Dating life is complicated for many different reasons but the lowest low is a breakup. While it’s terrible when the feelings that you had in the beginning just fade without warning, it isn’t your fault. And it’s not on you if your SO decides that they can’t handle the relationship anymore. The sad truth is that in the end, you’ll both have to suffer through the breakup until you can be around each other again. This is only possible by setting boundaries for being friends with an ex.
How Do You Set Friendship Boundaries With An Ex?
A breakup, especially after a long-term relationship, can leave a person struggling with many unresolved issues and there’s always the ever-elusive closure if things ended abruptly. That’s why people are always saying that spending time with your ex isn’t a good idea because it can conjure up memories and feelings that won’t end well for you. They’re right to be concerned because breakups are tough. Not just on the person who’s dumped but also on the dumper.
So, if you’re wondering about the rules for being friends with an ex, then the first thing you need to do is think long and hard about the following:
1. Residual feelings
Breakups are very similar to bad-tasting food. The experience is horrible and, in the end, you’re still left with a bad taste in your mouth. This bad taste in the case of your breakup is the feelings that it leaves behind. Based on the theory of stages of grief, you’re bound to go through the stages of denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance when dealing with a breakup.
As a child, my cousin Alex lost his pet dog, Hulk. For the longest time, he wasn’t able to accept the loss and kept pretending that his dog was just hiding from him. This denial phase lasted for 9 months until his parents held a funeral for Hulk and Alex got closure.
Likewise, when recovering from a breakup, people tend to get stuck in any one of these stages, especially anger. So, before being friends with an ex who hurt you, you need to be careful that you have gotten through the feelings of angst and pain. Be sure that you have no anger or hurt left to dish out otherwise the next time you meet them, it will be a disaster.
The hardest part about a breakup is the hit that your confidence takes. When someone breaks up with you start to question everything about yourself. Whether you’re good-looking enough, whether you’re smart enough, or even whether you’re sexually appealing enough. All of these questions stem from a quest for understanding why they broke up with you, but in the process, these questions can chip away self-esteem.
On the other hand, if you were the one who broke things off, then too you’ll go through something similar but your questions will be more like ‘What is wrong with me?’ ‘Did I just throw away the best thing that’s ever happened to me?’ ‘Why do I have such severe trust issues?’ In this case, too your self-confidence will take a hit. That’s why you must go through a self-love period and rebuild your self-esteem before you even begin to contemplate the boundaries for being friends with an ex.
Related Reading: 11 Tips To Deal With Loneliness After Breakup And Find Support
A key part of moving on from a relationship is closure. So, if you’ve been through a breakup and are thinking about being friends with an ex who hurt you, then you need to ask yourself this question: Have I had closure?
Honestly, closure can come in many ways. It could come from yelling at your ex, by breaking something valuable of theirs, or by punching them in the face. The healthiest form of closure is talking things out with your ex but it’s very rare. The bottom line is that anything that can get rid of your feelings will give you closure and it is essential if you plan on staying in touch with your ex.
What Are The Boundaries For Being Friends With An Ex?
Spending time with your ex is always seen as a crazy thing to do. Everyone assumes that your spending time with them is an indication that you still have feelings for them. But this isn’t the case.
Sometimes your ex is someone you simply can’t avoid. Like maybe they’re your coworker, maybe they’re your best friend, or maybe you live in the same building. In all of these cases, meeting your ex is inevitable, and quite literally, unavoidable. Besides, there is nothing wrong with not wanting to completely cut off someone you were once so close to. Sometimes even after a breakup, you still care for each other, this is especially true if you’ve been together for a long time.
At the same time, understanding why ex wants to be friends is just as important as being clear about your reasons to maintain a platonic connection with them. It could be something as harmless as them not wanting to split your group of friends down the middle or as twisted as using friendship to keep alive the possibility of getting back together.
You need to be prepared for any possibility and the best way to do that is by setting a few rules for being friends with an ex, like these:
1. No flirting
There should be NO flirting. This is one of the rules for being friends with an ex that you just cannot ignore. When you start to spend time with your ex, you cannot do anything that will trigger past feelings because being around each other may already be doing that on some level.
Once you’ve found a way to be comfortable around each other, a little flirting here and there might work. Like in the case of Robin and Ted from How I Met Your Mother. But this is one of the non-negotiable boundaries for being friends with an ex. You can’t flirt in the beginning, it will just complicate things.
2. Wait until you’ve gotten over the breakup
If your ex wants to be platonic friends, then there’s nothing wrong with it… unless it’s immediately after the breakup. If you’re trying to set boundaries for being friends with an ex, waiting until you’re ready is a big part of it. You simply can’t be friends immediately after a breakup. All the feelings will get in the way and mess things up.
Even if you’ve ended things on good terms, you still need time to go through the mourning period. Recover from the hit that you’ve just taken. If you don’t take that time, then you’ll never properly recover. You’ll be around the biggest reminder of your failed relationship. And even if you didn’t want it, your self-esteem will take a hit every time you see them making progress in their love life. So, always wait till you’ve gotten over your relationship significantly before you start spending time with your ex.
3. Keep it casual
If you’re wondering about boundaries for being friends with an ex-wife or an ex-husband, then the most important one is to stay platonic. Whenever you’re together, you need to keep things casual. This means not talking about dating and your past. It’s important that to follow this boundary because this is the only way you’ll be able to redefine your connection with them.
Being friends with an ex who hurt you even after you’ve gotten over the breakup is tough. You’re accustomed to viewing them as your partner and this can be hard to undo. Being friends with an ex means starting completely fresh and building a new connection with them from the ground up.
You need to see them in a completely different role, that’s where keeping things casual is important. The nonchalance will give you perspective and the opportunity to reinvent your ex in your mind.
4. Respect each other’s personal space
The biggest problem that people face when they’re trying to be friends with an ex is that as soon as they get over the initial awkwardness they tend to forget about the breakup. They return to the level of comfort that they shared in their relationship. This is the moment when you need to have a serious talk about boundaries.
My friend Robin was in a similar situation a few years back. One of the boundaries for being friends with an ex that she set was no hanging out alone with each other. She and her ex always met one and other when they were with their friends’ group. As soon as they were alone, they just walked away and didn’t even bother with saying goodbye.
If you’ve gotten comfortable around each other, then you need to establish the parameters of personal space in your new relationship. For example, while in a relationship you were both entitled to know everything about each other’s day, but now as friends, you’re allowed to keep some personal details to yourself. Preserving your personal space is one of the most important boundaries for being friends with an ex. It is the only thing that will help you start fresh with them.
Related Reading: 9 Expert Tips To Cope With Depression After Breakup
5. Let go of all the bad blood
Every relationship has its ups and downs. The memories of these are riddled with all the feelings that have accompanied them. That’s why when you’re considering the boundaries for being friends with an ex, letting go of the past and starting fresh becomes an important one.
No talking about the past is the rule that you must follow when you start hanging around your ex. Over time, this rule can change as it did for Ross and Rachel in Friends, but in the beginning, you have to avoid talking about your relationship completely.
6. Be on the lookout for feelings
Given your history with your ex, there is always the chance of catching feelings… again. When you start hanging out again, the past will get triggered, which can lead to old emotions coming back to life. This is the reason why breakup sex exists.
Exes that spend time together alone after the breakup end up relapsing and having sex but this usually leads to the closure that they need to move on. This may not be the case when you’re trying to be friends with an ex, that’s why it is essential to be on the lookout for feelings.
This is one of the more complex boundaries for being friends with an ex-wife or an ex-husband because when you have a history of being married, catching feelings becomes even easier. Besides this isn’t just about detecting your ex’s feelings but it’s also about controlling your own. You need to control yourself from giving in to the melody of memories. It is one of the most important self-imposed rules for being friends with an ex.
7. Don’t pay attention to the surrounding judgment
There is a lot of stigma surrounding being friends with an ex. People look down on it. They assume that there are residual feelings behind your friendship. Every step of the way you’ll get asked questions like “So have you moved on?”, “Are you sure about this?”, and even “Are you trying to get back together with them?”. All these questions can make you second-guess your decision of being friends. They even have the potential of making you wonder about your feelings.
This is why you must ignore judgment and badgering. If you’re sure that your feelings are gone and that you have no interest in dating them again, then what other people insinuate doesn’t matter. Set this as one of the boundaries for being friends with an ex because at the end of the day it used to be your relationship and now it’s your friendship.
Related Reading: Expert Advice On Coping With Feeling Empty After A Breakup
So, that sums up 7 of the most important rules for being friends with an ex. Some of the boundaries for being friends with an ex that you set are more for your mind, the rest are for the both of you. For the ones that need to be followed by both, you need to talk them out and agree on some common ground.
If you’re someone who’s beginning their friendship with an ex, then you’re about to unfold a new chapter that’d be quite unlike any relationship you’ve had before. Being friends with your ex is going to completely change the way you see them. You’re going to see a side of them that you would have never gotten to see if you were dating them. Things might be a bit awkward in the beginning but eventually, the kinks will get ironed out.
Don’t dwell too much on the question of why ex wants to be friends. You don’t know their reasons and you may never be able to figure them out. Go with the flow and see where it goes. In the end, hopefully, you’ll be left with a friend who knows you even better than you know yourself. All the best!