Is there a friends-to-lovers pathway that leads to getting an ex back into a relationship? Yes, there is. But you wouldn’t know that with the many “don’t be friends with an ex if you want them back” articles and videos. Of course if you go no contact an ex who may be leaving the door to getting back together later on, they’re not going to want to be friends or want to follow through on being friends. Can you blame them?
Friends-to-lovers pathway is actually more common that most people are willing to accept
Ask couples who’ve been together for 20 or more years how they made it work, and they’ll tell you “We are each other’s best friend”. Ask couples who got back together after breaking up several times and managed to stay together how they weathered the ups and down of trying to get back together and they’ll tell you, “We had a really strong friendship, and knew that if the relationship didn’t work, we’d still had each other”.
This is true today as it was 100 years ago. In fact a study published on July, 2021 in the journal Social Psychological found that 66% of couples in long-term relationships across ages and ethnic groups began as friendships, yet a friends-to-lovers pathway has largely been overlooked by relationships researchers in favour of “dominant dating scripts in our culture.”
“These findings should prompt people to rethink their preconceived notions about relationships,” said Danu Stinson, lead author of the study on friends-first relationship initiation, and associate professor of psychology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. “I think if you really believe in that dating script, then it’s hard to imagine another situation” where you become closer as friends then become romantic partners, she added.
Beings friends actually works better with an avoidant ex
Beings friends with ex with the expectation that it will lead to getting back together is not an unrealistic or an attainable goal. Beings friends actually works better with an avoidant ex as I explained in my article How Does Being Friends Help Get an Avoidant Ex Back? and may be your only option if things moved too fast and ended so abruptly and you still really enjoy getting to know your avoidant ex. Being friends will give you an opportunity to take things slow and continue to build a stronger connection and solid foundation while enjoying the warmth and care a friendship.
Another situation where being friends with an ex works can really well is if the relationship ended because an avoidant was overwhelmed by factors outside of the relationship and felt that they didn’t get the support and encouragement they expected in a relationship. Being friends gives you the opportunity to show that you are capable of listening, being present and providing support without an agenda.
How to execute a friends-to-lovers strategy that leads to getting back together
I am not going to lie, being friends with an ex you want back is not easy. If done right, a friends-to-lovers pathway gives you a strong start and puts you steps ahead of exes who are not friends with their exes. But beings friends with an ex you want back when you’re not in an emotionally good place may set you back in your emotional healing. Even if you are in a good emotional place, if you have negative beliefs about being friends with an ex, you will struggle with making a friends-to-lovers pathway work for you.
So you have to be really honest with yourself. If you’re not ready to be friends with an ex or if you can’t be friends with an ex, it is not a negative reflection of you. You’re just being emotionally honest with yourself, and shouldn’t feel pressured to be friends with an ex.
I don’t encourage being friends with an ex who was abusive, is still very angry about the break-up, hasn’t taken any responsibility for anything or is trying to convince you that what you feel or how you remember the relationship is all wrong or that you’re confused etc. That’s dismissing your feelings and experience and gaslighting to manipulate you. You don’t need someone like that as a friend let alone a partner. And if you’re still fighting and saying things that are hurtful to each other, being friends is good in theory but not practical.
If you are ready to continue, here a proven friends-to-lovers pathway for getting an ex back into a relationship. If you do “being friends” with your ex right, it can lead to getting your ex back. Many exes have found themselves back together because they followed this 5-steps.
STEP 1: Keep the line of communication open
The first step of being friends with an ex to getting back together is keep the lines of communication open.
I have had clients come to me with “I was in no contact for 21 days. I reached out and they responded 3 days later asking what I want. I told them I wanted to be friends and see if we can try to work things out. I never heard back. I’ve reached out 3 times over the last month but no response. What do I do next?”
I’m sitting there thinking, “I don’t know what you do next. But more importantly, what did you expect?” They say you teach people how to treat you. What do going no contact is telling an avoidant is that it’s okay to not to have any contact for weeks and even months. You can’t the turn around and complain about them “disappearing for weeks” because you did the same thing and they didn’t complain. It’s unhealthy and unsafe dynamic.
Any experienced negotiator worth their salary will tell you that the first rule of conflict resolution or crisis management is “create an open line of communication” or “keep the lines of communication open.” Open lines of communication signal goodwill, a kind of trust and consistency. If you need sometime after the break-up to get yourself together or self-regulate, there are secure, healthy and emotionally mature ways to do it than cut off someone, block them and try to make them feel irrelevant.
An open line of communications doesn’t mean texting them every other day, pushing to meet or even expecting them to respond to every text. It’s important to remember that being friend with an ex is not the same kind of “friendship” you have with your other friends (see what to expect from being friends with an ex ).
STEP 2: Do not offer being friends first
Do not be the first to offer a friendship or introduce the word “friends”. Your ex might agree to being friends believing that friendship is all you want. Before you’ve even had a chance to try to get them back you’re “friendzoned”.
The other reason I discourage using the words “friends” is because many exes rightfully) don’t feel that they can quickly transition to “being friends with an ex” and may need sometime before they’re ready to be friends. Asking them to be friends just after breaking up may feel like pressure and they’ll reject the idea of a friendship or beings friends. In my experience, “keep the lines of communication open” or “a way to stay in each other’s life” is less pressure because there’s no label to what the two of you are.
BUT… this is very important. If your ex says they want to be friends, or that friendship is all they can offer you at the moment, DO NOT turn down the offer because you are scared that being friends will hurt your chances.
STEP 3: Accept your ex’s offer to be friends and make the best of it
Adults don’t go to another adult, shake their hand and say “I want you to be my friends’, “I want to be your friend” or “let’s be friends”. You do that when you’re 3 – 6 years old, and after that you outgrow the kindergarten way of making friends. So when an ex says “be friends”, they either have a specific “relationship” in mind or haven’t thoroughly thought about what they’re offering.
This is where your maturity and being a “safe person” come in. Don’t knee-jerk react with “I don’t want to be friends” when you don’t even know what your ex is saying or offering.
You may have been offered a window of opportunity to do all the things you could have done right to make your relationship safe, healthy and fulfilling, but didn’t. Take it. If your relationship is like most, by the time of the break-up, the relationship wasn’t working for your ex (or for you). If there were many arguments and conflict that made your ex lose feelings, think you were not right for each other or were incompatible your ex most likely still feels the same and holds those views about you and the relationship. If you give them the option to choose between getting back together and moving on, they’ll likely choose moving on, and rightly so. The lost feelings or relationship isn’t working for them, why would they want to get back together?
Use the window of opportunity you’ve been offered to show change their perception and experience of you. If the word “friends” bothers you so much, change the way you think about it. Think of it as the “probation period” before you are hired for the job. Your ex thinks you qualify for the job but they want to try you out first. You know you qualify for the job, but okay…
STEP 4: Make clear to your ex you want more than friendship
This next step is probably going to be harder for some people than others, and trigger anxiety in those with an anxious attachment, fear in those with a fearful avoidant attachment and concern about getting into something you may not be able to control in dismissive avoidants.
But if you’re working towards becoming securely attached and being a safe partner and stabilizer in your relationship, learning to communicate your needs in an open and honest non- violent manner and be non-threatening and safe for the person you’re asking to meet your need, is how you get your needs met. Securely attached people do this naturally and are rewarded with not just getting their needs met but also with satisfying healthy relationships.
So, open, honest, non- violent, non-threatening and safe communication. Make it clear from the start that ‘being friends” with your ex is not the end goal. You understand that right now getting back together is not something they want or are ready to do, but you’re not going to pretend that you don’t hope that you will get back together at some point. They don’t have to agree or commit to getting back together at some point, all you’re doing is being honest with yourself and with them. You want to be in their life and if their feelings about you or the relationship change in the process, you welcome the idea of getting back together.
This is really important because 1) you don’t want to be friendzoned and 2) many exes who still have feelings for an ex resist being friends because they think they will be pressured to get back together when they’re not ready or sure it’s what they want.
STEP 5: Agree on what “being friends” with your ex means
Over the years, I’ve seen exes who still have feelings for an ex or still have some hope (however small) that things had turned out differently and the break-up didn’t happen resist keeping the lines of communication open or being friends because they have no idea what is expected of them, or even how beings friends after you’ve been romantic really means.
It’s your job to find out 1) what it is exactly that being friends means and what the boundaries are, 2) if being friends will meet your current needs for connection, communication and closeness and 3) if being friends will lead to a possible romantic relationship.
My opinion is being friends with an ex means what the two of you decide it means. Whatever works for the two of you is what is right for the two of you. Make sure that you define in very clear terms what to expect and not expect from each other and ask your ex to communicate their boundaries and what they’re comfortable with in terms of contact, space, time spent together, seeing other people, intimacy etc.
The “what being friends” conversation doesn’t have to happen at once. Some exes may not even know exactly what they are offering by being friends. They said “let’s be friends” because it sounded emotionally mature. You may find that the boundaries of “being friends” form as you interact, and they tell you what is okay to say or do, and what is not.
STEP 6: Create new positive feelings and memories
This is the part about attracting back an ex that many people completely ignore or don’t focus enough on. I’ve worked with so many people who think that all they have to do is show their ex that they still love/care about them or correct their ex’s misconceptions and about them and what happened in the relationship and… their ex will come back. They ignore all advice that isn’t about “showing” their and ex that they love them or care about them, or trying to explain, correct or fix the past. Then they wonder why their ex isn’t responding or pulling further away even with all the effort they’re putting in to get them back.
The other mistake I see so often is relying on old memories or “nostalgia” to create attraction. One, this is a risk when dealing with an avoidant who is deactivated. Reminding them of things about the relationship may actually backfire because they also remember why they broke up with you in the first place. Secondly, recollections differ after a break-up. See How Does Reminding Your Ex Of Good Times Get Them Back?
Instead of coming across as unimaginative, “stuck in the past” or “not changed”, show creativity, create new feelings and new emotions and show your ex that things can and will be better. You will find that it was in being present in the moment and enjoying each other for who they are and who you have become that creates feelings of attraction.
Use being friends to create new positive memories and attraction. If you’re not creating new feelings – laughing, enjoying some really good moments with your ex even just via text – you are not creating attraction however well you word your texts or time your contacts.
STEP 7: Ask your ex if they’re ready to be more than friends
This step usually happens naturally and organically if all the other 6 steps are done right. You find that without even a conversation about it, things just evolved naturally to being more than friends, you’re going out on dates and it’s looking more and more like your ex is considering giving the relationship another chance.
In some instances, you will have to bring up a conversation about becoming more than friends and starting ro date each other again. Like any kind of relationship, both people have to want the same thing and feel the same way about it.
A conversation about being friends more than friends has to be honest, open, direct or clear, and even vulnerable, and has to be a conversation between two people and not just you telling your ex what you want or trying to force what you want on someone who doesn’t want it. It’s important to be very specific about what you want to change from being friends to being mor than friends, so your ex knows how things are going to change. Ask for feedback, listen to what they have to say and remind yourself “I am not ready” is not the same as it’s never going to happen.
There’s no guarantee that your ex will come back, but being friends with an ex and working towards getting back together within the friendship gives you a 30 – 40% advantage. The goodwill, trust, consistency and safety you create beings friends first is a strong foundation for getting back together, and what an avoidant ex needs to believe the relationship can work better. The rest depends on why you broke up, if your ex still has feelings for you, what else is going on in your ex’s life, if there is someone else etc.