2015 was a big year for me. With the help of my therapist, I vowed to open up all the closed doors in my life and get the skeletons out of the closet, which translated into me making peace with every single one of my exes. Here’s what happened when I did.
Spoiler alert: It went surprisingly well. Through the marvelous wonder that is Facebook, I was able to fairly easily get back in touch with most of the men I’d had relationships with in the past. Some making amends required more care than others — like an apology or clearing of the air — while other contacts were a simple hello, along with a “How are you? It’s been a long time! Hope life is treating you well.”
And did I mention that I’m married? At first I thought (and was told by many friends) that my husband deserved a lot of credit for "letting me" take on this ex-revival project, and he does. But the more I read about it, and the more I invested in my personal growth throughout the process, the more I realized that there was nothing weird about what I was doing at all. Even in a long-term committed relationship like a marriage, many people argue that staying friends with an ex is a healthy sign — because the feelings are no longer there. And for me, it was a wonderful form of closure to be able to reach out and experience the same connection I once shared with people from the past, transformed into a present-day friendship.
Being friends with an ex may not be for everyone, although a 2014 YourTango survey shows that at least 49 percent of people think it’s possible to maintain a friendship after a breakup. If you fall into this large minority, you’re in luck — there are more than a few benefits of doing the hard work to turn an old flame into a friend:
If you’re living in the same town, or still sharing the same social circle, the odds are that a run-in is going to happen in a few months or years down the road. Just think how much better you’ll feel when you can give your ex a friendly hug without a second thought (or a few weeks of ugly crying to follow). When children are in the picture, this friendliness becomes even more critical, says Anne P. Mitchell, attorney and author of They're Your Kids Too: The Single Father's Guide, since you’re likely to bump into your ex many times over the next 18 years. “Being able to be friends with your ex means never having to experience that knot in your stomach, or that lump in your throat, whenever you are going to see them at family and other get-togethers,” Mitchell says.
Befriending an ex when you have children together isn’t just about minimizing weirdness — it’s about making the entire experience more beneficial for your kids. “If your ex is the parent of your child or children, it's even more important to be able to be friends with your ex, and to set that example for your children. Children need to know that it's OK to love and have a relationship with both parents, and you being friends with your ex is the best way to let your children know that it's OK,” Mitchell explains. “We all know adult children of divorce who have been scarred by ‘how my parents hated each other, and what they said about each other to us.’”
According to Mitchell, there’s one more big benefit of staying friends with an ex when there are children involved. Even when an ex is not the mother or father of your kids, the same rule applies: The example you set for your children on how to handle a breakup or divorce is going to teach them how to handle their own inevitable breakups (and possible divorces) in the future. Mitchell says, “Given the current statistics, the odds are very good that your children will go through at least one divorce — how you treat and get along with your ex is setting the example for your own children of how to be in divorce.”
This one may be obvious, but it’s certainly not as easy as it sounds. As the argument goes, you probably started dating your ex for a reason — many times, the best relationships begin with a friendship or a common interest. Just because you are no longer romantically involved doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to enjoy each other as friends. Right? While it does take time to heal all wounds, I’ve had the most success in befriending my exes when I viewed the new friendship as a platonic continuation of the connection we once shared.
Back to the part about where befriending an ex, while noble, isn’t necessarily easy: Chris Armstrong, relationship coach and owner of Maze of Love, says that if you are willing to take the plunge and do the hard work to forge a friendship with a former love, “your relationship skills in a broad sense will blossom.” Armstrong continues, “It is easy to move on and leave your ex in the dust with no chance of being friends. It's not messy, it's not complicated, it's just nothing. The problem with this blunt mentality is that you're not learning things like how to balance your head and your heart. I had a client who told me that she would never see or talk to her ex-boyfriend again because she was worried she'd want to have sex with him, even though she knew there was absolutely no intellectual and emotional intimacy possible. That was her easy way out.”
“If we decide to stay friends with our ex, it may be awkward for a bit, and it may be appealing to revert back to flirting and potentially even sex. But what do we learn about others and how we are growing as people if we don't challenge our impulses or develop an ability to get along with and be able to communicate with people when there may be some (initially) lingering thoughts?” Armstrong says.
If there’s any silver lining to staying friends with an ex, it’s this: A former partner most likely knows you in a way that most of your friends and family don’t. When it comes to moving forward and starting a new relationship, which is highly recommended to keep an ex in the “friend zone” where they belong, your ex-partner may be able to give you some of the best and most insightful relationship advice. Armstrong explains, “I love the idea of someone I've dated being able to tell me what my blind spots are and how to improve as a partner. I also love getting some of the ego stroking when I'm feeling down, and I'm losing confidence in my ability to find someone new. Jennie reminding me of my killer sense of humor and presence in a room of people is a nice confidence boost. Why would I want to lose that?”
Laura Yates, a relationship coach who specializes in breakups, agrees, “If the friendship is 100 percent genuine from both sides, you can also get some insight on how to approach future relationships or dating situations! Your ex will probably feel able to give you an honest opinion but in a sensitive way — or at least in a way that they know you’ll be able to handle.”
Finally, finally, finally, we come to the heart of the matter. Depending on how the relationship ended and how much time has passed (waiting for at least a few months after a breakup is recommended), extending the olive branch to an ex may be enough to help you get over them for good. After all, says Yates, a healthy friendship between exes can often be the sign of closure in a relationship and a foundation of maturity for relationships to come. Yates explains, “It also suggests that the two of you might be much better off as friends instead of romantic partners if platonic friendship is what is 100 percent wanted from both sides. So ultimately, you’ve gained a great friend!”
If closure is the Holy Grail of befriending an ex, then minimizing fallout for those around you is the icing on the cake. “You and your ex likely have other friends that do not deserve to be collateral damage,” Armstrong says. If you’re able to move through your tough post-breakup feelings and preserve even a shred of friendship with an ex, you might have a fighting chance of maintaining a mutual friend group without forcing friends to pick sides.
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