To cut or not to cut an ex from your life after a breakup, that is the question. Just last week, a dear friend of mine had her divorce finalized after a long, drawn-out three year separation. Upon hearing that her now ex-husband wants to cut off all communication with her for the foreseeable future, she’s distraught. Over the course of their separation, they’d managed to remain quite friendly, keeping in touch with phone calls and texts, and even meeting up for occasional dinners out and seeing bands together they both loved. But now that the divorce is finalized, her ex says he needs time to process the ending of their marriage and to really close that chapter and move on. She’s devastated that she won’t have him in her life the way she has in the last few years and thinks he’s being unreasonable and even a little mean. I, on the other hand, think he’s doing what’s best for them both and that a little space will give them the kind of closure they probably could have benefited from years ago.
Of course, every relationship and breakup is different and there isn’t a one right way to navigate a post-breakup friendship, but in general, cutting off an ex, at least for the short-term, seems like a healthy way to process feelings and figure out who “you” are when you’re no longer part of a “we.” It can be tempting to remain close to the person whose life was so intertwined with yours, but jumping into a friendship with an ex muddles those often very confusing emotions following a breakup. About five years ago when I amicably ended a four-year live-in relationship, I continued to see my ex-boyfriend on a weekly basis. I’d often go to his apartment after one of my evening classes in graduate school since his apartment was just a short walk from campus. We’d order or cook dinner together and settle in for some TV-watching and I’d think, See, this isn’t so bad? Breakups don’t have to be so sad!
The truth was, things felt so similar to how they were when we were still a couple, I think I just extended my healing process months longer than it had to be. When I started dating other guys, it just seemed really odd and confusing to continue this somewhat emotionally intimate relationship with someone I knew I needed to move away from in order to truly “clean my relationship palette.” It was sad walking away from him completely, but breakups are supposed to be sad, and in the end, cutting contact from him was what finally helped me close that chapter for good and realize just how much happier I was on my own...and how much richer a relationship could be with someone who was right for me. It’s really in feeling those often uncomfortable emotions that we move to a healthier emotional space.
I’m not saying one can never be friends with an ex. Depending on how serious the relationship was to begin with, or how easy the breakup was, it’s possible to immediately and seamlessly move into a friendship. Additionally, even serious relationships that end with a lot of emotional fanfare can eventually create enough distance to be close again. I’ve never experienced the latter myself, but then, I never really saw the point in rekindling a friendship with anyone who valued a day of golf over everything else. Perspective is usually a better friend than any ex can be…