Break-ups are hard. Not only can the end of a romantic relationship cause emotional distress, but when you lose a partner you may feel like you are also losing a part of yourself (Slotter, Gardner & Finkel, 2010). Through administering surveys, analyzing blogs, and carrying out a longitudinal diary study, researchers found that people who had recently gone through a breakup were less sure of who they were and described themselves in fewer terms after a breakup, and this predicted emotional distress (Slotter et al., 2010). Given that the self can rapidly grow during relationships, it makes sense to want to hold on to these benefits after a relationship ends, and you may be thinking that one way to do so is to remain friends with an ex. But, is it even possible to be friends with an ex? As Justin Bieber puts it in his song “Friends”:

I’m wonderin’

Can we still be friends? (ah-ah)

Can we still be friends? (ah-ah)

Doesn’t have to end (ah-ah)

And if it ends, can we be friends?

There’s empirical psychological literature out there to help answer Mr. Bieber’s question. Here are 3 ways to tell if you’ll stay friends with an ex:

  1. Personality: In a survey of 522 college students, Zwhar-Castro and Dicke-Bomann (2014) found that those who scored high in agreeableness and extraversion were more likely to stay friends with their exes. Further, people who resolve conflicts in a way that reflects concern for others were more likely to stay friends with an ex (Zwhar-Castro & Dicke-Bomann, 2014). Although significant, personality and conflict style were only weak predictors of post-relationship friendship. As I’ll explain next, it seems that the components of the Investment Model, rather than individual personality characteristics, shed more light on whether or not you’ll be friends with your ex.
  2. Commitment: According to the Investment Model, satisfaction, alternatives to romance, and investments all play a role in how committed one is to their partner (Tan, Agnew, VanderDrift & Harvey, 2014). Tan and colleagues (2014) found that partners who were highly committed in their relationship were more likely to stay friends after. This study demonstrated the influence that investment has on commitment and consequently on the decision to stay friends after a romantic relationship. For example, your investment would be high if you share a lot of friends with your partner, and you probably wouldn’t want to give that up after a breakup (Tan et al. 2014).
  3. Satisfaction: If you were satisfied in your romantic relationship, you have a better chance of being friends after you break up. Bullock and colleagues (2011) surveyed 131 college students about their current friendships with an ex-romantic partner. They found that satisfaction in the romantic relationship not only predicted post-breakup friendship, but also predicted satisfaction in the friendship (Bullock, Hackathorn, Clark & Mattingly, 2011). People who scored high in satisfaction also were more likely to engage in behaviors to maintain their friendship post-breakup (Bullock et al. 2011).

So, to answer Justin’s question: maybe. If you’re high in agreeableness and extraversion, and were committed and satisfied in your relationship, it’s more likely you’ll be friends after your romantic relationship.

 

References

Bullock, M., Hackathorn, J., Clark, E. M., & Mattingly, B. A. (2011). Can we be (and stay) friends? Remaining friends after dissolution of a romantic relationship. The Journal Of Social Psychology, 151(5), 662-666. doi:10.1080/00224545.2010.522624

Slotter, E. B., Gardner, W. L., & Finkel, E. J. (2010). Who am I without you? The influence of romantic breakup on the self-concept. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 147-160.

Tan, K., Agnew, C. R., VanderDrift, L. E., & Harvey, S. M. (2015). Committed to us: Predicting relationship closeness following nonmarital romantic relationship breakup. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32, 456–471.

Zwahr-Castro, J., & Dicke-Bohmann, A. K. (2014). Who can be friends? Characteristics of those who remain friends after dissolution of a romantic relationship. Individual Differences Research, 12(4-A), 142-152.

 

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