Learning to get along with an ex can be necessary for mutual friends, children or professional reasons. It’s not easy, but there are some things you can do to more smoothly transition from a breakup to being friends — or civil, at the very least.
Handle the Breakup Properly
Everything starts with the breakup itself. If you aren’t honest and forthcoming about why you’re breaking up, that anger and resentment can fester, making it impossible for you to get along later on. It becomes even less likely if there was some betrayal that was never resolved. If you can behave civilly during the breakup — while still being as honest as possible — then you’ll stand a much better chance at building a friendship later. So don’t neglect this important step in the process.
Spend Time Apart and Adjust to Your New Life
It takes real commitment to make a serious relationship work. Breaking up after that kind of emotional investment always hurts. Before you do anything else, adjust to your new life away from the other person. Give each other time to work through the pain and find out how to live without depending on one another. 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 with a little space first. When you reconnect, it will be a little easier to see yourselves as individuals and not feel responsible for one another, or too affected by one another’s actions.
Put Past Arguments and Negative Feelings Behind You
Most relationships harbour some resentment, and it’s difficult to let that go after it ends. You and your ex won’t soon forget the personal sacrifices you made for one another, or even 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 he or she needs it.
Your ex isn’t going to be a different person when you two reconnect. There will be inevitable triggers that will make you want to rehash old arguments. Remember, now that you’re broken up, it’s time to put past arguments aside.
Offer, But Don’t Force, a Friendship
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 this. Let your ex know you’d like to be friends, and have a friendly attitude to prove 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 will accept your offer. Until then, it’s best to not push it. Continue to be publicly polite, but don’t get personal until your ex is ready.
Respect Your Ex’s New Relationship and Their Decision to Move On
Whether it takes two weeks or two years, seeing your ex with someone else for the first time almost always stings 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 have moved on.
Be honest with yourself about whether you can handle seeing that your ex has moved on, and act accordingly. Dr Nerdlove explains:
…the best thing to do is be honest, with her/him and yourself. If you’re not over them — honestly over them, not “no, I’m totally cool now because I have to be” — then it’s going to be next to impossible to accept that they have moved on. It will hurt too much — the sense of rejection AND the blow to your ego. ESPECIALLY if you only find out because you’ve been Facebook stalking them.
In the early days of trying to rekindle a friendship, it’s ok 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.
If and when you are comfortable with your ex’s new relationship down the line, remember to be civil and friendly with the new partner. They might not want to be your friend (you are their significant other’s ex after all), but being civil with hopes that any negativity or awkwardness will soon blow over is the best thing to do.
Understand That It Might Not Happen
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; it takes two. 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 it’s best to call it what it is and let the idea of a civil or friendly relationship with your ex go. Maybe your ex just needs more time, or maybe you do. Either way, don’t hold onto the idea of something that won’t make you both happy to agree to.