While it's natural to jump to conclusions and assume the worst if your
partner is friends with their ex, it's important to keep in mind that many people remain friends after a breakup — in a perfectly healthy, mature, and respectable way.
"There’s nothing wrong with remaining friends with an ex under certain circumstances," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at
Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "In fact, considering that many breakups are filled with drama and discord, remaining on friendly terms can be a sign of maturity in your partner."
That's not to say, though, that
all friendships are healthy, or that all exes remain in contact for the right reasons. "If feelings remain or are unresolved, then it could just be a gateway back to the old relationship," Bennett says. "Many people remain friends with exes because they hope there will be another chance to date that person."
So, if something doesn't feel right, be sure to speak up. "Read the signs to make sure your partner is friends with an ex for mature, healthy reasons," Bennett says. Do they hang out
with you? Do you feel respected? Are there clear and healthy boundaries? If so, their friendship is likely nothing to worry about. If you feel bad, though, there may be a reason why. Here are a few times it's OK for your partner to be friends with their ex, and other times when it may not be, according to experts.
OK: They Share Mutual Friends
If your partner shares mutual friends with their ex, the two of them may make the decision to remain friends — especially if they run into each other fairly regularly. And as long as everyone's OK with it, then this type of friendship can be perfectly healthy.
It may be a good idea, however, for you to become a part of the group as well. "An ideal situation for you would be to get to know their shared friends and get to know their ex as well so you do not view their ex or their shared friends as a threat to your relationship,"
psychic and spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport tells Bustle. "In healthy relationships, this should not be a problem."
OK: They Started Out As Friends
If your partner and their ex were really great friends before they started dating, they'll likely want to eventually go back to being friends. And that's fine.
"Some couples have the wisdom and common sense to realize that they are better off as friends and break up so they can remain friends," Rappaport says. "If your
partner and their ex parted amicably, you have nothing to worry about and you can be reassured that you probably have an amazing partner who knows the importance of maintaining healthy relationships."
If your partner works with their ex, they will likely be on friendly terms while on the job. And there's nothing wrong with that. It may be because they enjoy each other's company, or simply because they see each other everyday and need to remain civil.
Whatever the case may be, "if your partner works with their ex, there is no way they will be able avoid seeing or talking to each other," Rappaport says. "It is perfectly natural for them to remain friendly and stay in contact with them. In fact, you might want to
encourage them to maintain healthy communication so their work environment remains healthy and they can both be productive in their respective jobs."
OK: They're Redefined Their Relationship
It's OK for your partner and their ex to be friends if they broke up years ago, and have since officially gotten over each other. Once that's happened, they may decide to redefine their relationship and shift back into friendship mode.
"They are no longer a couple who are also friends, but instead friends who are not together as a couple," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of
The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "If they can find that new friendship, it is perfectly OK for them to be friends."
OK: If They Have Kids Together
When children are involved, you can only hope that your partner and their ex will remain friends and be on good terms — for the sake of everyone involved.
In fact, in many ways, "remaining on friendly terms ... can be a very positive sign that your partner puts the best interests of the child first," Bennett says. By remaining friendly, it shows that everyone is handling the breakup well, and doing what they can to move on in a healthier direction.
OK: They Have Clear Boundaries
"Your partner remaining friends with their ex is acceptable as long as there are clear boundaries and demonstrated respect,"
licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Racine Henry, PhD, LMFT tells Bustle. With clear boundaries, it'll be more obvious the ex is just a friend — they won't text your partner all day long, expect them to drop everything to see them, or infringe on your relationship in any way.
Instead of detracting from your relationship or creating a rift, their friendship remains neutral or adds to your relationship. The ex might even make an effort to become friends with you, which is pretty much the ultimate sign things are a-OK.
OK: They're Working On A Project Together
As with the aforementioned work situation, it also makes sense for your partner to be friends with their ex if they share something, such as a business or side project together.
"If they own property together, a friendship could also be in the best interest of their business investment," Dr. Henry says. Again, this is all about being mature, getting along — and having a healthy friendship as a result.
Not OK: Their Ex Just Won't Let Go
If the ex is having
a hard time letting go or moving on, they may try to remain friends with your partner — possibly even with the hope of getting back together. And that's not healthy for anyone.
"If your partner receives texts and phone calls from their ex regularly, this may not be healthy, especially if there is no reason for them to contact your partner," Rappaport says. "Make certain that your partner wants to establish and enforce healthy boundaries with their ex. If this is a problem for them, you might want to suggest that they cut ties with them completely."
Not OK: They Don't Include You
While it's obviously fine for your partner to have one-on-one time with their friends — including friends who are exes — if you get the feeling something's going on behind your back, then their friendship may not be the healthiest.
"Some partners have been known to cheat on their current partner with their exes," Rappaport says. "Even if a couple breaks up and one or both find other partners, if the relationship was very sexual and their chemistry has not dissipated, either your partner or their ex may still want to see each other."
It's important to trust your gut and speak up if you feel uncomfortable, left out, or worried that something might happen. In some cases, this type of friendships is "not a good idea, especially if your partner has
a history of cheating," Rappaport says. And you shouldn't have to live with that kind of stress.
Not OK: If They Still Have Strong Feelings For Each Other
Even if you don't suspect cheating, it may not be a healthy choice for your partner to remain friends with their ex when they still have strong feelings for each other — as may be the case if their breakup was recent.
In that case, as Bennett says, "remaining friends is a bad idea." Not only will it put strain on your relationship, but it may also give unfair hope to the ex. Unless your partner wants to get back together with their ex, they may want to wait until these strong feels fade before trying out a friendship.
Not OK: The Ex Wants To Get Back Together
Similarly, if you get the sense that the ex wants to get back together with your partner — even if your partner shows no interest themselves — a friendship may not be a good idea.
As Bennett says, "If your partner has moved on, but the ex has not, then I don’t advise remaining friends. The ex could still feel like there is hope and that could complicate your current relationship."
Not OK: Their Relationship Was Unhealthy
While it'll be up to your partner to decide what's best for them, a friendship with an ex who was
toxic or emotionally abusive may not be the best idea. And entangling yourself with that — even from afar — can be unhealthy.
Not to mention, by remaining friends with their ex, "this will lead to your partner not to being able to move past their baggage,"
therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle. It may be tough for them to leave a toxic relationship behind, especially if it really messed with their head. But as their partner, you can encourage them to move on.
Not OK: The Ex Isn't Happy For You
If the ex isn't happy about your current relationship — or worse, if they've said mean things about you — it may make you wonder why your partner is interested in being friends with them. And rightfully so.
Rude comments show a lack of respect for your relationship, and can quickly become toxic. That's why, as Dr. Henry says, "if the ex makes disparaging comments about [you] or is constantly making inappropriate or romantic gestures, the two should not be friends. It is not healthy or OK for a partner to remain in contact with an ex [if they disregard your] relationship."
In this situation, speak up and ask your partner what their intentions are, regarding their ex. Why are they friends? Why did they allow the ex to be so toxic? If your relationship is healthy, your partner should be willing to end this type of unhealthy friendship.
Not OK: Your Partner Turns To Them When They're Mad
Friends reach out to each other when they're upset, in order to get support. But take note if your partner only reaches out to their ex when they're upset, or in moments when they're mad at you.
"If your partner only contacts [their] ex when you two are fighting or going through a rough patch, it is not a healthy friendship," Dr. Henry says. "This can be problematic because the ex becomes an emotional outlet for your partner that could develop into infidelity. Additionally, involving an ex in the negative aspects of your new relationship is a form of intimacy that should only be reserved for your partner."
It's usually fine for a
partner to be friends with their ex, but it is easy to cross that line. So if anything makes you feel uncomfortable, be sure to speak up. Let your partner know about any relationship dynamics that make you uneasy, and work together to fix them.