After the split: Can you be friends with your ex?

Some celebrities are apparently able to stay close to their exes. Ailin Quinlan explores whether this is a good idea for the rest of us.

After the split: Can you be friends with your ex?

BRIAN McFadden and Vogue Williams may be separated, but they continue to live together at their London pad, sharing grocery bills and doggie care.

“We’re still great friends,” McFadden recently said, adding that the pair still hang out, together and with mutual friends.

Is this possible?

After the pain of a breakup surely it’s best to get as far away as possible from your ex, giving you both the space to heal?

Yet Vogue and Brian aren’t the only ones — there are plenty of celebrity couples who continue the friendship after a break-up — Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have been spotted on holidays together, while Demi Moore and Bruce Willis seem to be strongly united as parents.

But what about the rest of us?

It’s possible, ponders psychotherapist Trish Murphy, well known to listeners of the Ray D’Arcy Show, through her regular slot as a relationship counsellor.

“I know of one couple who are still very good friends and who share the care of their children,” she says, adding, however, that in this case the separation was a mutual decision.

Continued good friendship between ex-partners is generally more the exception than the rule as many people remain hurt or bitter years after a break-up.

Sometimes the idea of friendship is offered as a kind of consolation prize by the partner who wants to leave, the other jumps at it because it’s better than nothing, but it usually doesn’t work, says Murphy.

“This is heart-breaking because then the person watches their ex getting involved with someone else.

“It’s is like writing torture into your life if you try to be friends too soon after a break-up,” she says.

However, if you belong to a couple with children, then you have to stay in contact — and this can be very difficult.

“While ‘out of sight out of mind’ is a good rule generally, it’s completely unworkable when there are children in the equation.

"It’s very hard for even the best parents to make good judgement from the heightened emotional state that accompanies separation.

"You have to learn how to meet and behave civilly in public,” says Murphy.

One way to do this — and to ensure you both agree on how to parent your children as your family moves through the process of separation — is to join a parenting course.

“A six or eight week parenting course can be a good idea because it ensures you are both on the same page in this new situation, and it can provide some common ground or structure,” says Murphy.

“It also offers a neutral venue and you learn to meet each other in a public situation – but one which does not as yet feature your children.

“It is very hard because if you feel rejected by a lover or partner every statement comes from that — there are very complex emotions.”

When children are not involved, however, the ground rules are very different.

Childless couples should forget about even thinking of the possibility of being friends immediately following a split, advises Rena Maycock, co-founder and director of Intro Matchmaking Agency in Dublin .

“I don’t think it is possible to stay friends unless both partners were happy to end the relationship, and both have agreed that it wasn’t a good idea,” she says.

“They may agree they have come to an end in a relationship that is completely exhausted and both partners are relieved it is over.”

Outside of that, she says, once a break-up happens you really need to get away from one another immediately.

“You must immediately separate geographically after the face-to-face conversation — any other form of break-up is unacceptable.”

Mostly, explains Maycock, one partner would have preferred the couple to remain together, “so right at the start there is anger and emotion”.

“You have to go through the grief of the break up first. Generally I’d feel that living together after a break-up is an appalling idea because one partner will move on sooner than the other, and will be bringing new partners into the house in front of the ex.”

That first step — physical separation — is essential.

“You cannot move on if you are going to be geographically together.

This is about moving out and avoiding the other person.

“You also need to stop frequenting the same places you went to as a couple.”

However, she says, torn by grief and denial, the partner who does not want the break up will often lose weight or otherwise change something, before throwing themselves into the path of the ex:

“This is a form of denial in the hope the ex will come around, so they might lose weight or change their hair or get fit and give the impression of having moved on,” she says.

They will turn up at former mutual watering holes in the desperate hope that they’ll bump into the ex, who will then magically realise his or her mistake and beg to come back.

However, she warns, this doesn’t work. If the geographical split doesn’t happen, all you’re going to get is a “really long and painful goodbye.”

“It’s much better to give each other space and time after a break-up,” she advises.

“Acceptance lies in changing your life because you want to do it and are moving on,” she says.

This means changing things because you want to, and for yourself, not because you’re hoping against hope that your ex will spot your weight loss or new hair-do and realise his or her foolish mistake in dumping you.

A breakup can involve a significant amount of painful ‘decoupling’ of assets, friends, family relationships.

“You’re forced to look down the barrel of life without that person.

“You say yes to every invitation and take up new hobbies – if you don’t do that you’re left hanging there with the ghost of that person following you around.”

Generally, Maycock believes, staying friends with your ex is primarily about simply being able to be friendly and polite — not about being best friends.

“The notion of close friendship between exes is misleading.”



Create distance in your life from your ex. End any co-habitation and avoid situations where you might meet. Don’t agree to friendship too soon — realise that you must allow for proper recovery time.

Decouple completely: divide the assets, unfriend on Facebook and other social media sites, retrieve your belongings, close joint accounts and say your goodbyes to friends of your ex.

Understand that you need to mourn and grieve over what has happened. Focus on other meaningful relationships, lean on your friends and family for support.

Your routine needs to change so fill your time with new hobbies and attend as many events as you can. It’s important to fill the gap that your ex used to fill so that you don’t miss them and can move on quicker.

Be respectful of one another: This may not always be possible where there’s deep hurt or betrayal involved but if you can be kind and dignified then it will make for a much more civil relationship with your ex.

Keep your ex at a distance: Once the dust has settled and you’ve both moved on, it’s fine to be civil and even friendly but keep in mind that where an ex is involved, the lines of what is an acceptable level of contact can be quite blurry.

Consider your new partner: Be fair to your new partner and understand he or she is right to feel uncomfortable that about an ex being your best friend.


Kid yourself: Break-ups are rarely 100% amicable. One party is usually more injured than the other. Residual hurt and bitterness will prevent any meaningful friendship happening while emotions are high. You cannot be friends until further down the line.

Pretend to be friends: Remaining “friends” in the hope that it will give you time to lose weight, get fit and have a fabulous life that will make your ex realise his or her huge mistake won’t work.

Loitering around your ex’s life will result in you going from ex-that’s-now-my-friend to ex-that’s-my-stalker in no time. If you think you can be friends, you need to have a real discussion about what that means but only when the time is right.

Get in the way of your ex’s new relationship: If you’re a real friend then you’ll back off so that your ex can move on and be happy in a new relationship.

Invariably any new love interest will have a problem if you are too close for comfort anyway — so do the decent thing and stay back.

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