Can You Be Friends with Your Ex?

Can You Be Friends with Your Ex?


The research says that being friends with your ex can salvage some elements from the relationship, but the quality of that friendship is often lacking.

Can You Be Friends with Your Ex?

Karel Noppe / 123RF Photo

Those four little words you’ve been dreading just spilled out of your partner’s mouth: Let’s. Just. Be. Friends. Although you’re heartbroken, you ask yourself, “A friendship would be better than nothing, right?” Maybe. Maybe not. The answer isn’t so black and white.

Remaining friends with your ex after a breakup is quite prevalent. Common reasons for staying friends include:

  • Convenience and necessity (working together or having the same circle of friends)
  • Not wanting to give up the friendship they once had
  • The hope of becoming romantically involved again

In fact, ex-partners are more likely to stay friends after a breakup if they were friends before the relationship became romantic, and if the relationship was generally perceived as satisfying and lacking conflict. They already know what it’s like to be each other’s friend without being romantic, and that makes the transition from lovers, back to friends, less rocky.

The chance of staying friends also increases if the friendship is supported by other people in the ex-couple’s social circle (particularly family members, friends, and/or a new romantic partner). Additionally, if the breakup was mutual or if the male initiated the breakup it’s more likely that a friendship can emerge post-romance. However, some experts argue that remaining friends with your ex after a breakup has more to do with the communication strategy used to breakup (was it hostile or was it civil?) as opposed to who initiated it.

What about the quality of the friendship? In one study that compared ex-romantic male-female friendships versus strictly platonic male-female friendships, ex-lovers reported an overall lower quality of friendship. Ex-lovers were less likely to give emotional support, less likely to trust and confide in one another, less likely to share good news, less likely to stand up for one another in absence of the other, less likely to volunteer help in time of need, and less likely to strive to make the other happy.

Closeness of a friendship is also dependent on whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs. The more benefits perceived by the friendship (e.g., having fun, feeling intellectually stimulated, and being emotionally supported), the closer the friendship will become.

Conversely, the more costs that are perceived (e.g., feeling bored, irritated, neglected, or disengaged), the more distant the friendship will become and the more likely it is to eventually dissolve.

Research shows that most people perceive greater benefit and less cost in their platonic friendships than their ex-love friendships, and thus consider their platonic friendships to be closer, more satisfying, and less casual.

So, if ex-love friendships are shown to be less satisfying and more costly, is it worth keeping them around for sheer convenience, the desire to maintain the friendship, or the hope of rekindling the romance? What do you think?

Special thanks to Jeannie Assimos, Managing Editor at eHarmony Advice for contributing this article.

Further Reading:

Bullock, M., Hackathorn, J., Clark, E., & Mattingly, B. (2011). Can We Be (and Stay) Friends? Remaining Friends After Dissolution of a Romantic Relationship The Journal of Social Psychology, 151 (5), 662-666 DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2010.522624

Busboom, A., Collins, D., Givertz, M., & Levin, L. (2002). Can we still be friends? Resources and barriers to friendship quality after romantic relationship dissolution Personal Relationships, 9 (2), 215-223 DOI: 10.1111/1475-6811.00014

Schneider, C., & Kenny, D. (2000). Cross-Sex Friends Who were Once Romantic Partners: Are they Platonic Friends Now? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17 (3), 451-466 DOI: 10.1177/0265407500173007

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2 thoughts on “Can You Be Friends with Your Ex?

  1. It is interesting how “conditioned” communication patterns are hard to break. My former husband has a hard time noticing how often he interrupts me, discounts my input, doesn´t really listen but is busy forming a response. I´ve called him on it a few times, but it continues – which makes me wonder if it´s worth the effort to stay “friends” with folks who clearly haven´t shifted from this “Take me for granted” attitude to one of respect and courtesy that we´d give a friend (if we value them and want to keep them!) I am still assessing whether it is worthy of my time and attention. If we could continually “check” ourselves by looking at the way we speak to or treat our life partners – (“If I treated my FRIEND this way, would I even have a friend?”) – maybe then we would have a good chance of having long-lasting quality relationships. For now, I´d rather be solo.

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