There are few relationships in our lives that are more difficult to manage than broken ones. How do you factor in the relationship that was once the core of everything else – until it fell apart? Where do you put all the privacy, connections, and memories you share when you’re happy after being pushed aside? Old Flames can hold more baggage than Kardashians on vacation – which means sometimes they’re just too heavy. We all imagine the evolved level of Zen that can transcend the past and make great friends with our exes, but there are some caveats to be aware of. For example:
You really shouldn’t be friends with your ex if …
1. Either of you cheated
Whatever the reason, if you cheated on them (or vice versa) and broke up because of it, there’s a good chance you aren’t recovering enough to be true friends all the time. Cheating, for most people, amounts to a breach of trust, and no matter what kind of friendship you aim for on the spectrum, trust is non-negotiable. Sure, you can be kind (especially if the kids are involved and you might need to be), but real friendship is a tough exercise.
2. One of you is still in pain
If there is any residual pain, anger, or resentment about how and why things ended, you’re not ready to be friends – at least, not now. If there is potential to overcome the pain, put the friendship back (which is less important) and prioritize your feelings. However, if you think you will never be able to get out of it, don’t have fun at all. Anger will mount its ugly head over every “friendly cup of coffee,” and it’s probably healthier for you to let go.
3. They made you feel small
Whether it’s to make you feel like you weren’t smart enough, pretty enough, giving enough – or just good enough – you can’t (and shouldn’t) be friends with someone who cut you off. throughout your relationship. And, if you think it will be different because you are no longer in a romantic relationship, you would be surprised; elements of this toxicity will also creep into the friendship. Just be proud of yourself for getting out before they cause more serious damage – and stick with the friends you have.
4. You cannot manage their SO
… or even just the idea of having one. If you can’t ride with them to see someone else, you clearly aren’t completely done yet. You might or not, but a friendship will help you find out by putting you in front of the firing squad. Plus, you can never really be an unbiased voice for your ex, so if you don’t like her current flame, keep it to yourself. They will not take criticism from you.
5. You tend to be on-again off-again
Don’t be Seth and Summer, or Ross and Rachel. By being one of those couples who will always be a couple, you are condemning yourself and any potential chance of finding less problematic love. If you’ve got a model – and that model is a day in the life of a light switch – bow down when you finally decide to undo it. A friendship is just a bridge to get things going.
If you look at these five scenarios and think “none of them apply to any – or all – of my exes,” let me first tell you, lucky! So there’s a good chance that you can keep the comfort you lacked with your ex and make it a friendship, especially if it’s any of the following situations.
You can probably remain friends with your ex if …
6. Your only problem was the incompatibility
If the reasons for your breakup were less toxic and more the result of a personality mismatch, you have a great chance at remaining friends – especially if you’ve always loved each other as people towards the end. In this case, it makes a lot of sense that you hang on because you don’t blame yourself, but also know that you are not working in a relationship, hence the desire to get back into things (if you stay rational) is less.
7. You wanted different things
You wanted kids, they wanted dogs (only). You wanted the freedom to travel the world and they wanted to settle in a quiet town. There are a lot of great relationships that come to their natural conclusion just because the people involved want disparate things – and neither, naturally, want to compromise. If the love was there, but you never want what they want, you might be able to remain friends.
8. You were friends before dating
If there was friendship at the heart of this romance, she will likely always be at the heart of this relationship. If you separate without irremediably hurting yourself, the chances of your friendship being restored are very real. Unlike couples who start things dating (and therefore have to figure out the friendship thing from scratch), for you guys, the relationship has been the switch – and the reversal is mapped territory. It may take a while to regain your rhythm, but it sounds upbeat.
9. You have no interest in getting them back
Excluded extenuating circumstances (like the five I mentioned), if you have indeed moved on, you have a chance to experience a true honest-to-kind friendship. This can only work if you don’t hope for a reunion, if you don’t read their words and gestures for hidden meaning, or if you actively miss romantic aspects of your relationship like hugs or sex. A great barometer is whether you’re able to see them with someone else (and vice versa) without affecting your sanity. When you get to this point, become a friend!
10. You’ve both set your limits
This one highlights all of the above scenarios. You both need to have one eye on how friendship works, like how kosher calls, texts, and meetings are, or what behavior crosses the line. Everything is moot if one needs more space than the other is willing to give, or if one thinks something is okay while the other clearly isn’t. If you are not on the same page, you will not go to the next chapter.