As much as we’d prefer it didn’t, dating can get messy so staying friends with an ex can be a challenge. Author of Notes On Love Lauren Windle, explores when you should and shouldn’t pursue friendship with an ex and the best ways to go about it.
If you’ve dipped your toe into the Christian dating scene and engaged with any of the talks, books or podcasts, you will have heard someone say: “Be sure to leave your partner better than you found them.” This is a call to affirm them, treat them with respect and show them their value. It also means communicating well and clearly and, in the event of a break-up, prioritising their care and closure over your desire to scarper.
Doesn’t that sound lovely? Wouldn’t it be amazing if every ex I’d ever had, had made me feel even between about myself than when we started? If that were the case my self-esteem would be flying higher than Elon Musk’s proposed space travel plans. Sadly, this is often not our experience – and certainly rarely mine.
We’re flawed people and it’s very difficult to navigate highly emotional situations well when we’re plunged into the middle of them. So break-ups can get a little sticky at times. If you have managed to fulfil the criteria above, and both parties have walked away feeling unscorned and without a list of talking points for their therapist, then yes I think you probably can maintain a friendship, although I recommend you take a decent amount of time and space initially. But, if the ending was more turbulent, moving forward could be difficult.
Firstly it’s important to say - if there was any kind of abuse; emotional, physical, sexual or spiritual, you should absolutely not try and maintain a friendship with the person. It’s likely it wouldn’t be safe to do so. That’s not unchristian. You can forgive someone without rebuilding and there’s wisdom in doing so.
Under other circumstances there’s no reason you can’t try to keep the friendship alive without the romance. In situations where you go to the same church or have mutual friends, working towards amicable contact is probably advisable. But how should you go about it? Relationship expert Charisse Cooke suggests the following could help you out:
Acknowledge what your partner has taught you
One of the greatest things about relationships is how they teach us about life and love. By sharing with your partner how they’ve helped make you a better person, you realise that while this relationship may be coming to an end, it carries valuable lessons for your personal and maybe even spiritual development.
Maintain good boundaries
Sometimes leaving a relationship is made extra hard by messaging each other or meeting up again. This might be part of the relationship ending, but it often just causes more pain and upset and makes the process even harder. Consider what’s right for you, and what you believe to be right for your ex - and stick to those boundaries to keep you both safe and the parameters clear.
Do not badmouth your ex
When your relationship ends it’s very easy to share all the negatives with those around us. While it’s understandable, it can be hurtful and unnecessary, especially when sharing the same circle of friends. When you talk about your relationship try to keep your comments constructive and philosophical, rather than critical or full of blame and pick one or two trusted close friends - rather than slagging them off all over town.
Give yourself time
It takes time to decide to leave a relationship and it takes time to deal with it ending. Know that giving yourself the gift of time allows you to not put pressure on yourself and remain patient and kind. Both you and your ex are going to be coming to terms with the decision and it’s okay to initially feel hurt, angry, sad, upset and lonely. This is part of grief.
If you don’t manage to stay friends with an ex, this doesn’t make you a bad Christian. Sometimes it’s just not possible. If you realise that’s where your at, you’re best off putting some clear and fair boundaries in place with you ex. Then you will want to get praying to work out where healing (and maybe repenting) needs to be done. This is best talked through with a church leader.