One of the hardest parts about dealing with a breakup is having to adjust to the fact that someone who’s been a constant fixture in your life for some time isn’t going to be there anymore. I know it’s tough to cut someone out of your life completely. But just because you might miss them, should you stay friends with your ex?
“As a couples counselor, this issue often comes up, in particular at the beginning stages of a new relationship,” Dr. Gary Brown, Los Angeles-based licensed individual and relationship therapist tells Bustle. But even if you’re not entering into a new relationship, it’s a question I’m sure many of us have asked ourselves before. Thankfully, new research has the answer. According to a recent study published in the journal Personal Relationships, staying friends with an ex really depends on your motivations behind it. So ask yourself this, why do you even want to?
Lead author, Rebecca Griffith of the Department of Psychology in the University of Kansas and colleagues conducted two studies on exes and friendship. The first study looked into the reasons behind why people chose to befriend their exes. The second looked into whether those reasons would lead to a positive or negative friendship outcome.
According to the studies there are four key reasons as to why people stay friends with an ex. Here’s what they are as well as how likely it is to work out:
“If you both care about each other and you both want to be friends, it’s certainly possible when things have cooled down,” Stef Safran, owner of Chicago-based matchmaking service Stef and the City, tells Bustle. Healthy, positive friendships make us feel safe and secure. It’s not hard to see why that feeling of security makes people want to stay friends with an ex. If you’re motivated by security, that means you trust them, they can offer you emotional support, and you still have a strong connection.
Likelihood of it working out? Positive. “However for that to work, you both have to be on a similar page about the situation,” Safran says.
2. Practical Reasons
“You should stay friends with your ex if you have children,” Elliott Katz, author of Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants: Timeless Wisdom on Being a Man tells Bustle. “Separation is painful for children and it’s even more painful when they don’t see their parents talking to each other. For your children’s wellbeing, parents should remain friends and co-operate with each other.”
Many people choose to stay friends with an ex for practical reasons like shared kids, friends, pets, resources, etc. Some may even stay friends to just hookup with someone they have zero to very little emotional attachment to. If you’re motivated by practical reasons, you’re not still emotionally attached, it just makes your life easier in some way.
Likelihood of it working out? It’s OK. According to the study, practical motivations are linked to positive outcomes, however, friendships don’t tend to last very long.
If you’re motivated by civility, you don’t really want to be friends, you’re just doing it to be polite. In other words, you’re just a nice person who’s considerate of your ex’s feelings. According to the study, people with high attachment anxiety also do it because it’s easier than engaging in any potential confrontations.
Likelihood of it working out? Not too great. Staying positive and polite towards an ex might be easy for some time. But the friendship isn’t likely to last.
4. Unresolved Attraction
“If you’re single and want to keep in contact with your ex, it’s not a problem as long as neither of you is using ‘friendship’ as a way to fulfill some false hope that you’re going to get back together,” Brown says. If you’re motivated by unresolved attraction that means you may still be in love, you can’t imagine them with anyone else, or you probably didn’t even want the relationship to end in the first place.
Likelihood of it working out? Negative, unfortunately. “Staying friends under these circumstances can become problematic,” he says.
According to researchers, about 60 percent of people are friends with at least one ex. So clearly, befriending an ex has worked for a lot of people. But as clinical psychologist, Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. tells Bustle, it’s only a good idea if it’s an authentic friendship that evolves naturally over time.
“My advice is simple,” Klapow says. “There’s a big difference between being civil, polite, and courteous to your ex versus being friends. Friendships take time to evolve. Do not force a friendship. Do not try to be friends. Simply try to be a polite and civil adult, if possible. The friendship will grow if and only if each of you are in an emotional place to be friends. There is nothing you have to do, nothing you should try to do, to make it happen.”
So there you have it — knowing your motivation is everything. If you want to stay friends for the right reasons, it will happen in its own time.