The psychology behind being friends with your ex

The pros and cons of keping an ex in your life

A couple breaking up.

Needless to say, breakups are hard. 

Most of us have either experienced a breakup first hand or have watched someone go through one and, no matter what, it’s never totally painless. Some people end on such bad terms they can’t even imagine having anything to do with their ex ever again. But, there are also some people who think maintaining a friendly relationship with their ex is worth a shot. 

What are the motivations behind wanting to transition from lovers to friends, and does it ever really work? 

There was a study recently conducted at Oakland University in which researchers asked 800 students around campus why they might want to be friends with someone they used to date. Overall, they found seven main motivations for wanting to continue having a friendly relationship with an ex. 

One of the main incentives to maintain this friendship is because an ex-partner is often still able and willing to act as a reliable and supportive friend. 

Your ex might be someone who supports you in a way that’s different from the support you receive from other people, since they know you in a completely unique and often more personal way. In potentially knowing your strengths, weaknesses and aspirations better than some of your friends, it can be hard to completely shut an ex out of your life. 

As well as potentially knowing you best, your ex might also have useful qualities you’re selfishly not ready to say goodbye to. Whether it be close social connections like their friends, family, or their delicious culinary skills, it can be tempting to keep that person around when you don’t want to give up the benefits you’ve gotten used to. 

Along the lines of mutual friends, it can also be near impossible to break the friendship if you’re in the same social network as your ex. For the sake of your friends and your group dynamic, it can sometimes be easier to stay civil than to break ties and force people into “choosing sides.”

Additionally, you might still have feelings for this person. This is unsurprisingly one of the most popular reasons someone might want to stay friends with an ex — the hope that one day, that person might change their mind and it might work out the second time around. 

It’s also possible you simply aren’t attracted to them but still enjoy their company. Some people end relationships because the chemistry simply isn’t there anymore, but they still value that person so moving into a friendship might be an easy transition. 

Some of these motivations might seem justified, but does this kind of situation ever really work? For many people, it simply isn’t possible because it’s too hard to push aside all the old feelings they have for that person. 

Relationships take two people, and so do friendships, so it’s likely that if your relationship didn’t work out, your friendship won’t either. 

Before entering this post-relationship transition, understanding why the relationship ended is important. 

If it’s because your ex didn’t respect your opinions or didn’t listen to your feelings, then maintaining a friendship probably isn’t going to be the healthy option for either of you. On the other hand, if it’s something like a lack of sexual attraction that ended things, moving into a friendly relationship might actually work for you. 

Like most things in this world, you have to figure out what works best for you. No two people are the same and therefore, no two relationships are going to be the same. The more you understand yourself and what might have gone wrong, the easier it will be to move past a relationship or move into a friendship. 


Dating, Psychology

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