How To Have A Successful Friendship With Your Ex

Friends become lovers, but do lovers become friends? Not usually, according to research. A YouGov survey showed that nearly half of American women aren't friends with any of their exes, and only 16% say they've remained friendly with all their exes. A common assumption is that it's a bad idea to stay friends with an ex, but it can work out in some cases, even if your romance didn't. "Being friends with your ex can be a good idea when other aspects of the relationship were valuable to your growth, development, or life goals," licensed marriage therapist Weena Cullins told MindBodyGreen.


Still, being friends with an ex can pose some challenges — it's not so easy to go from swapping "I love you's" to swapping friendship bracelets. Transitioning from being an intimate couple to two pals requires a bit of finessing to make it work. Follow these tips to keep things platonic, without anyone getting hurt.

Give yourself time

Grieving a breakup takes time, even if you and your ex ended things on friendly terms. Hold off before granting them a spot in your squad to give yourself a chance to recover from the relationship. Rachel Sussman, a New York City-based psychotherapist and author of "The Breakup Bible," told Time, "I'm quite suspect of those couples that break up and then tell me right away that they're best friends. ... Time heals. A lot of insight can come with time and space apart." Besides limiting face-to-face contact, she recommends temporarily unfollowing your ex on social media to sidestep the temptation to stalk their profile for updates.


So how much time is enough time? Susan J. Elliott, author of the book "Getting Past Your Breakup," suggests waiting at least six months before striking up a friendship (per HuffPost). In the meantime, learn from the breakup, spend time with trusted members of your circle, and reconnect with your personal needs and interests. 

And as Sussman explained to Time, a few months apart won't be enough to heal from abusive or toxic behavior endured during the relationship. If things ended badly, downgrading to friendship status likely won't erase the damage.

Identify why you want to stay friends

To have a successful friendship with your ex, you need to be honest with yourself about why you want to keep them in your life in the first place. One 2017 study published in Personal Relationships (via ResearchGate) pinpointed four different motivations for remaining friends after a failed romantic relationship: security (including mutual trust and emotional support), practical reasons (such as continuing to share a home or co-parent together), civility, and unresolved romantic desire. The exes with the most successful friendships were driven by security and practicality, while the most negative outcomes were related to unresolved romantic desire.


Staying together out of lingering romantic feelings isn't likely to end well. Similarly, Healthline points out that it's generally better to be friends because you miss the (non-romantic) bond you shared, not the sex. If you find yourself fantasizing about the romantic dates and passionate romps you once had, friendship likely won't be the solution you're looking for.

Watch out for common pitfalls

Friendships with exes tend to be complicated for a few common reasons. One of the most common, marriage therapist Weena Cullins told MindBodyGreen, is when people act the same way they did as a couple. "Many exes make the mistake of letting the friendship resemble the romantic relationship too closely. This usually doesn't work in the long run," she explained. She adds that maintaining a physically intimate relationship can also blur the lines between romance and platonic friendship.


It's essential to set boundaries when you're friends with your ex to avoid confusion — or catching feelings again. According to, these boundaries should include respecting each other's privacy, avoiding rehashing old problems, and steering clear of flirting or touching inappropriately. If you can't maintain clear boundaries, it's best to call off the friendship.

Be aware that keeping your ex in your friend circle could also interfere with future relationships, according to a 2012 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science and a 2016 study published in Personal Relationships (per ResearchGate). Keeping your former flame at arm's length may be necessary before starting a new relationship with someone else.


Check in with yourself

If you've decided to keep in touch with your ex, remember to also keep in touch with yourself throughout the friendship, noticing when things feel off. Licensed therapist Ken Page told MindBodyGreen, "We want to be resilient," especially following a breakup, and we may mislead even ourselves about how we really feel.


According to HuffPost, your friendship with your ex-lover may not be right for you if you get upset when you think about them, feel squeamish when imagining them with someone new, or secretly hope they'll change to fit your standards (especially if those differences triggered your breakup).

If, deep down, you realize you're holding out hope that you'll rekindle your romance, tread cautiously. A survey by the website Ex Back Permanently revealed that only 15% of people who wanted to get back with an ex were successful. Another 15% got back together but broke up shortly after.