Hi Kitsch Mix
I’ve been with my girlfriend for 2 years, and it was the most real and longest relationship I’ve ever been in? She and I still love one another very much, but we’re at very different places in our lives, and decided to end it mutually.
Any tips on reducing hurt but also maintaining a healthy friendship?
Well, reader, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you two still have feelings for one another – no matter how much you both know it just isn’t going to work out – you can’t really have a healthy friendship.
Our brains are wired in such a way that, if we want something, we will subconsciously work toward it, even if we know it’s bad for us. This is especially true when it comes to the people we love. I have family members who have treated me horrible, my entire life, and as much as I try to tell myself I want nothing to do with them, I’ll still answer the phone when they call. (Well, most of the time.)
Of course, I don’t mean to project my family problems onto you – and it seems like your situation is nothing like that at all. We like to think that staying friends after a painful breakup is the “mature choice”, but really it’s just setting us up for future heartbreak – over and over again.
This doesn’t mean that you can never be friends. Often, the pain subsides after a while – my mother, for example, is still in touch with a great deal of her exes. They’ve got healthy friendships, and they can even crash on each other’s couches without even a day’s notice. But that didn’t happen right away.
It cannot happen while there are still feelings there.
You will both need to be fully healed from the pain of the breakup before you attempt the “just friends” thing, otherwise there will always be a longing for it to go back to being something more. There’s a million different opinions about how to get over someone, and they’re probably all true for some people – but switching to “just friends” will never be one of them. She’ll be on your mind just as much as she was when you were dating, and it will be painful.
You don’t necessarily have to both be in new relationships to make the “friends” thing work out, but you have to be absolutely confident that you will not be tempted to fall back into old habits, and that’s often hard to promise yourself. It might seem harsh, or even completely negative, but think about it. What do you do when you’re on a diet? You throw out all the cakes, right? It’s the same thing with girlfriends. If you think you’re going to be tempted to eat it (yes, pun definitely intended), you can’t expect yourself to look at it every day and not touch it. Humans have a finite amount of willpower, and you can’t really train yourself to have more. You’ll just get frustrated and give up. (Here’s an interesting paper that details this theory.)
This is really hard when you’ve been in a long-term relationship with the person. We are so used to having them as a part of our lives that we want to hang onto them, even in a diminished capacity. But we only think we can handle this diminished capacity. It’s like telling yourself, I can only watch half an episode of my favorite show – chances are, you’ll find it easier to agree to not watch it at all than you would to stop halfway through, right? It’s the same thing with relationships. When you want one thing, your mind won’t let you settle for less than that – even if it’s entirely on a subconscious level.
In time, you may find that your feelings have completely subsided, and you may find yourself back in contact again. It’s perfectly acceptable to attempt a friendship at this point – I’ve recently gotten back in touch with some of my exes from high school, and there was enough space there that we’re friends now. Not great friends, particularly if I slept with them or professed my undying love for them at some point in time, but friends to the point we can share some stories and small talk from time to time.
Would I even think about doing that with one of the women I was in a long-term relationship with? Not a chance. Not yet – it hasn’t been long enough.
I heard somewhere that the guideline is “twice the length of the relationship, plus three months” – or “seven times the length of the relationship” – or “half the length of the relationship” – but these are completely arbitrary numbers. Your situation is not the same as someone else’s situation, beyond the psychological facts. No one can set a deadline for “getting over someone”. It has to happen in its own time, and the more you try to rush it, the longer it’s going to take. I think it has something to do with letting her stay such a prominent part of your thought process, but then again, I’m not a psychologist.
As much as you want to be friends with her, do both of you a favor and don’t try to push for that now. Allow yourself time to heal first, and if you’re meant to be friends, you’ll find your way back to friendship once you’ve taken the necessary time for yourselves. You might end up not even caring if you’re friends afterwards – or you might find that you’re still not actually ready. There is nothing wrong with either of these findings, nor is there anything wrong with getting to a point where you can be friends. But no friendship (or relationship) should be painful – it’s not worth it to keep one that is.