Few relationship questions are as polarizing as whether or not you should stay friends with an ex. Anecdotal evidence feeds arguments on both sides — but what do the experts say?
Rachel Sussman, a New York City-based psychotherapist, advises caution when it comes to staying friends, but says there are couples for whom it works; ultimately, she says, it's "an individual determination". Nonetheless, Sussman says there are some guidelines all exes should follow after a breakup.
When to cut ties?
"Under no circumstances should a relationship that was abusive, manipulative or toxic transition into a friendship"，Sussman says.
Sussman also says there are potential downsides to staying friends with an ex. "Sometimes that will hold you back from going into a new relationship," she warns. "Or you'll get into a new relationship and you'll tell your new girlfriend or boyfriend, 'My ex is one of my closest friends.' That's complicated. Are you giving the new relationship a fair chance to really flourish or blossom?"
When to stay friends?
Sussman says exes who have kids together should try to remain on good terms if possible, since they'll be in each other's lives for the long run. The lines are murkier for couples without children, but Sussman says those who dated when they were young, were friends first, dated casually or were together only for a short time are good candidates for friendship.
Studies suggest that couples who remain in contact for the same reasons — whether those are pragmatic or sentimental — are more likely to have successful friendships, while staying in touch because of unresolved romantic desires is a predictor of negative outcomes.
If you decide to try a friendship with an ex, Sussman suggests taking a break first. "I'm quite suspect of those couples that break up and then tell me right away that they're best friends," she says. "Time heals. A lot of insight can come with time and space apart."
That goes for social media as well as in-person interactions. "I would love for couples to unfollow and unfriend each other for a few months after a breakup," Sussman says. Otherwise, "before you know it, you're checking your phone and you're seeing your ex, and that brings up all sorts of thoughts and feelings which might make you, on some emotional level, feel reconnected to that person."
Boundaries are also important for couples-turned-friends, Sussman says, "A healthy boundary could look like, 'Let's not talk every day. Let's not text every day,'" Sussman says. "'Every couple of months let's grab a meal, see a movie — but not regular, daily contact.'"
Above all, regularly reassess how the friendship makes you feel, and be honest with yourself.
Editor: Jiao Jie
Interns: Fu Kuncan, Su Yanlei