I’m one of those people who tries to stay friends with my exes — to varying degrees of success. My philosophy is that I’ve invested so much time, energy, and love into these people and it would be a waste to just let all that go simply because we’re not romantically involved anymore. But while staying friends with exes is pretty easy when you’re single (once you’re past the initial heartbreak period, that is), as soon as you get a new a partner it’s a whole new ball game. There are just certain things you have to do if you want to stay friends with an ex when you have a new partner.
And of course, there are some exes that you definitely shouldn’t stay friends with. I’m talking about those relationships that are abusive or even just a regular old train wreck. Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT, cautions that it’s a bad idea to try to maintain a relationship with an ex just because you feel like you “should” stay friends with them. “If there is abuse of any kind (physical, sexual, emotional, financial, etc), it may not be a good idea to stay friends,” Richardson tells Bustle. “Even if someone is able to recognize that they have overstepped boundaries, they may continue to struggle with respecting them in the future.”
But for regular “we’re just not going in the same direction anymore” breakups, here are seven steps you can take to maintain a friendship, even when one of you has a new partner.
1. Build A New Relationship With Your Ex Before You Have A New Partner
Richardson recommends building up a friend relationship with your ex long before you meet someone new. She says it’s important to start with a “no-contact period,” where you don’t even text.
“If you want to actually be friends, you have to be open and transparent, even when it is uncomfortable,” Richardson says. “If you are past your no contact period and you are starting to date again, it is important to let you ex know. You don't need to provide details but don't let it be the elephant in the room or, worse, for them to find out on Facebook.”
The key, Richardson says, is all about creating a new relationship that has nothing to do with sex or romance. That way, you can truthfully tell your new partner that you and your ex are just friends.
2. Ask Your Partner How They Feel
“I highly recommend you talk with your current partner about how they feel about the possibility of you maintaining a relationship with your ex,” Gary Brown, PhD, LMFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles who works with individuals and couples, tells Bustle. “If they express any ambivalence — such as feeling insecure about it, feeling jealous, or they are uncertain as to why you want to maintain a relationship with your ex to begin with — or if your current relationship with your ex is new and needs some time to become more solidified in terms of trusting each other; if any of these exist, I recommend devoting your time to your current relationship and forgoing contact with your ex. If your current partner gives you the ‘green light,’ make sure they aren't doing so in order to please you when, in fact, they may or may not really be comfortable with it.”
3. See If You're Acting The Same Whether Your Current Partner Is Around Or Not
When you’re hanging out with your ex, ask yourself if you’d be acting the same way if your current partner was around. If the answer is even a slight “no,” you’re probably crossing boundaries in ways that are going to be harmful to your current relationship.
“Transparency is important, so don't make your current partner feel as though you are hiding things or sneaking around,” Richardson says. “My favorite rule for couples is 'behave in my absence as you would in my presence.’ Obviously this is not a perfect, absolute rule but for the most part I think that if you are keeping your partner's feelings in mind when you interact with others, it can save a lot of hurt feelings.”
4. And Absolutely No Sneaking!
“It's very important to communicate with your current partner and take their concerns seriously,” relationship expert Monica Parikh tells Bustle. “It’s even more important to act with integrity, which means no furtive texting, sexual innuendo or late night meetings with your ex. Most people know when they are being on the up-and-up, as opposed to being a little sneaky.”
5. Be Honest With Yourself About Your Intentions
Why do you want to be friends with your ex? Is it because you hold some friendly affection for them and want them to stay in your life (legit) or is it because you actually want to get back together? Take a good long look at what your intentions really are before you try to carry that relationship into your current one.
“If it isn't over for your ex and/or for you then this is a ‘red light’ situation,” Dr. Brown says. “I don't see how you can be fair to your current relationship if there is major unfinished business with your ex — for either your ex and certainly if you still have significant feelings for your ex.”
6. And Assess Your Ex’s Intentions
It’s just as important to take a hard look at why your ex wants to stay friends. Are they carrying a torch for you? Are they sneakily trying to get back in your bed? Look at your interactions with a clear eye or, even better, as mutual friends what they think. It can be hard to be objective about our own relationships sometimes, which is where our friends can be really helpful.
7. Prioritize Your Current Partner’s Feelings
Ultimately, your current partner should take priority over your ex. So if your relationship with your ex is making them uncomfortable, it might be time to reassess. And even more important? Don’t use your ex to make your current partner feel bad, ever.
“Let's say you and your partner have a fight in the morning and you're scheduled to have lunch with your ex that same day,” Dr. Brown says. “You might want to reconsider the wisdom of doing that. Keeping your lunch date with your ex out of revenge is probably not a good idea.”
Maintaining relationships with exes is complicated, clearly, but it can also be seriously rewarding. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence, understanding from your current partner, and respect of boundaries by your ex but if you stay open, honest, and communicative and you too can stay friends with your exes.
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