Breaking Free From Your Ex May Be Healthier Than Holding Out Hope For A Friendship

Going through a breakup can be one of the most challenging times of our lives. After spending months, years, even decades with someone else, intertwining what might feel like every aspect of your beings together, it is understandable that parting with them might feel impossible. Depending on the circumstances of the breakup, some couples may never want to see each other again, which could be for the best. But in others, under perhaps more amicable terms, some couples might decide to stay friends, or at least give it a shot. 

Even with the best intentions, however, trying to stay friends with an ex could hinder you in the long run. While going through a breakup — and under most other circumstances in life — few things are more important than taking care of yourself. But trying to adjust your expectations and emotions about your ex while still in contact could simply be a distraction from processing and healing from the painful separation that is unfolding. While feeling all of the feelings of the breakup in the moment might hurt, the longer you prolong your healing, the further you might be from leading yourself to a more fulfilling path. And although it is normal to lean on your previous partner as you both mourn the loss of your relationship, at some point, consider reflecting on the fact that you broke up for a reason. Ask yourself if staying friends is really the best thing for you.

Assess how you really feel

When you're still going through the motions of the breakup, moving forward without your ex can be hard to gauge. Whether consciously or not, it can feel easier to keep your ex in your life because it feels familiar to be in contact, and either party might not be ready to let go of the relationship. Before you embark on a friendship, take some time to assess how you really feel. Do you still have feelings for them, or motivations to get back together? Would you feel comfortable if your ex started dating someone else? Are you afraid to be alone, or that you might never find a relationship like the one you had again? 

How you emotionally respond to these realities can tell you a lot about where you stand. For as much as we can mentally prepare for the future we might imagine, or how we might expect things to go, ignoring our true feelings can lead to further heartache later. But having a clear idea of what you feel is the first step in understanding what is best for you, both in the immediate aftermath of the breakup and its effects longterm. Remember that it is valid to feel afraid of living life without your ex, and cutting out contact completely does not always need to be the answer. Rather, ensure that you know your motivations, and work toward accepting that you are on a different path than your ex.

Take back your own time

A rather unspoken aspect of a breakup is that breakups can be exhausting. Research has shown that the emotional anguish of heartbreak can cause real, physical pain. Speaking with Insider, clinical social worker Meg Josephson says that this reaction could be primal; social rejection once meant that your survival was at stake, causing extreme distress. While emotions are high, you might be prone to reviewing everything that could have gone wrong with your ex, replaying facets of your partnership over and over again, and even placing undue blame. Perhaps you might think you can "fix" what went wrong by staying friends with your ex, imagining how you can make up for the heartache that's been drawn. This is a tiring process. Emotions are rarely logical — there is no "thinking" your way out of them. Fighting against reality is just not sustainable.

Consider taking back the energy you are spending on continuing a friendship with your ex, should it feel more exhausting than replenishing. Keeping yourself in a space that does not feel good to you will not serve you. Instead, put your time into yourself, into doing activities that feel fulfilling on emotional, physical, and mental levels. Consider giving your nerves a break, and refocus on meeting your own needs. While it could take some practice, asking yourself often, "What do I need and what do I want?" can assist you in reclaiming your agency and keeping your wellbeing front and center.

And take all the time you need

And speaking of time, there is no set timeline when it comes to healing. Staying in contact with your ex could cause you to compare your healing path to theirs, leading you to make choices that are not authentic to you. Setting boundaries with your ex, and with yourself, can actually free you over time by ensuring you are constantly returning to yourself, rather than to someone else. Setting boundaries can also remind you what is in your control and what is not. Holding onto a friendship with an ex to avoid taking control of your own healing is no way to have a friendship. Releasing yourself from your ex can free mental and emotional space to embark on your own healing in a way that is true to you and you alone.  

While it is common to feel insecure about the feelings you may still have for an ex after time passes, remember that your feelings are proof of a deep love, and that should be honored. But if staying friends with your ex means compromising having an even deeper love for yourself, then it could be time to let go. Again, cultivating your newfound sense of self without your ex takes time, practice, and compassion. Ensuring that you always have yourself to lean on is a powerful skill to carry through all facets of life, as you move forward on a path more aligned with who you are now.