There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this commonly asked question, as there are many variables at play for individual couples.
Of course, if the split is relatively amicable and involves kids, a friendship is ideal for all parties involved.
But kids or no kids, my observation as a heartbreak coach is that it’s almost always better to table a friendship until both parties have peacefully moved on, whether that takes months or years.
This doesn’t mean that if you work together or co-parent, things need to be acrimonious. But you absolutely can implement boundaries while keeping communication courteous, transactional, and limited to the purpose of why you must stay connected.
Many of my clients, however, justify a friendship a logistical or necessary reason. All the while, I clearly see that it’s torturing them as they muscle through game face after game face, only prolonging their heartbreak.
Here are the most common excuses they give for staying friends with their exes while still being heartbroken—along with my rebuttals.
1. I’m not mad at them. They’re a good person. Just because the relationship didn’t end badly, that doesn’t mean you should still be friends. Of course, it’s hard when no one did anything malicious. Of course, you’ll miss them. But is it more important to stay friends when they don’t want the same thing you do, or is it more important to actually heal and move on? I know it seems harder to cut them out, and I’m not going to lie. It will be harder for a while, but removing them from your life will absolutely expedite your healing process.
2. If I show them how great I am as a friend, they’ll come back around. This is where I confront my clients about their pride and their dignity, even if their partner was a good person. Do you want to spend your precious energy fighting for someone who’s moved on and still wants to be friends? Or, do you want to choose you first and say “Thanks but no thanks” to a friendship that feels like a sucker punch every time you’re reminded that you’re just friends and nothing more.
3. I don’t want them to think I care. Oof. This one hits close to home. But seriously, who cares if they know you care? The bottom line is, if you’re in each other’s orbit and you want more, you’re perpetuating your heartbreak by worrying about what they think more than what you think. Own that you’re hurting. There is zero shame in your pain. Say something like, “Hey, I don’t think it’s healthy or wise for me to be connected to you right now.” Or, “I need to heal, so until then, please don’t contact me.” If they judge you or disrespect this request, that says way more about them than you.
4. But we share the same friends. Yeah, that’s a tough one … and it’s not a reason to maintain a friendship with someone who broke your heart. Skip the group events. I really don’t care if it’s your best friend’s 30th. Seriously. A true friend will understand that mending your heart comes first, and the quickest way to mend it is not being around an ex you’re not over yet.
So then my clients will say, “But it’s not fair. Why do they get to attend and I have to skip?!” You don’t have to skip. You can choose to skip because healing your heart matters most, not pleasing friends or pretending to have a good time while your ex (who you’re not over) is there. Find new friends, or hang out with mutual friends separately from your ex.
5. They’re going through a hard time personally, financially, etc. Aren’t you going through a hard time—heartbroken? I recognize the tone of this article is tough, but I’m fighting for you even if you won’t. Don’t you want to be in a relationship where when times get really tough, your partner turns towards you and not away? If the excuse to stay friends is because they need you, then why did they end the romantic part of the relationship? That reads, “I don’t want to give you what you want, but I’d still like for you to give me what I want.” I ask again—where is your dignity? Where is your love for yourself?
Moving through several gut-wrenching heartbreaks are my greatest life lessons to date, which is why I now do what I do. I’ve never experienced greater emotional pain that can also be physically and mentally debilitating.
Trust me when I say that removing the person associated with the pain is the first step of my healing-heartbreak process that will lead you on a path of lightness, empowerment, clarity, closure, and yes, a love that will be up-leveled, thanks to the way you stepped up for yourself—not them—in your recovery.