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Who's Most Like to Stay Friends with an Ex, and Why

The friendships may not be high in quality, research warns.

Hans Braxmeier / Pixabay
Source: Hans Braxmeier / Pixabay

One of the most challenging questions faced by ex-paramours is whether to maintain some type of relationship. Obviously, the answer to this question will depend on everything from the reason for the breakup to the prospects of reconciliation. But in working through post-dissolution emotions, one of the most practical questions is whether you are capable of actually being “just friends” with your ex. Research reveals some of the reasons ex-flames might decide to keep the embers warm.

From Romantic to Platonic

Justin K. Mogilski and Lisa L.M. Welling, in a piece entitled “Staying Friends with an Ex,” (2017) investigated the extent to which dark personality traits predict desire for post-relationship friendship.[i] Among other findings, they discovered seven broad reasons that ex-partners decide to remain friends. They report that reasons derived from the belief that an ex-partner is “reliable, trustworthy, and of sentimental value” were rated as most important, while reasons indicating continued friendship was “practical” received the lowest ratings.

Within their results, Mogilski and Welling also found gender differences. In terms of wanting to stay friends with an ex, they report that men ranked reasons related to sexual access and pragmatism as more important than did women. They note that such findings are consistent with prior research, suggesting that post-relationship friendships might allow ex-partners to exchange desirable resources such as information, love, money, or status, after dissolution. It is important for ex-partners to be aware of this range of reasons an ex might want to maintain contact, which might be very different, and less wholesome, than expected.

Regarding the impact of dark personality, Mogilski and Welling note that antagonism-related scores were positively associated with pragmatism, and scores related to honesty/humility were negatively related to sexual access—which they point out is consistent with research indicating that individuals who score higher on measures such as the Dark Triad value short-term mating over long-term mating, place a high value money and power, and tend to be more callous and manipulative. They further note that extraversion, which is linked with facets of dark personality and interest in short-term mating, predicted sexual access and pragmatic motivations.

Friends First and Friends Afterwards

Many teenagers still use the slogan “Friends Forever.” Many of us have old yearbooks filled with signatures bearing this sentiment of ex-classmates we have long forgotten. But there is definitely some truth to the enduring value of friendship—particularly when compared with other types of relationships. So it should not be a surprise that couples who are able to maintain a post-dissolution friendship were likely friends first.

Mogilski and Welling report that, sure enough, ex-partners who were friends first are more likely to be friends afterward. They recognize other factors that may facilitate post-dissolution friendship as including the use of de-escalation tactics, when the relationship included romantic commitment or satisfaction, or when an ex-partner is still viewed as desirable. On the other hand, they recognize potential barriers to post-relationship friendships as including lack of support by friends and family, neglect or avoidance, as well as a partner's new romantic involvement.

Mogilski and Welling note that these findings demonstrate that in terms of preservation and dissolution, post-romance friendships function much the same way as platonic friendships, depending on friendship value and relational maintenance. They note that being friends with an ex also resembles a platonic friendship in the sense that it might include continued romantic interest, because previous romantic involvement can be a predictor of sexual attraction within platonic relationships. They further note that ex-romantic partners are scored low on friendship quality although high on romantic desirability, as compared to friends with whom one has had no romantic history.

Keeping Eyes on the Road, Not the Rear-View Mirror

For many ex-couples, moving forward relationally is emotionally easier than looking back. After all, ex-partners are exactly that for a reason. Although there will always be exceptions, in most cases, individuals who move forward with less emotional baggage are better equipped to embark on a new journey with a new partner, with whom they will make new memories. Healthy, quality relationships include trust, respect, love, and a willingness to focus on the future.

Facebook image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock


[i] Mogilski, Justin K., and Lisa L.M. Welling. 2017. “Staying Friends with an Ex: Sex and Dark Personality Traits Predict Motivations for Post-Relationship Friendship.” Personality and Individual Differences 115 (September): 114–19. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.016.