Following on from my last post about why an ex might reach out to you, when it comes to staying friends with exes, it’s murky waters indeed. When you have someone in your life who you feel so close to - physically, emotionally, spiritually perhaps, to just cut ties when you break up can seem impossible, if not unbearable. This is when the friendship conundrum comes in and where things can become incredibly hazy.
So here are a few thoughts to consider when it comes to staying friends with an ex. I really appreciate that all of these are the tougher side of things to think about, and as always, I write everything with compassion because I've been there too and approaching it honestly was what helped me.
First of all, you need to think about the genuine reason you’re wanting to stay friends. It’s crucial that you get real with yourself on this one. In my own experience and through the many people I’ve coached around this, too often we can use the idea of remaining friends just to keep that person in our life and avoid having to cut ties.
But think about friendship and what that means for a second. If you’ve broken up, something went wrong there. Can you really create a new immediate dynamic of friendship based on what caused the two of you to part ways romantically? Perhaps it was amicable, but even so, can you really be friends with your ex in the truest sense of what friendship means and detached of those emotions?
When people do get completely honest with themselves (and I know too well how hard this can be), staying friends with their ex isn’t really with the intention of friendship, even if they don't quite realise that. It’s with the underlying hope of maintaining a connection, the relationship being rekindled, having an excuse to stay in touch or a way to keep tabs on what your ex is doing and who with. Those inquisitive questions are innocent and ok because you’re friends, right?
Especially in the case of where the relationship didn't make you feel loved, alive, heard, respected and happy, is holding onto friendship the life you want to be living? Is that who you want to be?
You deserve so much more.
It’s almost like settling for the cheap meal deal version of the relationship where you’re never, ever going to be fully satiated and wind up with a hangover. What if your ex meets someone new? Even in the breakup situations where nothing 'bad' as such has happened, would you really be able to handle that news in the same way as a platonic friend telling you the same thing?
Something else that often quickly becomes apparent when this situation occurs too is that the void of that person no longer being in our life only illuminates gaps in other areas. Such as other friendships. Your ex might have felt like your all or your companion but a romantic partner should really serve a different purpose and fulfil a different need than what a friendship does. You can totally be friends with your partner in a relationship of course, but have you been relying on them too much for things that it’s perhaps healthier to get from external friendships?
(One of my all-time favourite psychotherapists and relationship experts Esther Perel talks a great deal about this. )
If there is a lack of human connection and this form of soul nourishment in other parts of your life, it can make letting your ex go seem even more daunting and impossible. But if this is what’s happening, try and see it as something to embrace. When I was in this place and felt powerless, the silver lining was that it gave me something to work on. To do. You might feel completely empty after going through the breakup itself, but having parts of your life open to fill with new people, experiences and learnings is such a gift because you can take action on it - even if it doesn’t seem that way now.
I’m not saying that you 100% can’t be friends with an ex. I had a conversation with a friend just yesterday who told me that after time apart from her ex, when they next spoke, the dynamic from both sides had completely shifted because they’d each had time to understand why the relationship didn’t work and see that romantically, they weren’t a good fit. Neither had hard feelings towards the other - in fact they respect each other a great deal. But all of those past emotions had been released, let go and they were approaching it on completely new grounding. I also know many people who have formed a type of friendship with their ex after time.
So, it can of course happen. With the caveat that only after significant time (or enough time) has passed for both of you to have consistent no-contact distance and work on making your own life the best, fulfilled, full and nourished it can be independently of your ex. You both have to have grown in your own way.
Even then, what can often happen is that both people see that friendship isn’t necessary, possible or healthy. Sometimes, people aren’t supposed to stay in our lives forever and that’s ok. It’s all been for a purpose and is never, ever wasted.
I know it’s hard - I really do. You know that everything I share is rooted in my own experience. But cutting that tie is so crucial in having the ability to move forwards. Feigning friendship - even with the best, most wholesome intentions when you're feeling so upset by the breakup, is truthfully only setting you up for stagnancy, comparison and continuing to sprinkle salt in the emotional wound.
Give it time, give yourself time to breathe and time to re-discover yourself.
Try and see it as an opportunity. A chance to fill those gaps and to learn to give yourself what you feel you don’t have. You have everything you need within you, you really do. Please trust me on that :)
I think that's some ex stuff covered for now ;) I'm putting together a new post for you about my personal beliefs I live by when it comes to life and love so can't wait to share that with you soon.
I really hope you found this post helpful and if you'd like to find out about working with me 1:1, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org