Love Better

Want To Stay Friends With an Ex? An Expert Tells Us How To Do It

It is possible, but it won't always come easy.
​Girls shaking hands in a field.
Girls shaking hands in a field. Credit: gemenacom

Staying friends with an ex might seem like an impossible task. With so much history, tension and potentially-still-bubbling feelings, an ex partner is the last person who’d be considered an obvious choice for a stable, healthy friendship. 

But it is possible. And how, you might ask?

Blindly shutting down the idea that attempting a friendship could go wrong isn’t the way to go about it – as re-designing your relationship takes effort, understanding and a touch of brutal self-assessment. If you’re not willing to believe it might not work, you’re not going to be putting in the effort to make sure it does


There are some basic no-go’s like not treating your ex as a therapist to discuss how you’re coping with your relationship with them ending. If they don’t want to be friends with you then don’t waste your time pushing the idea. And you certainly shouldn’t bad mouth them behind their back constantly and expect them to still want to be by your side. 

Aside from the obvious, there are some more nuanced approaches that can help make your newly established friendship work out for the best – and minimise painful and messy emotions in the process. 

VICE NZ spoke with Wellington counsellor Maria Milmine to find out about how to stay friends with an ex partner in a healthy way. 

Here’s what she had to say: 

Have a conversation to define what is and isn't acceptable in the friendship.

Milmine: Firstly, you have to have your needs and wants firm in your mind. Having a plan will be important in managing your own expectations, energy and ultimately the ability to sustain a healthy friendship with an ex.

Have you determined how and whether you will stay in touch? What are the physical boundaries? What changes will be expected regarding shared friendships, activities or locations.

Boundaries will help minimise misunderstanding and support your emotional wellbeing. Boundaries may change as time goes on, and that’s ok. It is always ok to redefine a boundary. Some exes might not feel comfortable being friends because one or both still have feelings or the breakup wasn't mutual.


Don't keep sleeping together.

Milmine: It will be difficult to have closure of the romantic relationship if new expectations and parameters haven't been defined or kept to. 

Time is an important factor in healing from relationship wounds. Time helps us rebuild other meaningful parts of our lives, discover new interests or hobbies, friendships and supports. It gives us space to gain perspective, reflect and assess, learn from previous experiences and perhaps take with us new hopes and discernment for future relationships.

Ask yourself, will sleeping with my ex extend the length of time it will take me to heal from this relationship and move on? Can I meet my sexual desires in a different way?

Feeling sad or lonely, we may turn to sex with an ex as comfort because it is familiar. Being on your own will take some getting used to, perhaps get some accountability set up with friends and don't be too hard on yourself. 

Have other support systems.

Milmine: Feeling contradicting or confusing emotions is a natural part of processing loss of a relationship. Wanting to continue connection with the people who you have broken up with is understandable. It may feel as though they are the only other person who understands what you are experiencing. 

Giving time and focus to other types of important relationships in life ensures that we haven't expected our partners to meet all of our emotional needs. If your dating time together meant that your other social connections shrunk, this is another opportunity to understand yourself better. How did that happen? How do I feel about that? In future, how might I do things differently? Were we codependent? 


Having time to focus on rebuilding interdependent social connections and meaningful relationships will strengthen future romantic relationships as well as support your overall wellbeing. One person can not possibly meet all of our needs. 

Having some space from each other.

Milmine: Having time to redefine who you are without this person in the role they had previously been in your life will be useful in rebuilding your life. Being able to have time to honestly check in with yourself and ask how do I feel about the break up? Have I given myself space to adjust to a new normal? Have I been able to grieve and let go of what was and what could have been?

If remaining in contact brings more pain or prevents you from being able to heal then it may be a more compassionate, brave and courageous act to give yourself space, limit or end contact, at least temporarily. 

If having space from each other seems like an impossible thing to do, ask why that is? Am I seeking comfort being around them? Do I still have hope that we'll get back together? Have I assumed that this is what they want? Am I prioritising their needs over my own? Could you give yourself time to rediscover who you are without your ex, how have you changed? How do you feel about those changes? What could that let you know about you and the things you value?

Don't go there if you still have feelings.

Milmine: You may also need space from mutual friends and shared activities. Adjusting to a new normal is hard. In a lot of ways deciding whether you continue spending time with an ex or not can be like choosing between hard and hard, so it's understandable that you may not want to make a call on it. 


However asking yourself, what will it cost me if I do not create space to prioritise me? and am I prepared to pay that? Could you give yourself some time and understanding, and practice kindness towards yourself? 

The difficult feelings associated with a break up need their time to be expressed, it may be that spending time with your ex takes away from your ability to process those feelings and that can result in a 'stuck' sort of feeling.

Own the Feels is brought to you by #LoveBetter, a campaign funded by the Ministry for Social Development.

LoveBetter Youthline support channels:


Or rangatahi can text lovebetter to 234

Rachel Barker is a writer / producer at VICE NZ in Aotearoa. You can find her @rachellydiab on IG and Letterboxd and see her film criticism on Youtube.