6 Reasons Why Friendship with an Ex Often Fails

6 Reasons Why Friendship with an Ex Often Fails

Divorce specialist Brette Sember
Brette Sember is a former attorney from New York who specializes in divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates, bankruptcy, credit, and other related fields. She holds a degree in English and a J.D. in law from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

It’s not uncommon to want to end your marriage and remain friends. When your ex-spouse wants to be friends, it is usually in the hopes of maintaining a connection and staying in each other’s lives.

However, the shift from spouses to friends is difficult and may not always succeed.

Why Does My Ex Want to Be Friends?

If your ex wants to remain friends with you after the divorce, you might wonder what motivates them. Here are some possible reasons.

To Make Up for Mistakes

In a thread on Reddit, one man posted that his wife cheated on him during the marriage and now, after the divorce, suddenly wants to be friends. It’s not unusual for a spouse to feel remorse about cheating or other mistakes made during the marriage. Trying to be friends is often an attempt to make amends.

There can be several reasons for this. Genuine remorse is possible. However, some spouses might be concerned about how they are perceived and want to repair their image by smoothing things over and trying to move forward as friends.

To Look Good

A manipulative former spouse might want to avoid being seen as the bad guy in the situation, so they might try to create a friendship with you to make things look friendly and civil to others. This can particularly be true if they are the reason the marriage ended.

For the Sake of the Kids

Many couples who are co-parenting hope to remain friends after the divorce. Co-parenting requires ongoing contact for years and continued involvement in each other’s lives. Making decisions as co-parents and compromising when issues arise is much easier if you can maintain at least a civil relationship.

It is also beneficial for your children to see that you are able to talk to each other and parent together. If you do family events together (such as holidays, birthdays, graduations, etc.), remaining friendly can make these situations more comfortable for everyone.

To Maintain a Connection

Cutting off all contact can be challenging, especially if you’ve been in each other’s lives for a long time. One woman on Reddit reported her husband didn’t want her gone from her life and wanted to be friends.

Some spouses hope to become friends to have the stability of continuing the relationship, albeit in another form.

To Avoid Change

Some people are uncomfortable with change, and keeping the relationship alive as friends allows them to avoid it. Change can feel scary and unsettling. Ending a relationship entirely can leave a giant hole in your life. Hoping to stay friends means that the relationship continues, and your spouse never has to really deal with the emptiness that the end of the marriage brings.

Because Marriage Was the Problem

Some couples cannot share a home and finances. Doing so completely ruins their relationship. However, once those factors are taken out of the equation, they find that they no longer have any conflict and can function as friends.

You Have Mutual Friends

Some people joke about how friends are divided in a divorce, and it’s true that usually, friends gravitate towards one spouse or the other. Continuing to be friends with both can be challenging, especially if you used to interact as couples.

If you have close mutual friends, your spouse might be concerned about losing that friend group entirely because of the divorce and may hope to keep it together by remaining friends with you.

They Hope to Get Back Together

One Reddit user said they wanted to stay friends with their ex in the hope of getting back together. Some exes harbor hopes for reconciliation and think that remaining as friends after the divorce will give them a chance to rekindle the relationship in the future.

To Control You

Unfortunately, some people express a desire to maintain a friendship after a breakup because they want to exert control over their former partner.

Your ex might think that by remaining in your life, they can prevent you from dating other people (or from dating specific people they dislike) or that they can control or heavily influence other aspects of your life, such as your career choices, living arrangements, or finances.

6 Reasons Why Being Friends with Your Ex Usually Doesn’t Work

Being friends with an ex can work, but not in all situations. Here are some reasons why it might not work out.

New Partners May Be Uncomfortable

If you hope to date new people, continuing to have contact with your ex can be a red flag to them. They may be concerned you still have feelings for your ex and might end up returning to them. At the very least, it can be confusing for a new partner.


You or your ex may become jealous of new partners or dates. It can be hard to see someone you used to love (or still love) forming new relationships and bonds, and it can be simply too painful to stay around to witness.

Old Conflicts Reappear

Even if you and your ex are just friends, the conflicts that tore you apart while you were married can emerge again. For example, if you felt the other person allowed friends to walk all over them and this frustrated you, you will probably still feel that way. If there are personality features your spouse has that you conflict with, those problems will not go away by just being friends.

You Can’t Forgive

To move on as friends, you must, at some level, let go of conflicts, fights, and hurts that brought your marriage to an end. This can be very hard to do. If you aren’t able to forgive, you won’t want to spend time with the person who hurt you so much.

It Freezes You in Time

Continuing to interact with an ex can keep you from moving forward with your life. You can’t truly get a fresh start or reinvent yourself when you are tangled up with the same person. It can hinder your ability to grow and experience new things.

It’s Hard to Take Sex Out of the Equation

If you had a good sex life while you were married, attempting to be friends can be nearly impossible because that attraction may still be there. It can be tempting to be friends with benefits, which pulls you back into a real relationship whether you admit it or not.

Sex confuses things, and it is hard to just be friends with someone you still want to hop in bed with.

What to Do If Your Ex Wants to Be Friends

If your ex wants to be friends after your divorce, there are several things to consider.

Your Kids

If you share children, it is essential to maintain a civil relationship so that your children are not in the middle of a stressful situation and so that you can work out all the things that come up with co-parenting.

However, being “friendly” without “being friends” in this situation is possible. If you don’t want your ex to be involved in other parts of your life, that’s ok. Try to keep your interactions limited to parenting. You can be civil co-parents without overlapping other areas of your life.

Remember, You Have a Choice

You aren’t married and have no responsibility or commitment to your ex. Just because they want to be friends or have a relationship moving forward does not mean you have to agree and participate. You get to choose what feels right to you.

Evaluate How You Feel

Listen to your gut if you feel completely uncomfortable maintaining a friendship. If you feel okay with your ex staying in touch, that’s perfectly fine as well. What’s important is to listen to how you really feel, not what you think you should do.

Consider How the Friendship Might Affect You

Think about how being friends with your ex could impact your life moving forward:

  • Will it prevent you from forming new romantic relationships?
  • Will it hold you back from growing?
  • Will it be frustrating?
  • Will it tempt you to go back to them as a partner?
  • What positives will you get out of such a relationship?

Protect Yourself

If you’re divorced, you were likely hurt in some way. If you decide to have any kind of friendship with your ex, it is important that you do not place yourself in a situation where they could hurt you again. Relationships have patterns, and it can be easy to fall back into them.

Establish Boundaries

If you choose to be friends with your ex, you must establish clear boundaries with them. For example, you might want to be clear that you will not be “friends with benefits.” Another boundary might be that you will attend children’s events together but will not commingle other aspects of your lives.

Final Thoughts

If your ex-spouse wants to be friends, it’s important to consider their motivation and evaluate whether you think it’s something you want. Then, work out what it will look like with clear boundaries. Some couples can continue as friends, while others simply can’t. Find what works for you.


CATEGORIES: Life After Divorce

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