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Can friendship work with an ex? 3 questions to ask yourself

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Breakups can be brutal. In the most extreme cases, you can go from seeing and talking to your partner every day to never seeing them again. If you were abused or felt unsafe in your relationship, you should definitely keep your distance. But if you had a healthy relationship that ended for different reasons, experts say it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You don't have to be either partners or strangers. Our team at Life Kit has a guide for figuring that out. Here is journalist Ruth Tam on friendships with exes.

RUTH TAM, BYLINE: When people try to stay friends with an ex, they might be trying to hold on to their partner even though the romance is over.

MARISA FRANCO: So it's not kind of like a pure friendship. It's almost like a way to have like, romantic relationship lite with the other person.

TAM: That's Marisa Franco, psychologist and researcher on friendship. She says your shared history can often get in the way of a real friendship. Maybe one person still wants to get back with the other. Maybe one half of the couple is still angry over something that happened during the breakup. From jealousy to resentment, many of the things that can undo a romantic relationship can also sabotage a friendship. If you just broke up, Marisa suggests to limit your contact for a while.

FRANCO: I recommend taking some time away because there's research that finds it's just harder to get over your ex. If you stay friends, you're more likely to desire your ex romantically, and they're more likely to desire you. And so if you want kind of like an honest friendship, I would try to wait until some of those feelings subside.

DETROW: Once you get some distance, consider why you want to be friends with an ex. You don't have to be close, but if you belong to the same community or share friends, pets or kids together, you might want to keep your ex in your life. Marisa says it'll be easier to begin a new friendship with an ex and maintain it if you were already friends while you were dating.

FRANCO: One of the primary questions we have to ask ourselves is, would I be friends with this person if I wasn't dating them? If I wasn't romantically involved, is this the kind of person I would want to be friends with?

TAM: Marisa says the likelihood of you being able to transition to a platonic relationship depends on how you both handled the breakup. Did one of you withdraw from the other without offering clarity or resolution, or out of respect for each other, did you move through your breakup with transparency and care? That makes all the difference.

FRANCO: The work of being friends with your ex actually starts before they become an ex.

TAM: When it comes to figuring out what your friendship should look like, remember that there are many levels of platonic relationships. Even if you were close while you were dating, it might not make sense to shoot for the same level of intimacy when you're friends. Learn how to emotionally read the room. What do you and your ex actually want from each other?

FRANCO: We don't necessarily want the most amount of intimacy there is. We want a level of intimacy that matches, you know, the nature of the relationship.

TAM: Getting some space from each other, and the kinds of behaviors that may not have made you compatible as romantic partners, might actually allow you to become better friends.

FRANCO: Friendship might work better for some people than a romantic connection does because when they're, you know, spending all their time together, they end up getting tired of each other. They get - end up getting annoyed with each other. So I think it's about considering the fit between the nature of the relationship and the relationship that it's labeled as, rather than assuming that there's a hierarchy in terms of the types of relationships that we should want with a particular person.

TAM: It can be hard to let someone in at the start of a romantic relationship and just as hard letting someone go if it ends. Staying in touch with an ex on top of that? It's going to take some emotional fortitude.

FRANCO: It's hard. I think it can certainly take time. And I think it also involves us reminding ourselves, let me not compare this to what it was. Let me allow it to be its own thing now.

TAM: For NPR News, I'm Ruth Tam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.