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Should you stay friends with your ex?

Column by Makenna Marks

“Let’s just be friends.” Those are the famous last words many of us hear when we decide to end things with our significant other. But let’s think about that for a second. I don’t care how great your relationship was, or if the decision to break up was “mutual.” Is staying friends with your ex really a good decision? 

Whether we like to admit it or not, maintaining a relationship with an ex after we’ve broken up has its effects on us. A lot of the time, we still feel emotionally attached to them even after we’ve decided to end things. It’s natural to want to salvage that relationship. But as hard as it is, the best choice is usually to let them go and start moving on. 

Brent Mallinckrodt, a psychology professor at Western with past experience as a counselor, said that when we’re thinking about staying friends with an ex, it needs to be for the right reasons. 

“Are you wanting to be friends with your ex because you don't have any other friends?” Mallinckrodt said. “That kind of neediness is not a healthy thing.”

Part of the reason breakups are so rough is because we lose both a romantic partner and a best friend. That’s why it’s important to have close friends aside from your significant other. 

We also need to discuss the elephant in the room. Are you only staying friends with your ex because you’re hoping to get back together? We both know that’s a bad idea. It completely takes away from the idea of salvaging the friendship. If you really care about this person, you need to let them go completely. 

But no two relationships are alike. Maybe you both really are better off as friends. If this is the case, Mallinckrodt recommends two things: honesty and communication.

“This is the most important message: Honesty and direct communication about what friendship means makes sure that nobody is being taken advantage of in this situation,” Mallinckrodt said.

Trystin Sanders, a third-year management information systems major at Western, weighed the pros and cons. 

“A pro is you don't lose the relationship that you've put so much time into,” Sanders said. “A con is that it could make things uncomfortable in future relationships you get involved with.”

Even if you do decide to remain friends with your ex, taking some time away from each other can still be helpful.

Staci Weller, a professional dating coach, gave advice based on personal experience with her exes. 

“In my experience, I needed to really not see that person for a while so I could get over them first and then start thinking about friendship,” Weller said. 

If you catch yourself trying to hold onto a friendship with your ex for the wrong reasons, Weller suggests you give yourself a test. 

“If you could see your ex with another person, and you can be happy for them and actually support that relationship, that's a really good test that you're ready to be friends,” Weller said. 

Weller also recommends establishing boundaries to figure out what is appropriate within the friendship and what isn’t. 

“Maybe you have lunch with them once in a while, maybe have coffee,” Weller said. “But if you're hanging out with that person all the time, you have to wonder what's going on with that.” 

It’s worth remembering that there is a reason the relationship between you and this person didn’t work out. Before anything, you need to learn to be your own best friend first. So if you decide to continue a relationship with an ex, romantic or not, make the choice that’s best for you.

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