There are many reasons why people strive to be friends with their ex after a breakup or divorce. One of the reasons is that they like to share resources and help each other out. They still consider themselves to be friends. Shana, 42, a teacher, confides: “I can’t really completely heal from the breakup unless we stay in touch. I know that Jack shares my view, and that’s what works best for us.”
Another reason why people want to stay in close contact with a former partner after a breakup is guilt. Sometimes the person who is the dumper feels guilty about leaving the relationship, especially if they were unfaithful, and wants to remain friendly with the dumpee to help to ease their guilt. In this case, counseling with a qualified therapist is a more effective way to deal with these leftover emotions.
Further, some individuals keep their relationship alive because they hope for reconciliation but they don’t necessarily acknowledge it. According to Susan J. Elliott, author of Getting Past Your Breakup, “Examining your quest for contact and being honest about your real intentions will help you stop making excuses to make contact.” Alan, age thirty-eight, reflects: I tried to keep in touch with Alyssa with the hope that we could mend things and one day get back together – even though I knew she was dating someone else.”
Things to Consider If Your Ex Wants to Be Your Friend:
- It’s important to forge a new identity: After the breakup, it’s key to lose your identity as a couple and to return to who you were as an individual, rather than half of a couple.
- You need to allow yourself time to grieve the loss of the relationship. Like all losses, the breakup of a long-term relationship or marriage causes people to go through various stages of grief. In order to move through anger, denial, etc. it’s essential that individuals have the emotional and physical space to do this.
- It can create confusion for children. It’s normal for children to experience reconciliation fantasies and seeing their parents spend time together (social events, holidays, etc.) can cause them to long for their pre-divorce family. Children benefit from parents who are collaborative but not necessarily close friends post-divorce.
- You need energy to “take care of yourself” and to get used to being independent. Maintaining a close friendship with an ex (especially if it’s emotionally or physically intimate) can delay this process. At some point, it’s crucial to accept your divorce and come to a place of moving on from the past.
- It might prevent you from detaching emotionally and forming new intimate relationships.
It’s important to be aware that for many people, the drawbacks of being friends with their ex usually outweigh the benefits. It’s often difficult to maintain clear boundaries with a former spouse – especially if they feel guilty about ending the marriage. They might be too flexible or accommodating due to guilt feelings. It’s also confusing for children to see their parents together often and sets the stage for more reconciliation fantasies.
Follow Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy A Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship was published in January of 2016 by Sourcebooks.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry