How to Actually Be Friends With Your Ex

It might be complicated but it's possible.

Nina Debrov and Ian Somerhalder
(Image credit: Marie Claire)

Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder won "best chemistry" at Wednesday's People's Choice Awards. Which, as they pointed out in their acceptance speech, may be most interesting because they used to date in real life. But now they don't. But their characters still do. "How horrible!" you say. "They broke up and still have to see each other all the time?" Not true – with a bit of exploration and communication it's possible to still be friends with your ex. Here's how:

1. Take space.

When you initially break up with someone, there are going to be a lot of strong feelings. You'll have some remorse, some anger, maybe some jealousy when you see a picture of some girl with her arms around him. That's all normal! Don't beat yourself up for feeling what you're feeling. But also don't feel like you need to do something about it. Take the space you need to be by yourself and mend your broken heart. No need to go to extremes with alcohol or new partners or calling him late at night. It's okay to tell him, "I need to not talk to you for a while."

Related: Back in the Game—Dating after a Serious Breakup

2. Stop blaming.

Most of our heartbreak around this sort of situation is perpetuated by our internal storylines. "If I had done this differently then we would still be together," or "He is such a creep! How could he have done that to me?" You can work yourself into a tizzy blaming yourself or your ex for the break up. Instead, when you notice this type of thinking come up you can say, "No blame," to yourself, and try coming back to what you are currently doing. If you're watching TV, come back to your breath. If you're on the treadmill, come back to running. If you're out with friends, come back to the conversation at hand. Whatever you are doing, drop the blame and just be with what's actually happening, not the harmful storylines.

3. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

There was a reason that you and your ex spent so much time together once. Remember the good times, and don't just assume the worst of your ex because of how the breakup went down. We all mean well, and we all strive for happiness. Sometimes we get confused about how to achieve that, and end up hurting others. Just because you feel hurt, doesn't mean you need to forget about all the lovely memories from the relationship.

Related: The Dos and Don'ts of Tinder

4. Reconnect on your terms.

As you can see, most of the steps I mention above are about looking at your own emotional state. That's important, so that when you do feel ready to reconnect, be it after weeks or years, you can do it in a way that comes from a place of strength. When you meet up, try to walk into that situation without a lot of fixed expectations for what you want to see happen. If you walk in thinking he will break down in tears and apologize profusely, crying to the gods asking how he could ever treat you bad, you will likely end up disappointed. When you reconnect, it's a good chance to get very inquisitive; don't make assumptions about who he now is or what he's about. Pretend like you're on a first date, or just getting to know a new friend. You may be surprised by how much he has changed if you keep an open mind.

5. Do what feels natural, not comfortable.

If you two start flirting, you may end up falling into old roles that are comfortable for you to play. That might not actually feel good though. That might actually lead to some negative patterns. So my final piece of advice is to do what feels natural, not comfortable. Comfortable is the same sort of habitual dynamic that got you two into trouble before. Natural is staying in tune with how you are currently feeling and letting that manifest in ways that you feel good about. The more you can tune into what you are feeling in the moment, the better chance you have at communicating with your ex in a way that is productive and gets you to the point where you can start a new relationship as friends.

Related: The Most Annoying Things Engaged Couples Do

Lodro Rinzler is the author of "Walk Like a Buddha: Even if Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex is Torturing You, and You're Hungover Again" and the founder of the Institute for Compassionate Leadership.