Kaley Cuoco Sweeting seems like a seasoned pro when it comes to friendly breakups. The actress became best friends with her ex and The Big Bang Theory co-star Johnny Galecki, post-split. In fact, the two became so close that Johnny was actually front and center at her recent wedding to Ryan Sweeting. "It took a minute, a bit of awkwardness," she told Cosmopolitan of bouncing back post-breakup. "By the grace of God, we became best buddies and moved on in such an elegant way. [He's] one of my closest friends."
While "a bit of awkwardness" seems like a huge understatement for most breakups, Kaley makes it seem like a breeze. And she's not the only one: recently separated Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin swear they'll be closer than ever after their "conscious uncoupling." So it got us thinkingÃ¢â‚¬”is it really possible to be friends with an ex? We asked experts to weigh in on the issue.
When It's PossibleÃ¢â‚¬”and When It's Not
Ironically, becoming friends with your exÃ¢â‚¬”and letting the past go in the processÃ¢â‚¬”can actually help you move on to an even better relationship with someone new, says dating and relationship expert Christie Hartman, Ph.D., author of Back in the Game. It may be a sign that you've let go of your romantic feelings for your ex and you're ready for a new chapter in your life.
That said, not every couple can achieve this post-split Nirvana. Relationship therapist Rachel Sussman, author of The Breakup Bible, says that it usually depends on the breakup itself. If you simply grew apart, lost your passion, or felt like you'd become non-romantic roommates, you've got a good shot at a healthy friendship, says Sussman. If you broke up because you were constantly arguing, one of you felt the other was irresponsible or too much of a flirt, or betrayal factored into your split, Sussman says that "the same problem that broke you up is going to leak into the friendship." In that case, you may have to cut your losses and walk away.
Plus, you have to be aware of your feelingsÃ¢â‚¬”and your ex's. If one or both of you weren't ready to let go of the relationship, Hartman says you aren't ready for a friendship. You're likely to have different expectations, hurt one another's feelings, and even get in the way of moving on. "It can create serious problems in a new relationship," Hartman explains, because your lack of appropriate boundaries with your ex (for instance, texting him frequently or going to him first with big news) will make your new guy feel like the odd man out. So if either of you still has some lingering love (of the romantic or sexual sort), entering the friend zone will be nothing but trouble.
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How To Do It
When you're hot off the heels of a breakup, it may seem impossible to go even a day without chatting with your ex. Still, it's crucial to take time to be independent. "You have to take a break," advises Hartman. "Going straight to friendship doesn't work. You have to separate yourself for a while, kind of let go emotionally and do the grieving process. And then, you can sit down and agree that you'll be friends." Make sure that you and your ex don't contact each other during this time apart; that way, you can heal without old feelings getting in the way.
Once you are finally ready to brave the friendship waters, both Hartman and Sussman say establishing ground rules is a must. A few don'ts: asking about relationship advice, telling each other when or who you're dating right off the bat, and hooking up post-split. Instead, Sussman suggests establishing boundaries and guidelinesÃ¢â‚¬”even noting how often it's appropriate to talk. And above all, don't rehash old arguments; they'll typically just lead to drama.
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If you do start dating someone new, make sure to let him or her know as soon as possible that your ex is still in your lifeÃ¢â‚¬”and that you're just friends. While it's pretty rare that you'll get to the same buddy-buddy level as Kaley and her ex, Sussman says a wedding invitation can be appropriate, but only if your ex is ingrained in your social circle and your current partner is friends with him or her too. Let's be real: The last thing you want at your wedding is your groom to be uncomfortable, or worse, a post-ceremony brawl.
MORE: 6 Rules for Getting Over a Breakup the Healthy Way