How to Stay Friends With an Ex (and When You Shouldn’t)

By Suzannah Weiss 

Even after a breakup, it’s natural to want to stay friends with an ex. You were probably dating because you had an emotional connection, and the thought of being out of each other’s lives completely can make the split even harder. 

But remaining friends can also add a whole new layer of difficulty to a breakup if you don’t do it tactfully. Here are some steps to take to figure out if you want to stay friends with an ex, and how to do so while minimizing any potential drama. 

Figure out your intentions

The first step is to ask yourself if there’s any part of you that’s hoping a friendship with an ex will turn back into a relationship. If so, the friendship could get messy, says psychologist Dr. Sabrina Romanoff. “Be honest with yourself and your intentions,” she advises. If you’re not sure what you really want, take however long you need to get some distance and figure it out. 

Make sure you’re over the breakup

Dr. Romanoff doesn’t recommend becoming friends until you’re done mourning the relationship. In other words, if you’re still crying every time you hear a song that reminds you of your ex, you’re probably not ready yet. Again, you can take whatever time you need before trying for a friendship. 

Know if there are any deal breakers

There are certain things, like major betrayals and attacks on your self-esteem, that should be red flags for maintaining any kind of connection with your ex, says relationship coach Emily Pereira. Take time to process the breakup and maybe even to talk to a professional about it so that you don’t end up in the same situation again. 

Examine any wounds your ex has left

Before becoming friends with an ex, make sure that you’re not harboring anger or hostility toward them and that you trust them enough to open up to them again. Dr. Romanoff suggests making a list of qualities you value in your other friends and seeing if your relationship with your ex satisfies it. If it doesn’t, you two might not be compatible as friends. 

Trust that someone else is coming

If you’re concerned that you won’t find another partner, you’re more likely to fall back into old habits with your ex, says Pereira. To help get rid of doubts and fears about your ability to move on, she recommends writing down the qualities you want in a partner and visualizing that you already have this. And if your ex starts a new relationship sooner than you, remember that this doesn’t mean you’ve somehow failed — you’re taking the time to find what you really want.

Suggest a casual meeting when you’re ready

Once you feel like enough time has passed and you’re both in an okay place emotionally, it’s best to meet in a low-pressure way, like catching up over coffee, explains clinical psychologist Dr. Tricia Wolanin. Try to pick somewhere public, without alcohol, where there are no expectations, and have a friendly catch-up. 

Talk about your relationship

If you’re ready, it can be healing and enlightening for both people to talk about what you learned from the relationship, as long as you’re not rehashing arguments. “You can explore what you have learned from each other and how you want to grow into the next relationship,” says Dr. Wolanin. “Exes can provide a rearview mirror to who we once were and how we have grown, or tips on what we may need to change.”

Friendships with exes are possible, but you may need to hold back initially in order to have a good relationship later on. Pace yourself, be aware of your boundaries, remain respectful, and your ex could become not just a friend but also a confidant who can help you achieve the love life you want.