by Kerry Hart, LLMFT
This hot topic brought to you by popular demand can often turn into the question: should you be friends with an ex? This subject triggers emotions and both ethical and moral questions. The question may get confusing when there are multiple answers; people tend to have an opinion based on their own personal experiences from which they learned, suffered or grew. Regardless of your current stance on reopening the ex file, it’s important to remember that all past relationships ended for a reason. Let’s examine this reoccurring concern of handling exes properly from all angles.
Is anyone hurting?
There is a school of thought that suggests staying friends with an ex is not a good idea. This belief is due to bad breakups in which someone got left with hurt feelings. That disturbed individual may be holding onto hope that the couple will eventually get back together, should they stick out a friendship long enough. Consider which mindset you have in this scenario; are you still feeling hurt by the breakup? If not, and you’d like a friendship with your ex, examine if the other party’s feelings are aching. Often enough, break ups occur to prevent the couple from hurting one another, and to encourage a friendship could increase the opportunities to hurt each other even more, perhaps without realizing the damage caused.
“Figuring out why you might want to continue a relationship with someone you used to be romantically involved with can be half the battle.”
When positive terms is necessary.
There are some that would argue it is a good idea to stay on good terms with an ex. Perhaps they know too much personal information about the other, or it’s difficult to stomach the thought of negative feelings toward one another. Whatever the reasoning, it can be a good idea to stay on good terms with an ex if interaction with them is required moving forward. You do not want to find yourself at a networking luncheon or a friend’s birthday party and have a disgruntled ex screaming at you from a corner that you still have their favorite t-shirt. Getting to a positive place with your ex, where you can see each other in public and share pleasantries, is ideal for these types of situations.
Ask yourself why.
After weighing the pros and cons of keeping an ex around and the question still lingers, ask why you’d like to pursue a friendship with your ex. Do you feel guilty for ending the relationship? Do you feel guilt for something you did during the relationship and desire to make it up to this person by continuing the relationship as a friendship? Figuring out why you might want to continue a relationship with someone you used to be romantically involved with can be half the battle.
Set a game plan.
If pursuing a friendship is a no-brainer for your situation, establish a game plan for the friendship. I encourage you to examine what you might have meant to each other during the romantic portion of your relationship. Was your relationship a passing fling, or did you find yourself in a long-term relationship with lingering negativity? Setting boundaries and knowing what is appropriate behavior within the friendship is critical to moving forward. For example, being friends means supporting people as they begin new relationships. If your ex comes to you with a stressful situation they are facing in their current relationship, would you be able to give objective advice? Will you feel the sting of rejection as they discuss and describe this person they have willingly entered into a relationship with after your separation? Rather than looking at your end game with this friendship, examine if your heart can handle the journey, and ensure it can by establishing boundaries.
Consider new commitments.
Another obstacle you face when reopening the ex-file is what will your current or future significant other think of your friendship with your ex? While you may have moved on from the relationship aspect with your ex, there is no guarantee that your new significant other will be comfortable with this friendship continuing.
As you move forward with a partner you want to commit to, you may have to make sacrifices to keep them happy. At some point, you may have to ask yourself if holding on to this old relationship is worth losing a new one that might succeed.
The desire to keep contact with an ex can point to other emotions and experiences that need to be processed. Examining the why behind your desire to keep this person in your life will become paramount to your healing process. Perhaps you have not fully healed from the breakup; whether you are the dumper or the dumpee the pain can be very real. If you are not currently experiencing any pain, try to be sensitive toward the pain your ex might feel. Giving both yourself and your ex time to heal and move forward with their life is essential to progress regardless if a future friendship is desired.
Kerry Hart, LLMFT is a couple and family therapist in private practice. She is located in both East Lansing and Grand Rapids. www.kerryhartcounseling.com