Question: do you think it's possible to be friends with a partner's ex?
It’s an age-old dilemma that divides the masses. Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom seem to think so: the singer has a close friendship with her partner’s ex (and our current cover star) Miranda Kerr. The pair recently hosted an Instagram Live together and openly post about their friendship.
But can it ever truly work? Is it awkward, or might there be animosity further down the line? “There is a debate about what you should do if your partner’s ex is still in their life,” explains chartered psychologist and founder of AskDoc doctor Juliet Anton. “Should you take the high road and be friends with them, or give them the cold shoulder and hope they fizzle away?”
Both good questions, neither of which have a straight one-size-fits-all answer. Bottom line: there are a whole load of important factors to consider before you decide what’s the best course of action for you.
Keen to know whether you can ever truly be friends with your partner’s ex, or whether it’s just too difficult? Keep reading as three women share their real life stories, and as a psychologist, a psychotherapist and three relationship experts share their take, too.
Can you be friends with a partner’s ex? Yes, say Brenda and Anna
“My partner lived in a shared house with his ex fiancé, Margaret,” explains Brenda, 39, a publicist from London. “They had split about six months before I met Ricardo, my partner, but still lived together for financial reasons,” she explained.
“She was was really beautiful, and I was worried that there might still be some emotions there,” she continues.
Luckily, that wasn’t the case – and Margaret and Brenda hit it off straight away. “She immediately made me feel really welcome and went out of her way to show me that she was okay with me,” she shares. “There was just no ego or vibe with Margaret, which is one of the reasons that we are still great friends thirteen years on.”
Anna, 26, a doctor from Cardiff, agrees, sharing that she’s still friends with her partner’s ex. She was actually friends with her before getting together with her boyfriend, and shares that she wouldn’t have let the relationship get in the way of that friendship.
“We all knew each other from school – my now partner Arron dated my friend Lily from the ages of fourteen to eighteen. I think the key thing was that they broke up amicably, with very little hate or dislike between them.”
“I went to uni with Arron and it took a few years before we transitioned from being friends to more than that. I kept Lily in the loop when we started having feelings for one another – she was a childhood friend and I didn’t want to blindside her. We’re still close friends – it’s a friendship from my childhood that was too good to give up. Arron doesn’t mind that at all.”
Anna adds that, when she and Arron started dating, “Lily was in a space in her life where she was happy, in a relationship herself, and no one was looking back or wanting to change the way things had gone.” Would she have wanted to start a relationship with a partner’s ex if anyone was looking back or wanting to change things? Absolutely not. “But everyone’s really comfortable in our situation, which is great,” she explains.
Can you be friends with a partner’s ex? No, says Tracey
Tracey*, 22, doesn’t think it’s possible. When her partner tried to encourage her to be friends with his ex, she recalls it making her feel uncomfortable.
“I’ve been with my partner for three years now and his ex has always been on the scene,” she shares. “While I don’t necessarily have a problem with her, I don’t want to be friends – I’ve always got the impression there is unfinished business between them, and I don’t find her particularly easy to be around as a result.”
“I’m sure I’d feel differently if there was a reason for them to be friends, but I’ve never really understood why they’re still close if they’ve both moved on.”
Brenda also adds that she reckons it can be difficult to be friends with a partner’s ex if there are some residual feelings from either party. “If I had felt I was in competition with Margaret, or that there was jealousy on either side, I doubt we could have been friends, but we’re quite similar and get on really well.”
“I think most people could get on with a partner’s ex if there isn’t any romantic overhang, insecurity or jealousy on either side,” she concludes.
What do the experts reckon?
According to Charlotte Armitage, a psychologist and psychotherapist at Cast Care Clinic Ltd, it’s dependent on a number of things.
“Relationship history, how the relationship ended, when it ended, and whether or not they share children or other commitments will determine the nature of the relationship going forward,” she explains.
“In some circumstances a healthy relationship isn’t a choice but a necessity, especially in situations where there are children involved”, she adds.
Amanda Wheal, a psychology teacher and founder of Amanda’s Ceremonies, a celebrant offering conscious decoupling, points out that you can – if you trust your partner. “Trust is a key aspect of any relationship, so if your partner welcomes the idea of you being friends with their ex, take it as a positive sign. Their friendship is clearly important, as is trusting that it’s just that – a friendship,” she shares.
Sam Owen, Hinge’s UK relationship expert, reckons you can, too – but only if you both genuinely want to. “The reason for your partner’s break-up with their ex and the motivation for the friendship are key – for example, if there are no hard feelings and you, your ex and their new partner all wish to co-parent to raise happy, healthy children, then you may find a friendship is easier to sustain, because your mutual focus is on something deeply important to you all.”
Anton seconds this, adding that if even if there aren’t children in the equation, your partner and their ex are bound to run in the same social circles, so it’s inevitable that you’ll end up at an event or night out together in the future. “Being friendly with the ex will make the situation easier and more comfortable for everyone,” she shares.
She encourages you to ask yourself the following questions:
Is the relationship platonic?
Aka, is there concern that they want to get back together, or are any romantic feelings still involved? If so, then the situation may be challenging.
“If there is concern that they still like one another, then you need to have an honest conversation with your partner and their ex to gain clarity and reassurance about where you stand,” advises Anton.
Do they have children together?
Another important factor to consider is whether there are children involved.
“If your partner has children, their ex will have to be a part of their life, so being friendly will only make day-to-day life easier,” shares Anton.
Does their relationship affect your mental wellbeing?
Finally – and this one is important – if you find yourself struggling with the presence of your partner’s ex and it’s beginning to impact your mental health, know that it’s ok to voice that.
“It’s important to speak openly and honestly with your partner so they understand how you feel. Whether you want to be friends with your partner’s ex or not, it’s important to consider your own mental state and make the decision that is best you,” she concludes.
What complications or hurdles may arise?
We’re only human, and as with any relationship, there will be obstacles to overcome. Being friends with a partner’s ex may feel awkward, stressful or even annoying – but know it is possible, and especially so if both partners are fully moved on and there are no romantic feelings involved.
While possible, it also can’t be forced, shares Owen. “Everybody has a past. If the friendships are mutually authentic – great! – but if you can’t be friends with your partner’s ex, that’s fine, too. Safeguarding your social circle is a form of self-care.”
5 tips for staying friends with a partner’s ex
1. Set and maintain clear boundaries in the relationship
This one is key, and also indicates a certain level of trust towards both your relationship and theirs. “It’s wise to have boundaries about acceptable topics of conversation, and try not to compare yourself or overthink the situation,” advises Wheal.
2. Communicate honestly about how you feel about the existing relationship.
If there isn’t an obvious reason for the relationship to exist – such a a child or pet – know that it’s normal (and advisable) to explore why the relationship exists, shares Armitage.
If it’s because they haven’t found closure yet, it may be a reg flag. “Usually when people hold onto a relationship, it’s because they haven’t had time to, or haven’t wanted to, fully grieve the relationship to enable them to move on,” she explains. “In this case, finding closure on that relationship will enable all parties to move forward.”
3. Start with a clean slate
Rather than going off what your ex has told you about them, advises Owen. It’s easy to make assumptions – try and steer clear of that, where possible.
4. Ask questions
Similar to the above, ask questions about them – rather than making assumptions – is important in order to get to know who they really are, independent of your partner and their ex.
5. Spend one-on-one time with them
And finally, actually spending time with them is key to getting to know them and building your own relationship with them.