by Angela Lutin
For some, it’s a difficult concept that one can remain closely connected after the romance is over. In fact, society’s view of exes as friends is a bit skeptical. Whenever I speak of an ex or mention we spoke or saw each other, inevitably the conversation steers toward the proverbial elephant in the room: “Are you getting back together?” And even more common, “Are you sleeping together again?” These assumptions aren’t unfounded. About 50% of those that break up, do end up giving the relationship a try at least once more.
But for those who aren’t looking to rekindle love, the path back to civilized co-habitation is not instantaneous. In fact, a period of grieving and loss is almost mandatory for any broken relationship. However, what was at the core of the relationship—a healthy respect and love for one another—can be found again.
Psychologist Seth Myers states, “I’ve found that the love never truly dies, no matter what came between the two individuals. It seems more likely that the love remains, but is repressed to defend against strong, unpleasant feelings underneath. When you see two people who treat each other as strangers but who were once married, you don’t see the love on the surface, but it’s still there—only in repressed form. You see the manifestation of the anger, sadness, or denial, but it covers strong feelings underneath. You can’t simply love someone day after day and ever truly stop loving that person.”
So how do you maintain a thriving platonic relationship after romantic love is gone? Here are 7 tips for re-establishing a connection with an Ex:
• Say, “I’m Sorry.” Part of the healing process and road back to repairing the friendship is recognizing one’s own part in the demise of the relationship. No ending is ever exclusively the fault of one party. It takes two to tango, two to make it, and two to break it. Admitting your mistakes is the first step back to peace with each other.
• Identify the unique abilities and expertise of your former partner and how they can still help you. My ex-husband is a genius when it comes to all financial matters, whereas I hyperventilate when presented with a checkbook to balance. I’ve learned that he is still a valuable ally when I have to make important decisions about money. I have the uncanny ability to remember every face, and I rarely forget someone’s name. When my Ex needs to remember anyone we knew socially or through business, he always calls me for details and descriptions.
• Drop what you “know” and let it go. No relationship can move forward on any level as long as one or both continue to play the blame game. The past must remain in the past. Repeatedly dragging up the specifics of why you are no longer a couple, or blaming the other will keep a friendship from beginning anew. If you find that either of you still have intense feelings of anger, then it is best to put a moratorium on friendship until these emotions have been resolved.
• Remember the positive things about your former partner rather than focusing on things that drove you crazy about them. Sure, we don’t miss the snoring, or how they forgot to put the toilet seat down (as in, always), but rather than celebrating the fact those little annoyances have been removed from your life, remember the good stuff. One of my Exes was always very generous and would pick up gifts for my son and me. When I think of him, I remember his thoughtfulness rather than how it drove me crazy that his dirty clothes ended up everywhere except the hamper.
• Commit to remaining friends, but not “friends with benefits.” It can be tempting and soothing to fall back into a sexual relationship with a past love, but I caution against it. Many of the feelings of anger, sadness, or even jealously can resurface once that intimacy is renewed. Unless you have decided to give your relationship another chance with an exclusive and committed agreement, having sex will only eventually cause problems and lead to severing the friendship altogether.
• Keep healthy boundaries. Beware of falling into the routine of making your Ex the first person you call when you have important news. An Ex can be a friend, but making them your best friend is not a prudent decision. Exes should not be your emergency contact, at the top of your speed dial, or even a too-frequent dinner date. Catching up every so often is fine, but having an Ex know every detail of your social calendar and love life leaves no room for separation from your former relationship. Set guidelines as to what is appropriate for your situation. My Ex has a key to my house, but would never disrespect my privacy by entering without permission.
• Embrace the awkwardness of your new relationship. Inevitably there will come that uncomfortable moment when you are both dining at the same restaurant while on respective dates, or see your former In-laws. My advice in these situations is just to keep it light. I kept finding a pair of men’s underwear in my laundry basket that did not belong to anyone that would have inadvertently left them in my laundry. After several weeks and plenty of suspecting looks when I claimed not to know whose they were, I realized the underwear had mistakenly come home with my Son after a weekend with his Father. They belonged to my Ex. At our parent-teacher conference, I discreetly took them from my handbag and stuffed them in his briefcase. “I think these are yours. I’m not quite sure how I ended up with them, but no one but you would believe me.” We both had a good laugh.
Barbara Quick, author of Living Happily Ever After…Even If Your Marriage Falls Apart, says, “After 40 years of psychiatric practice, I have concluded there is only one psychological problem—the inability to succeed in close personal relationships. In two of our closest relationships, marriage is the least successful and friendship is the most successful.” When the marriage fails, we still have the opportunity to cultivate a friendship. In fact, we have the potential to flourish as friends even if we failed at marriage.
When making the commitment to a friendship after a break up, there will always be those that express sadness at the loss of what once was. “It’s too bad you couldn’t have made it work,” they say. It is then that I will remind them, “We did make it work. It works perfectly now. Formerly it was broken. We found a way to fix it.”
Angela Lutin writes the popular blog, EssentiallyAngela, based upon her life as a single divorced mom living the ups and downs of dating, relationships, and of course, her Exes. She is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, numerous guest blogs, and writes the dating and relationship advice column, The Naked Truth. Most recently she has appeared in the media as a dating and relationship expert. Angela resides in Boca Raton, Florida with her 12-year-old son and two dogs. In her (rare) spare time she does absolutely nothing.