Experiencing an unwanted breakup can be a very painful experience, and for some the pain can increase when the one doing the breaking up uses the age-old go-to, “But I still want to be friends.” For some, suggesting to remain friends is not genuine, and really just an automatic response and an attempt to lessen the pain of being broken up with. However, maintaining the friendship aspect of the relationship may be something they genuinely want. The concept of remaining friends after dating, sleeping together, being engaged, or even married may seem absurd and impossible to many. One can argue that once you’ve crossed the sexual and emotional line in a relationship, it’s very difficult to go backwards and respect the new boundary. For some situations, this is absolutely true. What if the two people involved would much rather have one another in each others lives in a more limited capacity, then not at all. Are you friends because you can’t let go? Or are you friends because you truly value your ex’s friendship? Are you comfortable being with your new lover/partner in front of your ex? When is it okay to explore the possibility of friendship with an ex? Here are the essential areas to consider when assessing the possibility of friendship.

In order to asses if friendship is possible, it’s important to assess your meaning of friendship. What may mean a friendship to you, may or may not mean the same to your ex. Do friends kiss or cuddle? Do friends cancel plans with other friends last minute? Do friends share details of new relationships? How much information should be shared in friendships compared to relationships? You and your ex need to be prepared and aware of how much info is safe to share.

Boundaries

In any relationship there are boundaries, the identified line and limit of what we are comfortable with in terms of interacting with other people. For example, two exes trying to be friends will want to establish the boundary of remaining platonic and refraining from having sex with each other in order to keep the relationship clear, and uncomplicated. If you and your ex can identify what your ideal boundaries/limits are as friends, and come to an agreement of what this friendship looks like, this will be a great sign of starting a friendship.

For instance, your ex has a new girlfriend. What is okay to you in the situation? Are you comfortable hearing about the new girlfriend? The fights, the sex, the intrigue, etc.? Do you see yourself spending time with your ex and his new girlfriend together? Most friendships contain boundaries, but often such boundaries don’t involve having issues with the friend’s new partner or having discussions about it. Having issues with hearing details or being around the new partner automatically puts strain and stress of “what’s okay what’s not okay?” on your friendship.

Consent

This can go hand in hand with boundaries, because this is also about one’s limits and comfort level with the situation. Do you both consent to this friendship post breakup? This can only work as a real friendship if both individuals are comfortable and in agreement with the new relationship.

Be Realistic

Are both of you entering the new friendship for the right reasons? If one of you is agreeing to be “just friends” with the expectation your ex will eventually come around and want to get back together and date again, then this friendship will have complications. However, if both of you are saying “we didn’t work as a couple, because of different views (or different wants, feelings, too many differences, etc) but we could be good friends now that pressure to advance the relationship is off” then it sounds as though you two would be on the same page. It’s okay if part of you harbors for wanting more, but you need to able to manage the feelings for now, for realistic reasons. Your partner may move on, would you be able to handle that?

Trial and Error 

Everyone makes mistakes. There is a possibility that you too will also make mistakes in this new friendship. Whether it’s blurring the lines one time, and getting physical, reading too much into the friendship, or needing to re-negotiate the terms of your friendship, there will be changes, and if you want to be a friend you need to decide if you can adjust to these changes along the way. If you are willing to address changes or concerns as they come, and are willing to to communicate the needs you have, and your partner can do the same, you will both be able to be in a friendship with met needs.

Envy, Jealousy, and Dating

Do you feel you and your ex had enough time and space after the breakup to process your feelings on the relationship? Do you have friends you can talk about this with? Once you become friends with your ex, you will need to turn to other friends to rehash and process the end of your relationship. It will no longer be appropriate to talk about with your ex in order to respect the new friendship and the new boundaries that come along with it. This is essential in order to go into the friendship for the right reasons: to be friends, not have unresolved romantic or negative feelings towards your ex. Do not accept friendship as a means to getting back to a romantic relationship. Do not sleep with your ex unless you have established a friends with benefits agreement.
At some point after the relationship has ended and you two are now friends, one or both of you will begin dating again. This could be casual dating, one-night stands, or monogamy, and even love. Are you able to hear about the other person’s dating?Are you able to hear how good it may be going for your ex and his new girlfriend? Or do you think past feelings, unresolved feelings, or feelings of jealousy will come to the surface? Being able to talk to your ex about such struggles will help you two negotiate what you’re both okay with, and what you are not. Not communicating or negotiating may lead you back to your old pattern and what contributed to the break up.

How much of a real friend can you be if there is red tape and restriction around the friendship? If you’re not ready to hear about new relationships, it’s important to assess when you would be ready. Dating, and talking about dating is a special and essential part of a friendship; it’s about sharing news, exploring and exchanging thoughts and ideas. If this part of a friendship is not allowed, this could develop into an issue of secrecy and withholding.

Make sure you are taking time for other things and are growing as an individual. Invest in other friendships (new and old), try new activities, make plans outside of the friendship with your ex.
Friendship with an ex is possible, but is also complicated and challenging. If the above areas are considered and addressed with your ex, and you believe these are well-covered areas, you have potential to not only survive a friendship with your ex, but to grow as an individual from creating new meaning from a previous romantic relationship.