Life is a series of transitions. The kids grow up. We go from applicant to CEO. Our hair changes from spring blonde to autumnal grey. And sometimes, even the most solid relationships come to an end. Nothing in life is constant, including our desires and perspective. As we mature we sometimes see things in a different light and realize that we have started following a different path than we had expected. This can happen in all facets of life, but one of the saddest is when you start to realize that your relationship is not turning out to be the happily ever after you dreamed of.
Sometimes people find that they have changed over time and just are not happy, but a divorce or breakup doesn’t always have to be an acrimonious split. The reality is that sometimes love can change. Even if you and your partner have lost the romantic spark that fueled your relationship, it doesn’t always mean that you have to be rid of them completely. After all, you’ve built a life together and come to rely on each other in ways beyond romance.
While some people prefer to make a clean break after a long relationship, others prefer to remain friends and talk and even visit with one another regularly.
Here are some guidelines to help steer you in the right direction if you decide to remain friends after a break up.
1. Have an honest conversation.
If you have decided to remain friends, it’s important to make sure that you are both on the same page. Once you’ve decided to end the relationship, sit down and have an honest heart-to-heart talk. Is there a future? What do you both want that future to look like? Friendship after a breakup is only possible if that’s what both parties want. You can’t force an ex into being friends. If being friends is not possible, respect the decision and move on.
2. Know the boundaries.
Sometimes being friends after a breakup is easier in theory than it is in practice. That is why it is imperative to set boundaries and stick to them. Will you still feel the warm glow of friendship after the first time you see your ex dating someone new? It’s important to let the past be the past and move forward. You can’t keep rehashing the old arguments that doomed the relationship in the first place. You also can’t cross back over the line and start cuddling, kissing, or even holding hands. Things like that may seem small at the time, but they can lead to confusion and heartache. It’s time to establish a new baseline and not confuse what you have with what you had.
3. Ignore other people who tell you it’s wrong.
People may question your decision to remain friends with your ex, and their concerns may have some validity. After all, they were the ones listening to the late night phone calls and consoling you over the Ben and Jerry’s while you told them how much you hated him. Still, this is a personal decision. You can take their advice into account, but if you think you can still be friends then it’s up to you. Telling those concerned that you can still be friends with your ex is one thing, demonstrating it will be better.
4. Take it slow.
Being friends after a breakup is a little different than going out with the girls or chatting with other acquaintances. Often times it’s faced with trust issues and must be approached slowly. Start with the occasional phone call or email. Once that becomes comfortable, move into face-to-face meetings once in a while for coffee.
5. Be realistic about what’s involved and know that it might not work.
While it’s commendable to try and make it work, the reality is some exes aren’t able to move past the underlying cause of their breakup. Sometimes trying to be friends is really just a mask for not being able to let go. Be willing to put the work into the friendship, but also be realistic and know you both have some obstacles to overcome. If it really is just sad or frustrating to be around your ex, it may be time to say goodbye for real.
The takeaway from all of this is that for some people, it can be possible to be friends after ending a relationship. Sometimes things turn out differently that we thought, but sometimes we get lucky and it ends up being even better than the old way. In fact, many exes who now have strong friendships with each other, will even tell you that breaking up was the best thing to happen to them because they are much happier as friends than they were as lovers.
Editor’s Note: You might find this book by Colin Christopher on emotionally intelligent conversations to be helpful, not only in maintaining a friendship with a former spouse or lover, but all of your relationships with others:
Read more from Colin Cristopher here:
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