Staying friends with an “ex”: Motivation for friendship


For most people, contact with former partners, if they do not have children or businesses in common, is limited to an exchange of greetings or a brief conversation, and then as a last resort. However, there are people who, after breaking up, are friends with an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, which makes you want to ask them: “Why?” Won’t such a situation lead to trouble sooner or later?

The content of the article

In an attempt to answer what might be the motivation for inter-gender friendships between former partners after the breakup of a romantic relationship, Justin K. Mogilsky and Dr. Lisa L.M. Welling, PhDs from the Department of Psychology at the University of Oakland in the US, reviewed the new round of research. A detailed report and results of this research are presented in the academic journal Personality and Individual Differences, September 2017.

Experiment conditions

In the first round of the study, 348 participants gave reasons why someone might stay friends with an ex. This resulted in a long list of 2000 items. The subjects of the second stage (513 people) rated the importance of each of the reasons indicated by the first group. After that, the analysis revealed a ranking of seven main categories, summarizing the similar motives for which people would like to remain friends after a breakup.

  1. Reliability and sentimentality. This category included answers like: “He (she) was an excellent listener (interlocutor)”; “I liked his (her) company” and others;
  2. Pragmatism, that is, the continuation of friendship, dictated by practical considerations: “He bought me good gifts (food)”; “I was hoping to meet her friend”;

  1. Continued romantic attraction: “I was still in love with her”; “I couldn’t imagine my life without him”;
  2. Children or common resources: “We have common children”; “We work together”; “We have a common business”;
  3. Decreased romantic attraction: “Lost sexual interest, but communication continues to attract”; “After the breakup, negative feelings ceased to be present”;
  4. Maintenance of social relations: “To prevent awkwardness in the group of our mutual acquaintances”; “I wanted to stay in the company of my friends, of which the former partner is a member”;
  5. Sexual Access: “The sex was good”; “Sex is the only thing we have in common.”

Participants were then asked to rate these seven categories on a scale that identified personality traits and varying degrees of deviation from the psychological norm.

Reliability, pragmatism or sex?

The category including “sentimentality” or ex-partner qualities such as “reliable, trustworthy” scored the highest on the importance scale. Reasons that indicated that continuing the friendship was practical, i.e. pragmatism, received the lowest scores.

Men rated pragmatism and reasons for sexual access much higher than women. In addition, high scores on personality traits such as antagonism, honesty-humility, and extraversion predicted importance ratings for pragmatism and sexual access. The results are in fairly good agreement with previous research and suggest that post-relationship friendships may provide an opportunity for ex-partners to share desirable resources (status, information, money, sex).

Dark sides of personality

The study also found that those who were more likely to stay friends with exes for the sake of sex showed high levels of manipulativeness and deceit on the personality test. And this is not surprising, as previous research has also found that people who stay intimate with exes are more likely to be sociopaths.

On the other hand, people who do not exhibit high levels of manipulative and deceitful behavior are more likely to remain friends because their “ex” was a reliable and trustworthy person, and also because of sentimental attachment to him.

It might be a good idea to stay friends with an ex, depending on your motivation of course. But, if you really want to end the relationship, move on and don’t drag the past along with you – this is stupid and also dangerous, because someone (you, your ex or current partner) can get hurt.

A guy and a girl read correspondence with the former / Correspondence / Secrets

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.