Learning to get along with an ex can be necessary if you have mutual friends, children, or for professional reasons. Aside from accommodating others outside the relationship, though, maintaining a positive relationship with an ex could be beneficial to you both, and a mature way to acknowledge that while that person wasn’t the right romantic fit, they’re still someone you value. It’s not easy—and not always appropriate, depending on the reasons for your breakup—but there are some things you can do to more smoothly transition from a breakup to a worthwhile friendship. Or, at the very least, a civil relationship.
A good post-breakup relationship starts with with the breakup itself. Be honest and forthcoming about why you’re breaking up. Unclarity can lead to festering anger and resentment, making it more difficult to be friends—or even remain civil—later on. Of course, this is less likely if there is some betrayal that was never resolved; the assumption here is that there’s an identifiable and irreconcilable difference that makes the relationship untenable for either one or the both of you. If you can balance civility, honesty, and respect in the breakup process, you’ll stand a much better chance at building a friendship after the initial hurt fades. You or your former partner may not agree with the breakup, but if you understand how each other feels, it will help for later when you both have enough emotional distance to begin building a friendship.
It takes commitment to make a serious relationship work, and breaking up after that kind of emotional investment always hurts. Allow yourselves the time to adjust to your new life away from each other. This might mean some time apart and with sparse communication, depending on your needs, as you work through that hurt and piece together your new normal separate from one another. This works best when both you and your ex-partner know what to expect, which means some communication on the front end about what types of communication you’re comfortable with, and at what frequency.
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Eventually, you’ll naturally begin to find your own social circles and build relationships with mutual friends that don’t involve “couple hangouts” and “double dates.” You may even take the time to do things that you always wanted to do, but for whatever reason felt like your previous relationship prevented.
You may even find, after some time apart, that you don’t really want to be friends again—allowing both of you to happily go your separate ways. But if you decide that you want to stay friendly, you’ll be better off getting a little space first. When you reconnect, it’ll be a little easier to see yourselves as individuals and not feel responsible for one another, or too affected by one another’s actions.
This is easier said than done, as most relationships harbor some resentment that can be difficult to let go of soon after the relationship ends. You and your ex won’t soon forget the personal sacrifices you made for one another, or even the minor annoyances you suffered. You may even hold onto grudges from the breakup itself. It’s important to remember that if your goal is to be friendly or civil, you should act accordingly. This could be as simple as a polite greeting when you see one another in public, or offering to help when you hear they need it.
Your ex isn’t going to be a different person when you reconnect. There will be inevitable triggers that will make you want to rehash old arguments. Just remember: Now that you’re broken up, you don’t need to win those battles anymore. If they’re no longer relevant, prioritize your need to get along over your need to let your ex-partner know that you were right.
Even if you want to be friends after your relationship is over, your ex may not—or they may not be ready. Be sensitive to the amount of time it takes for both of you to be comfortable seeing each other moving on with your lives. Let your ex know you’d like to be friends, and have a friendly attitude to show for it, but don’t force it. Brittany Wong at The Huffington Post explains:
You might be down to continue your weekend World of Warcraft PvP battles and taco truck runs a few months into the split, but your ex may not feel the same way. Broach the topic of friendship sensitively, and respect your ex’s decision if he or she admits they’re not ready to be close again.
Unsure how to make your post-split friend request? Here’s the language one Redditor suggested using: “Instead of ending it with a ‘can we be friends?’ it should be more of a door left open: ‘I’d still like to be friends. I’ll be around if you want to, too.’ It’s less of an obligation/pressure and more of a gentle offer.”
If and when your ex is ready, they’ll accept your offer. Until then, it’s best to not push it. Leave the door open, but try to alleviate any pressure your ex might feel about whether and when to walk through it. You each have that individual decision to make, and whatever is decided, respecting that choice bodes well for both the present and a future where that friendship might be possible.
Whether it takes two weeks or two years, seeing your ex with someone else for the first time tends to sting, at least a little. It’s important that you don’t approach your ex about being friends until you’re ready to respect that they’ve moved on. Be honest with yourself about whether you can handle seeing them with another partner, and act accordingly. Dr. Nerdlove, a blogger and dating coach (who is not actually a doctor), explains:
In the early days of trying to rekindle a friendship, it’s okay to not want to know much about your ex’s dating life—just so long as you acknowledge that it exists. Trying to get them to pretend that this side of their life doesn’t exist just to spare your feelings is immature and selfish. You can tell them you’d rather not talk about the new partner (for now) but if you’re going to try to erase them from existing, then you need to put on your grown-up pants and deal with it.
In time, you’ll be more comfortable with your ex’s new relationships. Their new partners might not want to be your friend (you are their significant other’s ex, after all), but being kind will help thwart negativity and mitigate awkwardness.
Sometimes, of course, you just can’t be friends with an ex. The breakup was ugly, the ex’s new love interest is jealous, or you still just can’t seem to get along. The truth is that the dynamic with your ex isn’t completely in your control, and it takes the both of you. If you’ve presented apologies and kindness where they’re due, offered to be friends, and haven’t received any of that in return, then you may need to accept that and let each other go. Maybe your ex just needs more time, or maybe you do. Accepting the chance that you might leave each other’s lives altogether is part of breaking up, too.
This post was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2020 to include additional context and meet Lifehacker style guidelines.