Befriending your ex


Most relationships will end at some point. In Belgium, 3 in 4 marriages will end with a divorce*. This is significantly higher than the European Union average of 1 in 2 marriages*. Long gone are the days when lifelong unions were the norm. As most people now go through successive relationships in the course of a lifetime, new questions arise: should we leave our ex-lovers in our past or should we keep in touch and even become friends with them? Right after the breakup, negative emotions replace love People that were once madly in love with each other seem to have an uncanny ability to become adversarial once they are no longer an item.

Separations are often one-sided: there’s a dumper and a dumpee. Emotions run high and it’s not uncommon to start hating the one you used to love. We have all been there. Clearly, the cause of the breakup matters. If you were in an abusive relationship for instance or if your trust has been broken over and over again, it may just be wise to cut your losses and not look back. In all cases, anger is one of the emotional stages of mourning described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (Swiss-American psychiatrist, a pioneer in near-death studies and the author of the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying). However, this negative emotion usually subsides and gives way to bargaining and depression before one is truly able to move on.

Friendship is not a consolation prize during the bargaining phase, the person who just got dumped is likely to suggest or accept friendship as a consolation prize: “Can we still be friends?” Guilt, heartache and pity hardly constitute a solid foundation for friendship.

Therefore, it is wiser to spend a significant amount of time apart before considering being friends. Be patient, it can be a lengthy process. Do you really have to stay mad at each other? 1 out of 10 Belgian children grows up in a ‘blended family’. It is crucial to a child’s development that parents can at least cooperate on the one project they still share: educating him or her. Even without children thrown into the mix, it can be awkward to ask friends to pick sides.

Resenting your ex also means you are not at peace with your past. As time goes by you should be able to paint a pretty objective picture of the relationship you had. You are now able to learn a few lessons from the mistakes you made. Instead of holding a grudge, you may find closure and start another relationship. Finding closure and moving on As long as you feel jealousy just entertaining the notion that he or she will meet someone else, then you are not ready to be friends. However, if you can truly rejoice over your ex’s newfound happiness, it means you are autonomous and ready to move on with your life. This will help you a lot in future relationships.

Think of it this way: when I go on holidays or when I travel for business, I like travelling light. Similarly, when I embark on a new sentimental journey, I do not take along a ton of emotional baggage and unresolved issues from past relationships. Some exes will be friends for life, some acquaintances. At least, you will find a certain sense of continuity to your personal history. Nothing disappears, everything transforms. If love can turn to friendship, then why let it turn to hate?

*Source: Eurostat