Can I Be Friends With My Ex?

One of my most memorable rock-bottom moments came on a rainy Saturday night when my ex-girlfriend stopped by. We were trying to be friends, which was a disaster because we weren’t friends—we were former lovers trying to “act like” friends. And, at the time, I thought I could get her back… The truth was I couldn’t get her back because she didn’t want me anymore. Admitting that really hurt, but I needed to see the truth before I could move on.”

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As a clinical psychologist with an expertise in relationships and addictive behavior, people often ask me whether they can be friends with an ex after a breakup. Like most things involving human relationships, the real answer is that it depends. Being “friends” with an ex-lover can be a very slippery slope, full of relationship dynamics and emotions that can make it really tough.

If you are thinking about trying to be friends with an ex but unsure, here are four signs that you’re probably not ready. At least not yet.

  1. You’re still in love. If you’re still romantically fixated on or madly in love with your ex, it’s going to be really hard to transition into a platonic friendship. Maybe someday you’ll be able to be friends, but it isn’t today.
  2. You’re still sexually active with them. Being friends means you’re not romantic or sexual partners. In addition to being used as a tool to get attention from your ex, sex and orgasms release hormones and neurotransmitters into your body that can make you more attracted and attached to them. In the long run, having sexual contact with an ex often makes it even harder to move on.
  3. You want to get back together. If you’re currently broken up, something about your relationship wasn’t working for you, your ex, or both of you. If you’re trying to be friends because you’re secretly hoping to get back together, pause. This may keep you holding onto a false hope—only try to be friends if you can honestly live with the truth that you’re not together.
  4. You’re pursuing a friendship out of guilt or insecurity. If you broke your ex’s heart, you cheated, or you’re uncomfortable being single—and the guilt or insecurity is driving your desire to be friends with your ex—pause. These are not the healthiest reason to be friends. Pursue a friendship because you truly like your ex and want them in your life.

The Naked Truth is This: Whether you and your ex are capable of shifting from being romantic partners to “platonic friends” is a question only you can answer. In general, if you decide that keeping your ex in your life negatively affects your wellbeing or theirs—you feel sad, anxious, emotionally reactive, stuck in the past, pining over a former lover—it’s probably not possible to be friends in a healthy way. Taking time and space from an ex after a breakup is part of the healing process for most people. Over time, you may reconnect as friends, should you both be ready.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D., ABPP

Note: This content is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. I cannot respond to personal requests for advice over the internet. Best on your continued journey.

Image Source: xavierarnau by Getty Images

Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP

Exposed to a diversity of cultures and lifestyles from an early age, Dr. Cortney was intrigued by the ways cultural and environmental conditions affected the psychological well-being of individuals, groups, and even whole societies.


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