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Is It a Good Idea to Remain Friends After a Breakup?

4 common motivations, and 3 factors for success.

Key points

  • Breakups are usually painful, and many couples propose downshifting to a friend relationship.
  • These are often difficult transitions. It helps to know at the start what you each are looking for and expecting.
  • As in other aspects of any relationship, the starting point is honesty—with yourself, and with the other.
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Sally and Ben just broke up. Actually, Sally broke up with Ben. She felt they were not compatible as a long-term couple, but she suggested to him that they could possibly shift down to a friendship. Often these transitions can be tricky, and to make the shift successfully, it helps to figure out the underlying driver. Here are some of the common ones; see what may be motivating you.

You share a lot of common interests. While Sally may not have felt that there was a lot of emotional/sexual chemistry between them, they shared the same interest in hiking and music. Most of all, they thought the same way: Their stimulating discussions left her...stimulated.

Friends with benefits. Perhaps they didn't click on many levels but the sexual chemistry and action were unbelievable. Though other aspects of their relationships weren't going to work, she's reluctant to give up what did.

You feel guilty about the breakup. Ben's a nice guy; they do have a few things in common. Sally feels terrible about dumping him. Rather than just cutting it off and breaking his heart, she suggests the downshift.

You're ambivalent. Sally's really not sure how she feels. Maybe she has to give it more time, get to know him better. The friendship status will slow the pace and help her see if something really might evolve.

Be clear about your goals and drivers

Guilt. This is about being honest with yourself and honest with the other person. If this is about guilt, keeping the relationship going might work for a while but is merely a slow death. Ultimately resolving the guilt is about getting closure. Rather than stringing Ben along, Sally needs to say that she feels terrible about the breakup, why she feels it's not going to work, listen compassionately to what he has to say, but hold her ground and wish him the best.

Ambivalence. Again, it's about honesty. Does she want to invest more time in this relationship to see if it will change? If so, what has to change? Here she needs to be clear about what she doesn't like, and what she is looking for. Say it, see how Ben responds, and see what he needs. This is about tweaking the relationship to see if it can be better. If they continue what they're doing with no changes in behavior, Sally isn't likely to get the information she needs to make up her mind.

Benefits and rules of engagement. If Sally wants to keep those intellectual conversations going or wants to keep a sexual relationship going but not much more, she needs to be clear about this. If she is clear, Ben will be clear—yes, he feels the same way and is willing to limit his expectations, or no, he is not. They both won't know what works until she speaks up.

And once she does, and he responds, they next need to work out the details: Do they send a text about a possible hookup when each feels like it? Do they decide to call or meet for coffee once a week to talk and share ideas? What does this look like, and what is the ideal for each of them? Get the details on the table and then negotiate.

Stepping down from lovers to friends can be challenging but doable. It's about being clear about expectations and goals, about honesty and consideration—saying what you want, and considering what the other wants without sending mixed, confusing messages.

Facebook image: GalacticDreamer/Shutterstock

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