’re used to having a certain level of support or that extra person to talk to or that first person to text and you don’t have them anymore, that’s going to come with an adjustment,” Martin says.
- You can be “friendly” without being “friends.” “If you both decide to be friends, both of you should be able to respect the new boundaries and expectations of the relationship and be able to allow each other to flourish,” Ahrens says.
- Don’t hang on to the past. “You can’t build a relationship off of nostalgia,” Martin says.
- Be honest with your current partner. “Showing a new partner that there is nothing deceptive or hidden will help allow for them to feel more at ease,” Fisher says.
- Consider your ex’s motivations. Maybe they want to keep you on the back burner “but they also want to date other people,” Martin says, “and they’re still making it so that you’re not able to be emotionally available for other people.” Plus, “if your ex treated you poorly, cheated or ended the relationship in a particularly painful way, you are making yourself vulnerable to that person again by remaining connected to them,” says Virginia Williamson, licensed marriage and family therapist.
- There are other fish in the sea. Just because the relationship was good doesn’t mean you won’t find that elsewhere.
Generally, though, check in with yourself. “If you want to be friends with an ex, it’s important to first be honest with yourself about your motivations and feelings,” Nadeau says. “If you find that being friends with your ex is causing more pain than joy, it may be time to re-evaluate the friendship and consider ending it.”
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