Relationships

7 Times It's OK For Your Partner To Be Friends With Their Ex

And seven times it's definitely not.

If your partner remains friends with their ex, make sure they've established boundaries so that it d...
Richard Bailey/Photodisc/Getty Images
Updated: 
Originally Published: 

It’s only natural to feel worried, if not slightly panicked, if your partner is friends with their ex. But it's important to keep in mind that many people stay in touch after a breakup in a respectable — and perfectly platonic — way.

"There’s nothing wrong with remaining friends with an ex under certain circumstances," Jonathan Bennett, a certified counselor and dating expert, 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 that all ex 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."

If you have a bad feeling, be sure to let your partner know. “You need to feel their reassurance and you both need to understand clearly the reason(s) for the continuing friendship,” Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, EdS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. “Without that, there is guaranteed to be issues.” Read on for a few situations where it’s OK for a partner to be friends with an ex, as well as times when it may not be such a good idea.

1

OK: They Started Out As Friends

If your partner and their ex met on Tinder and only dated for a month, you might wonder why they feel the need to remain friends. But if they went to college together, have a whole history, and hope to one day go back to being pals, that makes a bit more sense.

“Our ex can be a witness to [our past] experience,” Dr. Dana Wang, a licensed psychiatrist and relationship expert, tells Bustle. “For this reason, it's hard to sever the person from our lives forever just because, romantically, it didn't work out.”

To double check what’s going on, ask your partner to explain their history, Wang says, as well as what they hope to gain from staying in contact with their ex. Once you fully understand the importance of the friendship, it won’t feel as threatening to the future of your relationship.

2

OK: They Share Mutual Friends

If your partner shares mutual friends with their ex, they may make the decision to remain on good terms — especially if they run into each other on a fairly regular basis. As long as everyone's OK with it, this type of friendship shouldn’t be a big deal.

It may be a good idea, however, for you to become a part of the group as well. "An ideal situation would be to get to know their shared friends and get to know their ex as well,” relationship expert and spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport tells Bustle. "In healthy relationships, this should not be a problem."

3

OK: Their Ex Loves You

Speaking of, if their ex is down to be friends with you as well, that’s when you’ll know things really are a-OK, couples consultant Lesli Doares tells Bustle. You’ll know this to be the case when they ask about you, invite you to get-togethers, and encourage your relationship. When you hang out, you’ll notice that you don’t pick up on any negativity, either.

4

OK: They Work Together

Now let’s say your partner still works with their ex. As long as their relationship didn’t end horribly, they might decide to be friendly — or at least cordial — so that work doesn’t feel awkward. And that’s totally understandable.

“If your partner works with their ex, there is no way they will be able to 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 communication so their work environment remains healthy and they can both be productive.”

5

OK: They're Redefined Their Relationship

Another situation that’s completely cool: If your partner and their ex broke up years ago, have officially gotten over each other, and have since redefined their relationship so that it’s back in friendship mode.

Once that happens, “they are no longer a couple who are also friends, but instead friends who are not together as a couple," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "If they can create this new dynamic, it is perfectly OK for them to be friends."

6

OK: If They Have Kids Together

If they have kids, you can only hope that your partner and their ex will remain on good terms for the sake of everyone involved. Even if they did have hard feelings, Bennett says it shows a lot of maturity that they’re able to look past them in order to co-parent.

And who knows? The situation might even be friendly enough that you can all co-parent together. “I have witnessed friends who are part of blended families with their children, the new parents, and their partners,” psychotherapist Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW, tells Bustle.

7

OK: You’ve Established Clear Boundaries

According to Dr. Racine Henry, Ph.D., LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, a partner maintaining a friendship with their ex will only be possible if they have clear boundaries and demonstrated respect. Because without that, things will get messy.

Typically, having boundaries means your partner will put your relationship first and tell their ex when they’re going overboard or making you uncomfortable. Once you establish clear boundaries, an ex can remain a part of your life without detracting from your relationship.

8

Not OK: Their Breakup Was Recent

If their breakup happened recently, and one or both of them are still recovering, then they really shouldn’t be hanging out as “friends,” Bennett says. Not only will a friendship make it difficult for the ex to move on, but it’ll also stunt the growth of your new relationship.

Similarly, if you get the sense that their ex wants to get back together — even if your partner shows no interest themselves — a friendship definitely isn’t a good idea. As Bennett says, "The ex could still feel like there is hope and that could complicate your current relationship."

9

Not OK: Their Relationship Was Unhealthy

The nature of a toxic relationship can make it tough to fully let go of an ex, therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle. There’s often a lot of codependency and manipulation, especially if the ex knows just what to say in order to keep your partner on the line. And that isn’t healthy for anyone.

As their partner, feel free to encourage them to fully cut ties with their toxic ex so they can clearly see what’s going on. Once your partner removes themselves from the situation, they will have an easier time accepting that the “friendship” is just another way for their ex to maintain control.

10

Not OK: They Keep Hanging Out Secretly

If you find out that your partner met up with their ex secretly — even just for coffee — it should set off warning bells. Sneaking around typically points to something nefarious, like a desire to cheat, and gives off icky vibes that have no place in a healthy relationship.

It’s also obviously super uncool for your partner to lie. Lying indicates there is something to hide even if there isn't, Wang says. And that can jeopardize trust. It’s important that you both openly communicate instead — even if it’s tough.

11

Not OK: They Don’t Include You

While it's obviously fine for your partner to have one-on-one time with friends — including friends who are exes — if they refuse to include you, it may be time to ask questions. Why don’t you ever get invited along? Is it possible for you to go out as a group next time? Ask and see what they say.

You have a right to speak up if you feel uncomfortable, left out, or worried that something might happen behind your back. In many cases, exclusive hangouts really do lead to more, “especially if your partner has a history of cheating," Rappaport says. And you shouldn't have to live with that kind of stress.

12

Not OK: Your Partner Calls Their Ex When They’re Mad At You

Friends reach out to each other when they're upset in order to get support. But take note if your partner always reaches out to their ex when they're upset or mad at you, as this may mean they’ve blurred the lines between “partner” and “friend.”

"This can be problematic because the ex becomes an emotional outlet for your partner that could develop into infidelity,” Henry says. “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."

Instead of calling their ex, your partner should be addressing negative feelings with you. They could also vent to their parents, other friends, or a therapist — not someone who they’ve been involved with romantically. It borders on emotional cheating, and isn’t a way to kick off a friendship.

13

Not OK: Their Relationship Was Unhealthy

The nature of a toxic relationship can make it tough to fully let go of an ex, therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle. There’s often a lot of codependency and manipulation, especially if the ex knows just what to say in order to keep your partner on the line. And that isn’t healthy for anyone.

As their partner, feel free to encourage them to fully cut ties with their toxic ex so they can clearly see what’s going on. Once your partner removes themselves from the situation, they will have an easier time accepting that the “friendship” is just another way for their ex to maintain control.

14

Not OK: Their Ex Cleary Wants Them Back

Late night phone calls, asking for help/favors, texting 24/7 — these are all signs your partner’s ex wants them back. Constant contact is a way to keep themselves top of mind and to keep your partner loyal to them in some way.

It’s easy for a kind person (like your partner) to be blind to this type of manipulation, so let them know why you’re concerned. Reiterate that you’d love for your partner to be friends with their exes, but in this case, it feels like the intentions aren’t pure.

All of that said, the last thing you want to do is allow negativity, paranoia, or bad feelings to seep into your relationship just because an ex is hanging around the periphery. As Wang says, “It's good to remind yourself that your partner chooses to be with you today and tomorrow.”

Sources:

Jonathan Bennett, certified counselor and dating expert

Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, EdS, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Dr. Dana Wang, licensed psychiatrist and relationship expert

Lesli Doares, couples consultant

Davida Rappaport, relationship expert and spiritual counselor

Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW, psychotherapist

Dr. Racine Henry, Ph.D., LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, therapist