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Can You Remain Friends With Your Ex?

Maybe I should ask, "Can you?" I usually can, because it's important to me.

That’s a question I am asked frequently, and the answer, like most questions about human relationships, is, of course, “it depends.” If one of you two is feeling angry, used, betrayed, or jilted, then probably not, or at least not right away. The person who was left is likely to feel unfinished with the relationship and any or many of the other feelings above. The person who broke it off may feel guilty, exasperated, angry, or just fed up. None of these are good ingredients for a friendship.

But what if the breakup is mutual or appears to be mutual? (Often, what looks like a mutual decision isn’t. One person has been coaxed or brow-beaten or in some way backed into a situation s/he really doesn’t want but sees no exit from, other than a graceful acceptance of the end.)

So here we have two people who once loved each other, played a significant part in the other’s life. That could be anything from a best friend to a co-renter or mortgager to a co-parent. You ate at each other’s family’s home, you planned vacations together, you shared a circle of friends and maybe ownership of a beloved pet. Can you really say goodbye and never look back on what you had together?

I know I personally never could. If ever I loved someone (and this goes back over 60 years ago to my first love at 14!), somewhere in my heart, I love them still. If I have a chance to connect with them, I will. If he does the reaching out, I respond, or if something makes me think of him, I may drop a “Hello, I’m thinking of you” line or an email.

I am always happy to hear from or about someone I loved, and I always wish them well, even if I was the one who was dumped. Yes, there may be a period of hurt and anger, but that does go away, and when it does, I will reach out in the hope of a fond friendship. That’s me. What about you? Could you still find affection and warmth in your heart for what you did share and forgive the less-than-ideal way things may have ended?

Another issue here that might stand in the way of exes being friends is jealousy—that of your new partner and that of your ex’s partner. If any such renewed friendship causes tension or upset in the new relationship, some decisions have to be made. The rekindled friendship (not love affair) can be postponed, the present relationship can be broken off (controlling jealousy is an excellent reason), or with careful nurturing, the two dear people—your present partner and your ex—can learn to be sociable.

So it may come as no surprise that anything can be possible in human relationships, depending on the wants and abilities of the parties involved. I always want to stay connected to those I have loved. You may believe, “Done is done.” I do not tolerate jealousy, nor am I a jealous person.

How are you about jealousy? I believe that people who may have slept together can still care about one another without a sexual element to their present friendship. That may not be your belief or experience.

Back to the initial question: Can exes be friends? The real question for you would be: Can you and your ex be friends? If you want to, I sincerely hope so.

More from Isadora Alman MFT, CST
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