Monday July 28th 2014

Is Friendship With My Ex a Mistake?

Question: I was with my ex for 4 years and broke up 8 months ago. He’s my best friend and knows me better than anybody else. I don’t feel like I have to impress him. We broke up because we had different thoughts and opinions on life, religion, politics, etc. Sometimes we would argue and neither of us would give in. Everything else about our relationship was working really well. The breakup hurt both of us deeply but our differences were too much.  We both felt it was the right thing to do because we didn’t want to end up hating each other. We made a pact that we would remain friends no matter what. I’m dating someone else, and so is he. We talk to each other everyday and we both enjoy each other’s company. The thing is… I still get butterflies when I see him. He just has that effect on me. Other than the occasional hi and bye hug, we’ve not been physically intimate since the break up. He is and has been a great big part of my life, I do not want to lose the friendship we have. Am I making a mistake keeping close contact with him?

The Love Doctor’s Answer: First of all, congratulations for the level of maturity the two of you have shown. It’s not always that two people recognize that the end of a romantic relationship doesn’t have to be the begining of nastiness or disrespect and hate for the person one once claimed to love.

That said, friendship with an ex can be difficult to maintain when one still feeling butterflies at the sight of an ex. Whether or not it’s a mistake keeping in close contact with your ex depends on what you do with those feelings.

From personal experience and from years of experience working with hundreds of men and women going through similar situations, over time, you get past the butterflies feeling. It doesn’t mean those feelings will be replaced with bad feelings but that those feelings change and what is left is a lasting friendship based on deep respect and appreciation. You may even find that your lives just move in different directions but the good memories remain.

That’s just one scenario. It’s also possible that those feelings may be brought to the surface more and more often and can ruin the “friends” portion of the arrangement. I’ve seen some people try to do the friends with benefits thing as away to deal with the left over strong feelings of sexual attraction, but almost always someone ends up getting hurt when the other person moves on.

The third scenario is that the two of you might be realizing that what you have is so much stronger than the differences that drew you apart in the first place. But this is where you have to be really honest with yourself. Do you want him back? What has changed in regard to your differences? What makes you think that it’ll work this time?  But more importantly, does he want you back?

Talk to your ex about what’s really going on. Given what you say about your friendship, only good can come out of an open discussion on your true feelings for each other.  A good talk will help both of you decide on the right and necessarily thing to do in the best interest of the other.

If you decide that creating some distance between the two of you is the best thing to do, then make sure you agree on exactly how much contact is healthy at this time or in the future. You have experience working together and it shouldn’t be too hard given the strength of your friendship.

No one rules works for all, you have to find what works for the two of you.

Recommended Articles:
Breaking Up – Is It Better To Completely Severe Ties Or Try To Be Friends?

Readers' Questions and The Love Doctor's Answers...

57 Responses to “Is Friendship With My Ex a Mistake?”

  1. Kathy says:

    I think it’s impossible to be friends with an Ex. I have never remained friends with any of my Exs.

  2. sexpotusa says:

    i tried being friends with an ex once and it did not work at all. exs are exs for a reason.

  3. Kathy and sexpotus, that is your experience and you probably have good reasons for thinking the way you do. Some exs can’t be friends and others shouldn’t be, especailly if the chemistry is toxic. Every relationship however, is different. A lot depends on the type of relationship and the two people involved.

  4. Cheryl says:

    I’m going through a very recent break up. I‘m hurting so badly partly because ex says we can’t be friends because he’s hurting. I want us to become friends and may be we can work things out slowly. I really don’t want him out of my life. Should I continue trying to be his friend or just give up?

  5. Ending a relationship hurts no matter who ends it. Give him his time to get over his hurt and come around on his own. You can’t force a friendship and trying so hard to be his friend will only make him angry. All you can at this point do is let him know that in spite and despite of what happened, you as a person can be counted on as a friend. As he nurses his hurt, keep busy enjoying your separate life. The last thing you want is for him to think is that you are waiting at his beck and call.

  6. Teddy says:

    I think that she really doesn’t want us to be friends and only said it because it’s what people say when they are breaking up with somebody.

  7. There are several reasons as to why someone will say “let’s be friends” when they break up with you.
    1) He/she feels guilt for breaking up with you
    2) He/she is trying to be kind and thinks sh/e is helping you through the pain of the breakup
    3) He/she wants to keep you as a backup plan for when s/he’s feeling lonely or horny
    4) He/she does not want you out of her/his life but does not want you as a lover either
    5) He/she hopes that the two of you will someday get back together and friendship is the bridge to that.

    Without knowing exactly what she said or did to make you feel that she really doesn’t want to be friends, it’s hard to tell which is which.

  8. Melo says:

    I was with my ex for 4 yrs and then i left him he was just going out and having fun and i guess he was not ready to be with me anymore well its been 3 years without being with him and ever since me and him left each other he always comes back to me somehow i got tired of that he was just playing games with me .so i got with someone else and i been with him for the past 2 yrs and we have a beautiful little girl that i love so much. Some how ex came back to my life and idk what to do i still love him and i think i will always will love him but the point is that i have a family know and he also has a family but i try to forget about him but somehow he always in my life idk what to do?

  9. I think the problem is more with you than it is with your ex. That’s WHO you need to do something about first and foremost. Make up your mind on what is most important to you – a man who wants to be with you and a beautiful little girl or an ex who plays games with you? Secondly, accept that you may always have those feelings of love for your ex but just because you still love him does not mean you have to have a relationship (and from what you say, a toxic relationship one) with him. Thirdly, if having him in your life interferes with your ability to enjoy the stable and happy life you now have with your family, then tell him you can’t have him in your life. Say it like you mean it and follow through. Like I said, this is not about your ex always coming back into your life, this is about you always letting your ex back into you life!

  10. Alejna says:

    He says he wants to be friends for right now and that there is a chance we might get back together in the future. We hang out every once in a while but he is usually too busy working or hanging out with his friends. How can we get back together when we barely spend time together? I am just so confused about the whole thing.

  11. If being friends for a while will increase your chances of getting back together then don’t blow it. However, if there seems to be nothing that actually shows that he’s even trying to be a friend, then you need to raise this with him. Not about “getting back together” but about the two of you spending more time together. His response will tell you if you really have a chance of getting back together or he’s just stringing you along – for whatever reaosns.

  12. Dehu says:

    I bought your eBook because my ex has said he is not ready to come back but wants a close friendship (not sexual). Recently I have not contacted him on and off and have pulled back and I know he misses me. I want to stay close friends with him and get him back someday but wonder if it is worth trying to talk through the hurtful things he said to me after we broke up.

  13. I don’t think bringing that up will help you at all. You already said you have communication problems, I think that it may just create more tension and your ex may even decide that close friendship is not possible. So let it slide — for now. Focus more on creating positive feelings and emotions and memories and if you do this well, the rest will take care of itself — naturally. When you do this really well — and I wrote it in my e-Book– you will just know when it’s time to bring up the topic of getting back together. You may even find that he is the one who will bring it up.

    Just don’t give up if you still have a chance.

  14. Scott says:

    My Girlfried and I broke up about two months ago but we still talk and hang out a bit. I am still crazy for her and would do anything to get her back. Is it a good idea to keep hanging out or should I just kinda move on. Also how do I no if she regains feelings for me?

  15. Cory says:

    My ex wants us to remain friends and I find it disturbing that I should not be able to understand it. My brother and his ex consider each other friends and I know they genuinely care for each other as friends but I can’t seem to get to that point with my ex.

  16. This could be because you still want her as your girlfriend and not friend. Until you reach that point where you “let go” hoping there will be a relationship of more than friends, it’ll be hard to get to being friends. Best advice is 1) be honest with your ex, friendship may be possible in the future, but right now you just can’t do it and 2) don’t try too hard to be her friend. Friendships are best when they just happen naturally.

  17. Zoey says:

    Do I have to be friendly to my ex?

  18. You don’t “have to” do anything you don’t want to do. But if you want a chance at getting back together, a friendly attitude goes a long way. You can’t be unfriendly to someone and expect them to fall back in love with you.

    Remember being friendly is not the same as being “just a friend”. The former is about a way of behaving and the later is a title — which if not clearly defined from the beginning might later prove to be hard to shake off.

  19. Monica says:

    Friends with an ex (cough) seems like an oxymoron — two people who can’t stand each other ending up friends. I just can’t understand it. “Civil” is about all I can be with my exes. My belief is that when the “together” time is up, both people should move on.

  20. Elisa says:

    There is no shame in loving someone and admitting that you still love them but not in the same way as before. My ex and I were together for 5 years, and lived together the 2 years we were engaged. We both realized that even though we loved each other and were great as friends we just couldn’t live together. 6 months after our breakup I was diagnosed with cancer, my ex was there with me through the whole journey. He will always remain my best friend.

  21. Elisa, it’s so touching that your ex was there for you when you needed a friend. As the saying goes, “a friend in need, is a friend indeed.” It is a shame when two people share so much joy and happiness, only to treat other as enemies or cut all ties afterwards.

    Wishing you the best of health — and a joy-love-filled life. You deserve it.

  22. Elisa says:

    Thank you Yangki. I’m cancer free, and have been for over a year. I’m dating someone new and so is my ex, and the four of us are good friends. I was lucky to meet someone who also is friends with his ex, so he understands our (my ex and I) friendship and I understand his too. We have our ups and down just like all new relationships and that’s why I’m on your blog, but we love each other and trying to build the most loving relationship we can possible have. I believe when we allow love to be at the centre of our life, that love comes back to us manyfold.

  23. Cancer free — those are beautiful words! And even though I’m a stranger to you, I’ve very happy for you!

    I too believe that when we’re love-filled, love fills our lives in ways we can’t even begin to count. You’re living proof…(:

  24. Kaysee says:

    The answer to “Is friendship with your ex a mistake?” is YES. It is too complex and just doesn’t work. I’ve never seen it work with anyone I know because it is not possible. Most people just want to move on and have nothing to do with their ex and that’s how it should be. As much as it hurts not being with that person, it is better in the long run. Do not fool yourselves.

  25. It depends on each individual relationship. If the relationship was based on a strong friendship to start with, being friends with an ex after some reasonable amount of time almost happens naturally as long as both individuals are honest about the situation. If on the other hand, the relationship was just romantic and you weren’t friends to begin with, or hadn’t been together long enough to build a strong friendship, becoming friends after a break up will be very hard.

    The problem is that most people don’t really ever try to work on being friends with the person they are dating. Everyone is rushing to “romance” and when that’s over. Nothing is left.

  26. Nina says:

    Your website is so helpful and spreads such a positive message. My ex broke up with me two months ago after 5 years. I still loved him but he says for the moment we can only be friends to see if we got anything left. I hope one day he realizes that what we got is so much more valuable.

    Thank you for helping those of us out here who need your encouraging words.

  27. Tate says:

    I’m friends with all my exes except those that don’t want to be friends. The western consumer mentality has made it easy for people to also be disposable. I personally believe this has it’s tragedies and like many things will come back to haunt our society. It’s already happening with hit and run marriages. No desire to work on relationships, just dispose of it and get another one. We are creating a society of emotionally shallow men and women, no depth at all.

  28. “…hit and run marriages“. That’s a gem right there!… (:

    I hate to admit it, but you are right about consumer mentality. Sad though…

  29. Iris says:

    It’d be nice to remain friends with my ex and I’m happy for those people who can do it. But for me, but I have to break the ties with him or I will never be able to move on. I know this is what is best because I can’t move on with my life until I am free of the connection to that old part of my life.

  30. Recognizing your OWN limits and acting on your deepest conviction without necessarily blaming others for acting on theirs, is very admirable. You’ll do just fine… (:

  31. Nabis says:

    My ex doesn’t want to be friends and says he can’t even stand to be in the same room as me. I’m not a bad person, I was just very upset and acted very badly when we broke up but I have apologized and he still will not forgive me. I have dated other guys but this is the only guy who treated me like a queen. Do you think that if I let time pass, not bother him, later he and I can be friends even if we can’t be together. He is friends with all his exes, so he has a history of not burning bridges.

  32. I don’t know if you will become friends down the road. Based on your comment, it looks like his impression of you right now is that of the “crazy ex-girlfriend”. If down the road that impression changes, then may be there is a possiblity that you will become friends. I just can’t say with 100% certainty, yes or no!

    I think though desperately trying to prove to him that you are not a bad person will not help. If he wants nothing to do with you, respect that, it might just well be what will prove to him that you are not as bad as he originally thought.

  33. Sandy says:

    We’ve had a sort of on again off again relationship with my ex. We both have many issues but we always got back together a week or so after breaking up. This it has taken 2 months because we agreed that we do not want the same old relationship. I know you wrote that it’s best to start as if you were starting a new relationship with your ex. Our relationship started with a lot of passion and sex, we never really spent time as “friends”. We both are doing our best to not try to make it all about sex and spending time just doing every day things together. It will be interesting to see how things turn out this time.

  34. A good friendship is a strong foundation for a lasting relationship. When the passion is down, you’ll always have the friendship to weather you through until the passion is back up. Also there is that “companionship” elements added to the relationship because you can just be content in each other’s company without feeling that you have to “do” something to entertain or make the other feel “happy”. Less stress…

    I pray and hope it works out for the two of you…

  35. Sandy says:

    Thanks Yangki. I’ll be signing up for coaching with you soon. There are private things I need to talk to you about because I believe you are the best person who can help me. You have helped me a lot already, more than you even know.

  36. Lia says:

    Mature and straight up advice. I may be having a hard time accepting that it’s over with my ex. We broke up end September last year, and had no contact until December. he texted me wishing me a merry x-man and happy new year. I texted back wishing him the same. After new year’s he texted me again saying he missed me. I texted bakc but did not say I missed him. He texted asking if I missed him and I said yes. Never heard from him for 2 weeks. Then another text saying he missed me very much. This has been going on for 3 months. When I don’t contact him and try to move on, he starts texting and emailing me constantly telling me how much he misses me but when I respond, he stops. I know he isn’t with someone new, I just don’t understand his actions. What should I do?

  37. Betty says:

    Thank you for your insight. You are right, I don’t want to accept it. I feel like the distance is a disadvantage to me and I can’t do anything about it. I really feel that if we were in the same place this wouldnt be happening. I know you said keeping some communication keeps options open for the future, but I can’t tell if I want him back or if he will ever go back to being himself.

  38. That makes two of us. I can’t tell either if you want him back…. (:

    I can tell one thing for sure, if his life is better now (career doing well and he’s happier), he will never go back to being who you want him to be. Why should he? That’d be stupid!

    Distance may be a disadvantage but I doubt it’s the main reason you are not together. If someone loves you and wants you, distance is just logistics.

    In my blog I try to keep my answers specific to the situation of the person asking. In those situations where you’ve read me say “keep options open for the future”, there could be something about the situation that says there is hope for a romantic relationship in the future. I don’t know the details of your situation (please, this is not a request for you to provide details, I don’t have that kind of time…)

    I hope you are not planning on moving thinking he’ll want you because you closed the distance. I’ve known so many people who do it and still their ex doesn’t want them.

  39. Response to Lia,

    Either your ex is playing a mind game or just doesn’t know how to tell you he still has feelings for you. Next time he contacts you, just be bold and tell him you don’t understand his actions and would really like an explanation. Tell him you hope he will understand if you stop responding because things can’t just go on like this… then see what he says.

    If it’s a mind game he is playing, he’ll probably continue doing it because he thinks it’s making him more attractive (yeah… !?). If this is his way of trying to tell you how he really feels, he may stumble a bit in explaining himself, but will change his approach because he knows it’ll hurt his chances.

  40. Nanet says:

    If you are good friends during the relationship, I think it would be a shame to lose a good friend just because the relationship part didn’t work out.

  41. CeeKay says:

    I think the key to staying friends with an ex is to just be as honest and up front. Do not pretend that you don’t have a history and if she has a boyfriend or you have a girlfriend make sure that everyone involved is comfortable with the situation.

  42. Arnes says:

    Staying friends is much more painful and pointless. My ex of 4 years broke up with me because we fight a lot. After begging and pleading with her for 2 weeks I explained to her that I no longer had any intentions of trying to get back with her. I also deleted pictures we had together on facebook and untagged myself in quite a few of them. She has not deleted me or any of our pics off facebook. She’s reached out to me a few times but I don’t return her calls or texts. She has to make up her mind if she wants to be with me or not.

  43. Believe it or not, I agree with you. Not much will come out of staying in contact or being friends when you can’t even handle a facebook relationship.

    You probably meant to show emotional strength saying you deleted pictures of the two of you together, untagged yourself and won’t return her calls or texts. In another forum you will get a pat on the back…but at a closer look, your reactions say that you need some “growing” to do to get to that emotional place where you are able to separate how you feel from what you want or is good for the relationship.

    Right now, how you feel dictates your reactions which in turn create your experiences. You obviously aren’t thinking about how what you are doing is detrimental to the relationship, in the long term.

  44. Keith says:

    My ex really wanted to be friends. She said she cared about me and enjoyed my company and that I was a great person. I was still too hurt over the breakup and told her I needed to heal and get over her. Being “friends” would keep me from moving on because I would be hoping for a reconciliation. She said she understood and she wanted me to feel free to contact her when I was ready. 3 months later, I was feeling better and myself again, and contacted her. She was happy to hear from me. We’ve been in contact for a little over 3 weeks. The conversations are nice and all, but I get really angry when she says she’s happy we are friends. I’m still in love with her and don’t want her thinking of me as a friend.

  45. You can’t blame her for thinking that you are now just friends. You set her up to it by telling her you needed time to “get over” her. She now believes that you are “over her” and ready to be just friends, otherwise you would not have contacted her.

    Instead of getting angry, see if you can use this as an opportunity to re-acquaint yourself and get her interested in you again.

  46. Keith says:

    She has a boyfriend but says we can still be friends, he is okay with it. What are the chances that she’ll be interested in a relationship with me?

  47. Ummm… tough. The boyfriend complicates things. This is where you have to decide if 1) you want to be just her friend and wait out until their relationship ends, or 2) if it hurts too much being friends — and move on.

    Only you can make that decision.

  48. Drew says:

    My soon to be ex wants to just be friends. She says she’s not romantically interested in me and there’s no attraction left. She sees me as a brother. It would be nice to be friends, but it’s hard when you’ve been together for 2 1/2 years to go back to being just friends. Do you think I should just try and may be she’ll be attracted to me again? We don’t speak to each other that much and when we do, we do not speak about the relationship. She says it makes her feel bad for me. Your thoughts?

  49. If all she sees in you is a “brother”, it’s going to be an uphill battle getting her to see you in a sexual way again. I’m not saying impossible, just a lot harder.

    You can always try if you feel that you in an emotional place to be able to do it.

  50. hot&cute says:

    For those who say they can be friends with their ex, I have a question for you, could you be truly happy for your ex if they got into a new relationship?

  51. I know that the question is not directed at me specifically, but since I also believe that exes can be friends, and have personal experience, the answer is YES!

    I had an ex I was “engaged” to but because of my CP, I messed him around quite a bit, and he finally dumped me. We kept in contact, him wanting to know how I was doing and vice versa. Within a year or so he announced he was getting married. Although I still had feelings for him, I was actually happy that he had met someone who made him happier than I could ever have. He is a great guy and deserved to be happy. Once in a while we still talk about how everything turned out the best for both of us. I even thanked him for dumping me because it prompted me to work on myself.

    If you look at a relationship as an experience in the “journey of love”, instead of thinking of it as having found someone who is “yours” (to keep, own, posses, control or manipulate like you do with a pet), it’s much easier to “release” your companion on that journey when the time comes, and to be happy for them when they find someone else to walk that journey with.

    As I’ve mentioned here a few times, the funny thing about love is that, the more you give away, the more you have.

  52. Vierna says:

    It took me until I was 48 years old to understand that relationships are “a journey of love” and that when the time comes one releases a companion on that journey. For me the “releasing” was hard because I lost my sense of self-worth in my marriage. And although I knew the relationship would probably end, the end still destroyed me. I was so lost without him, but he didn’t want me and there was nothing I could do about it. I recently started dating again after 4 years of traveling solo. He is totally awesome, but if this journey with him ended, I wouldn’t be so lost, and would be open to a friendship if it came to that. I am very much my own person now.

  53. Tom says:

    Yangki, have you heard of the book called ####?
    I’d love to know your thoughts on it. I bought your “dating your ex ebook” and I’m trying to ignite a spark but according to this other “expert” advice it purports the idea that “women don’t lie and men don’t listen”, and that once a women says the “friend” word, it will always be just that.

  54. What does real life experience tell you about “women don’t lie and men don’t listen”? If you have met women who’ve lied/lie and know men who listen, then there you have your answer.

    If you noticed, I didn’t answer your questions. Reason being you were not asking for my advice (which is what this site is for), but asking me about someone else’s advice, something you should be asking them to explain because they are the ones who made those statements.

  55. Alex says:

    My ex and I agreed that we’d remain friends but it’s getting harder and harder for me when she tells me what a wonderful date she had. I don’t think she’s intentionally trying to hurt me, she’s not like that. I just think she does not realize how much it hurts hearing her talk about other guys. t hurts like hell seeing that she has moved on when I’m still not completely over her.

  56. Your ex sounds like a caring person, so why not just be honest and tell her that you want to be happy for her, but you’re human and it hurts to hear her talk about other guys. If you don’t speak up she might think you’re okay with it. You on the other hand will be stewing with hurt and anger until one day you just can’t take it anymore and blow up. Talking calmly about what is bothering you keeps you in control of your emotions and gets you a calmer and kinder response.

Please read our POLICY for asking your question, then ask a BRIEF question or share insight. Thanks, I appreciate YOU!!