Entering a relationship means that our life takes a 180-degree turn, for better or for worse. This is clear, in many cases, during the breakup of a couple, a stage in which in many cases we enter into a personal crisis not only produced by the lack of contact with the person we once loved, but also by the emptiness that allows us to lose many of the habits that we once had with the “ex”.

But goodbye is not always final. It is common that after the break-up, contact is maintained with the former partner , with a cordial treatment. In fact, it is estimated that almost half of the people who have had a romantic relationship before maintain a friendly relationship with at least one of their ex-partners, and around 13% of them state that their best friend is someone with whom they have had a romantic relationship in the past.

So, one might ask… why are some people able to maintain friendships with former partners and others not? A few months ago, a study based on questionnaires was published that serves to clarify this issue.

Mature friendship, or something else?

The research, whose results were published in the journal Personal Relationships , involved people who had a partner at the time and who had previously been involved in at least one other love affair that has ended, and reflects several of the conclusions that other similar studies conducted previously highlighted.

For example, it found that about 40% of the people surveyed maintained contact with at least one ex-partner, and although in most cases this was not very frequent, in 13% of them the people involved spoke to each other several times a week.

Beyond these aspects related to the frequency with which contact is maintained with former partners, the research also shows data about how these relationships are after the breakup.

The beginning of that contact with someone we start to see for the first time as an ex-partner usually occurs after a hiatus of at least two months in which she does not stay in person and communication through the Internet and similar falls sharply until almost disappearing.

What predisposes you to regain contact with your former partner

But, what makes one more likely to resume contact with an ex? Curiously, and contrary to what one might think, the friendly attitude with a former partner is not an unmistakable sign that one has overcome the disappointment of love ; if we look at the statistics, in fact, the probability that the one who maintains this friendly relationship with the ex has overcome the breakup is lower than the one who does not maintain this contact.

In particular, the percentage of research participants who said they had not overcome the break-up was significantly higher among those who remained friends with the former partner. In addition, the probability of retaining a former love in the form of a simple friendship was higher for people who considered that they were relatively uninvolved in their current relationship , even though they were not dissatisfied with the latter. In general, they tended to show a greater propensity to remain friends with exes for whom they still felt something.

Does this interfere with ongoing relationships?

In another study conducted by the same team, an attempt was made to go into more detail in investigating the motivations of those who maintain a friendship with a former partner, and to do so only involved young people who at that time were in contact with an ex (or more) partner on at least a bi-monthly basis, and who were also in a relationship with another person.

This time, the researchers did find a link between satisfaction with the current relationship and more contact with the former partner.

On the other hand, participants were also asked to say to what extent they believed that each of these phrases described the reasons for their contact with that former partner :

  • The former couple is part of a large group of friends.
  • The relationship with the former partner is strong and satisfying.
  • The ex-partner is seen as a possible plan B.
  • You feel that you have had many experiences with the ex-partner and that you have invested a lot in that relationship.

The participants who were most satisfied with their love relationship tended to respond very positively to the option referring to the large group of friends (perhaps because it is a contact that requires less effort and dedication being “fitted in” to the usual social circle), while those who were most dissatisfied highlighted the option of returning to that person as a plan B ; the other two options did not correlate well with the satisfaction obtained from the partner.


Of course, these results do not mean that anyone who maintains a friendship with an ex still has feelings for that old love, but that statistically the number of people who have not overcome the break-up is more common among those who are still in contact with the ex than among those who have had a clean slate.

Perhaps this indicates that cutting someone off completely is not as immature an option as many believe, but rather an effective way of not making each other’s lives bitter. In any case, each person is a world, also in our affective facet.

Bibliographic references:

  • Kaplan, D. L., and Keys, C. B. (1997). Sex and relationship variables as predictors of sexual attraction in cross-sex platonic friendships between young heterosexual adults. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,14, pp. 191-206.
  • Rodriguez, L. M., Øverup, C. S., Wickham, R. E., Knee, C. R. and Amspoker, A. B. (2016). Communication with former romantic partnersand current relationship outcomes among college students. Personal Relationships, 23(3), DOI: 10.1111/pere.12133