How to Be “Just Friends” After a Breakup — Part 4
What if your partner's emotionally sore? And when is it not worth trying?
Posted November 15, 2019 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
So far, in this four-part series on breakups and friendship, a few important themes have been included:
- Safely releasing feelings of loss and grief
- Deciding whether you’re becoming “friends” for the right reasons
- Giving yourself time to heal and managing when children are in the picture
- Two more questions to close this series
What if your partner is emotionally sore, but you're not (or vice versa)?
No matter what, it’s important to respect your ex’s pain and grieving process. This can include taking a step back and giving them space to feel their loss.
It’s also possible to support their emotional well-being by keeping contact to a minimum and giving them time to work through their feelings if they choose.
When one—or both—former partners are grieving the loss of the relationship, this is understandably not a good time to be transitioning into a friendship. That tends only to prolong the grief.
If you find it difficult to step back, it can be useful to reflect on the following question:
“What am I needing? What’s stopping me from letting go?”
For many people, it can be the fear of never finding love again. Clinging to an ex out of fear and need, not true friendship and respect.
Whatever you are needing… ideally, you would want to try to give it to yourself.
It’s possible to reassure yourself: “I will find love again.” It’s possible to connect to your own strength.
It’s possible to reach within and access some self-love to comfort yourself as you step back.
Remember that the love you felt for your ex remains within you forever. If and/or when you want to, it is possible to draw on those loving memories and be nurtured by them.
If you’re the one in emotional pain, consider taking a step back as well… tending to your emotions, first—before even considering entering the friend zone.
Each former partner would be well-served to grieve their own loss, fully. This may include letting themselves cry. A lot.
If your ex is encouraging a friendship prematurely, consider saying something like, “I need to take some time before even trying to be friends.” If your ex is persistent, you might need to assert something like, “No, not now.” If the next question is, “When?” a possible response might be something like, “I don’t know. But I know I need more time.”
It’s important to not let yourself be manipulated or guilt-tripped into giving up the time that you need to heal… with self-care being a top priority, right now.
On to the final question:
Are there certain situations where it’s not even worth trying?
Here are just a few to consider:
- If there was physical or emotional abuse in a relationship
- If you don’t want your ex to start dating again (that’s not a real friendship)
- If the breakup was because of incompatibility in personalities or worldview (a friendship may be a stretch)
- If one or both former partners aren’t willing to resolve their negative emotions—and if there are jealousy or control issues, or someone’s holding a grudge
- If both former partners are still trying to get over each other (now’s most likely not the time for ongoing contact)
- If the former partners have a pattern of breaking up and then making up… (an opportunity to stop the habitual cycle)
- If an ex is still acting like a boyfriend/girlfriend, but won’t commit (they may be using the other ex until they find something better)
To echo the 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.
- 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.
But since there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this age-old question, each person gets to decide what’s best for them.
A few general tips to reflect on:
- Try not to overthink it.
- Give your motivations and emotions some attention.
- It’s not wise to keep one foot in the past because you’re afraid of the future.
- It’s wise to heal your feelings about the breakup.
With time and lots of self-love, former partners can move forward into whatever future each one desires—with their ex as a friend or not—in wholeness and health.
And eventually… when you’re ready?
Your next great love may just be waiting, as well.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Contact your qualified provider before implementing or modifying any personal growth or wellness program or technique, and with questions about your well-being.
Copyright ©2019 Dr. Suzanne Gelb, Ph.D., JD. All rights reserved.