Is it possible to be friends with an ex? : NPR

If you want to stay in touch with an ex, figuring out the post-breakup dynamic requires introspection and communication.

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When a romantic relationship ends, it can feel like a total loss. How do you go from being an important person in someone's life to a complete stranger?

Experts say it doesn't have to be all or nothing. If your relationship was healthy and ended on good terms, it is possible to remain friends, acquaintances, or somewhere in between. (However, if you have been abused or felt unsafe in your relationship, keep your distance.)

“There can be reasons to be kind even if you're not emotionally in a place where you can authentically dive headfirst into a full-fledged friendship,” says psychologist Marisa Francoauthor of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make and Keep Friends.

To figure out your post-breakup dynamic, 'really check in with yourself' about what you want the next phase of your relationship to look like, says therapist Xavier Patschkea psychotherapist at the Gender and Sexuality Therapy Center in New York.

Patschke and Franco share three questions to ask yourself before building a platonic bond with a former romantic partner.

Question 1: Why do I want to keep in touch with my ex?

There are many practical reasons why former partners choose to stay in each other's lives, Franco and Patschke say. You may share children or pets and need to maintain a civil relationship. Maybe you're part of the same group of friends or small community and you know you'll bump into each other. Or maybe you were friends before you started dating and want to continue that friendship.

Whatever the reason, be honest about your intentions. “You may realize that you don't actually want to be friends with them because, platonically, they don't resemble the people you often want in your life,” says Franco.

Question 2: Am I in a healthy place to stay in touch with my ex?

If you're reaching out to your ex because you still long for him or her and hope to get back together, “wait for those feelings to go away,” says Franco.

The same goes if you're struggling to accept the breakup and feel desperate to keep your ex-partner in your life, she says. You don't want to view friendship as a consolation prize.

Franco knows that's easier said than done. “It can feel like such a loss [for a partner] to go from being one of the closest people in the world to not talking to them at all.

But remember: It can be harder to get over your ex if you stay friends, This is evident from a study into friendships after a breakup. “You're more likely to desire your ex romantically, and they're more likely to desire you,” says Franco.

So make sure you're both ready for that next step. You know you've reached an appropriate level of emotional distance if you want your ex to be happy, regardless of whether or not you're involved in their life, says Franco.

Question 3: What do I want a platonic relationship with my ex to look like?

There are a range of possibilities, says Franco. Do you want a close friendship where you ask each other for dating advice? Does an occasional check-in feel more appropriate? Or do you just remain polite when you meet each other unexpectedly?

If there is a discrepancy between what you both want, respect the boundaries of the person who wants less intimacy. Just like in a romantic relationship, you can't force a connection.

And if you're not sure what's appropriate, you can try different levels of friendship. “It's okay if the boundary starts at, 'I don't know if I want to hear about your future dates,'” says Patschke. “But we'll give it a try and then we'll check back in.” “

“The nice thing about being friends with anyone, including your ex, is that you can decide how close you want the friendship to be,” says Franco. “It's not like romantic relationships where it's all or nothing.”

We want to hear from you: Are you still friends with your ex?

How did you and your ex handle your relationship after the breakup? Tell us how you came to your decision and now describe your relationship. Send an email to lifekit@npr.org with your first and last name and we may include your response in a story on NPR.org

This story was edited by Malaka Gharib. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. We would love to hear from you. Leave a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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