By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
You shared romance, affection, and an identity as a couple; but then it somehow fell apart. You might even have been married, but are now divorced. You still really like, trust, and respect each other. But can you still be friends? The answer is in you and your former partner.
One possible answer is, No way. Some people feel that once those fires of passion have been lit, there is always at least a little smoldering attraction there that interferes with friendship. For them, there will always be some yearning for a closer relationship; even if it hasn’t shown itself. This, of course, does not allow for a relaxed, platonic friendship.
Another possible answer is an undeniable yes. People who hold this view imagine that the fires of attraction can burn themselves out, leaving warm embers of caring and friendship. They enjoy the benefits of this continued supportive and engaging relationship. In any particular case, maybe they are fooling themselves… or maybe not.
What if you aren’t sure? What if you’d like to be friends, but are concerned your interactions might have some underlying, alternative agenda (whether it be re-connecting as a couple, or flirting with the hope for a little physical pleasure). And, even if there is some unresolved sexual tension, does that negate the possibility of friendship?
There are no hard-and-fast rules here. To know if an alternative agenda exists, you need to sit down in a quiet moment and listen. Listen earnestly to the thoughts and feelings that flow up from deep within you. Others can share their observations and give their opinions, but only you can know the truth of your heart.
If you still hold a torch for your former partner, you need to ask yourself whether it is one that warms you and lights your way – or one that burns you. If you hurt yourself or your ex by continuing to pursue your unrequited love or a destructive relationship, then it is time to move on.
If you and your ex are happier with a continued relationship, go ahead and enjoy each other’s company. Chat, have fun together, and be supportive one another. Feel free to continue this as long as you enhance each other’s lives. But take note if your relationship seems to be causing problems. Such problems might be clear, such as repeatedly getting pulled back into an unhealthy dynamic. Or, they might be harder to spot; such as the relationship keeping you from putting yourself back out there to date. Sometimes it’s easier to hold onto the safety of a known partner (even a former one) than to risk the vulnerability and possible pain of searching for, and developing, a new relationship.
So, can you still be friends? Well, the answer is up to you…
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