Love, Always

How to “just be friends” with someone after a break-up: A 4-part series on one of life’s toughest dilemmas [4]

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Part four: Pain, longing, and when it’s just not worth trying.

So far, in this 4-part series on break-ups + friendship, we’ve covered most of the big issues:

How to release your feelings of loss + grief.

How to decide whether you’re becoming “friends” for the right reasons.

How to give yourself time to heal. And how to proceed when kids are in the picture.

We’ll close this series with two more questions. And they’re tough ones.

Starting with:

What if your ex is in deep pain, but you’re not? Or vice versa?

No matter what, respect your ex’s pain and grieving process. Take a step back and give them space to feel the full depth of the loss.

Support their emotional wellbeing by keeping contact to a minimum and giving them time to work through their feelings.

When one — or both — of you are mired in deep grief, this is not the time to be transitioning into a friendship. That will only prolong the suffering.

If you find it difficult to step back, ask yourself:

“What am I needing? Why can’t I let go?”

For many people, it’s the fear of never finding love again. Clinging to your ex out of fear + need, not true friendship + respect.

Whatever you’re needing … try to give it to yourself.

Reassure yourself. “I will find love again.” Connect to your own strength.

Reach within and grab some self-love to comfort you as you step back.

Remember also, that the love you felt for your ex is with you forever. You can always draw on those loving memories and be nurtured by them.

If you’re the one in deep pain, take a step back as well. Tend to your emotions, first — before you even consider entering the friend-zone.

Make sure you are grieving your loss, fully. Let yourself cry. A lot.

If your ex is pushing for a friendship, tell him (or her) that you need to take some time before even trying to be friends. If your ex is persistent, you could say, “No, not now.” If you’re then asked, “When?” say, “I don’t know. But I know I need more time.”

Don’t let yourself be manipulated or guilt-tripped into giving up the time that you need to heal. Self-care must be your number one priority, right now.

Onto our final question:

Are there certain situations where it’s not even worth trying?

Most definitely. Here are just a few of them:

: If there was physical or emotional abuse in your relationship.

: If you don’t want your ex to start dating again (that’s not a real friendship).

: If you broke up because of extreme incompatibility in your personalities or worldview (a friendship may be a stretch).

: If you or your ex aren’t willing to resolve your negative emotions — and if there are jealousy or control issues, or someone’s holding a grudge.

: If you’re both still trying to get over each other (now’s not the time for ongoing contact).

: If you have a pattern of breaking up + making up with your ex … (it’s time to stop the addictive cycle and break the emotional dependance).

: If your ex is still acting like a boyfriend / girlfriend, but won’t commit. (Chances are you’re being used, until they find something better).

To echo our very first question in the series: is it possible?

Can two former lovers ever “just be friends?”

: Not according to Harry Burns: “… men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” (played by Billy Crystal, in When Harry Met Sally.)

: In 10 seasons of the TV series Friends, Rachel and Ross (played by Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer) got together and broke up multiple times, but wound up together in the end; and …

: Julia Roberts realized that she had strong feelings for her best friend (played by Dermot Mulroney) in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Remaining “just friends” … just wouldn’t cut it.

So, Hollywood gives platonic friendship — at least between heterosexual men + women! — a big, fat thumbs down.

But since there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this age-old question, you get to decide what’s best for you.

Don’t over-think it.

But do give your motivations + emotions some attention.

Don’t keep one foot in the past because you’re afraid of the future.

But do heal your feelings about the break-up.

With time and lots of self-love, you can move forward into whatever future you desire — with your ex as a friend or not — in wholeness + health.

And eventually … when you’re ready?

Your next great love will be waiting, as well.

. . .

PS. Have you ever formed a healthy, happy friendship with an ex? What helped you? Share a piece of your story in the comments below.

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The comment section below is now closed. Enjoy the comments that readers have previously shared.

14 Comments
  1. Ah I over think way to much. Thanks for simplifying things and putting it all in perspective.

    • Hi Trudy: I’m so happy that things are clearer for you know. Thumbs up for simplicity!

  2. Yes, I formed a healthy relationship with my ex because we know our kids deserve that. Somehow our differences as a couple take a backseat to our parenting responsibilities. So grateful for that.

  3. Sorry, no way I can be friends with my ex. We broke up because we were not on the same page. If we could be friends, I believe our relationship would have been able to work. We weren’t ever friends really. Lots of sex and alcohol made us feel bonded.

  4. Great timing! I am now in the process of trying to reclaim a friendship that got mixed-up in a relationship. We both have huge commitment issues to deal with, which made things pretty painful for us, but our friendship was pretty solid before we started dating. I still really like him, even though a romantic partnership was a disaster for us. Thank you for providing this food for thought; I think it will be very useful.

    P.s., no children together, but lots of mutual friends; I think this is another reason to find a way to get along with an ex!

    • Hi Jennifer: I’m pleased that you found the article to be useful. Happy to hear that your friendship was solid to begin with. That ought to help a lot!

  5. Thank you, Suzanne, for this amazing series of blogs about “being friends” after a break-up. Such useful information. Again, thanks.

    • Hi Gertrude: Thank you for sharing your gratitude with us. I am grateful for the opportunity to share these blogs with you + anyone else who is interested.

  6. Your post made me realize that I’ve been keeping one foot in the past, unnecessarily. Time to plant both feet in the ground, right here + now.

  7. A lot of food for thought in these 4 posts. What I learned most was that I needed to cry more about the past. I did that. Feel so much better now!

    • Hi Brandy: It’s interesting how tempting it is to put off crying. Yet it’s so healing. Glad you feel so much better. :)