Break-ups aren’t easy but is it a good idea to transition into friendship with an ex? A new study suggests that there is a laundry list of reasons why your ex wants to keep in touch – probably for selfish reasons.
Scientists out of Oakland University in Michigan say that while some exes keep in touch because of genuine care, others carry on as friends for “strategy” and “desirable resources” – namely money, sex and intel.
READ MORE: 11 signs you still have feelings for your ex
“What this research highlights for people is that different people have different motivations for wanting to stay friends with an ex,” Justin Mogilski, study lead author and PhD candidate, told Global News.
“It’s possible that your partner could be much more manipulative than you and that’s something to look out for. You may want to stay friends to one day get back together and they might want to stay friends with you just because you’re useful to them,” he explained.
Mogilski studies psychology in romantic relationships, specifically how we mate and pick out our romantic partners. He decided to study the reasons why exes forge friendships because he noticed in his romantic life, he maintained friendships with his exes, but often for different reasons.
The study is based on the responses of 860 people who were polled about the status of their relationship with an ex. In a second survey, the study participants also had to complete questions about their own personality – this way, the researchers could categorize them as manipulative or deceptive, for example.
There are plenty of reasons why we choose to keep our exes in our lives – the poll’s responses ranged from the mushy and sentimental to the strategic and calculated, though.
The seven most common reasons identified in the study were:
- Reliability and sentimentality: Your partner was trustworthy and someone you could count on. This factor was given the “highest importance” in ratings. Some couples admitted their ex was a great listener, supportive of their goals and offered good advice. Others went so far as to say as “they understood me better than other people,” they felt comfortable around them or they were an important part of their lives.
- Pragmatism: Logically, maintaining a friendship just made sense to some couples. In this case, the ex had a lot of money, they would provide nice gifts or food, they knew how to fix broken things around the house, or they were a useful social connection, for example. Some exes conceded they stayed friends with an ex to sabotage their chances at a new relationship.
- Continued romantic attraction: Some exes were simply still in love, they couldn’t stand the idea of their partner being with another person, and they wanted to date again. Some respondents said, “I thought we might get back together later,” they missed them and couldn’t imagine life without their ex.
- Children and shared resources: If exes shared a family at one point, their partner was pregnant, they had joint loans, debt or assets, or they worked together professionally, they had a tendency to keep in touch. It made sense for a smooth transition instead of severing ties.
- Diminished romantic attraction: The flame burnt out in some cases with exes admitting they were no longer in love, they lost sexual interest or they might have had a fling. In this case, the love was lost but friendship was maintained.
- Social relationship maintenance: In this case, exes had a shared group of friends, they didn’t want to create awkwardness within their social groups and they wanted to be mature. “Staying friends made life less dramatic,” some exes said.
- Access to sex: In short, keeping in touch with an ex made “friends with benefits” a possibility. Some exes said they still had sex from time to time and that the sex was good.
Reliability was the most important reason why exes stayed friends, while pragmatism was the least popular reason. This stood out to Mogilski and his team – they’re such disparate categories.
“One was wanting to stay friends because you trust them and they were always there for you, while the other wanted to stay friends because they had a lot of money or they could fix your car. It went from how warm that first category feels to how cold the second one feels,” he said.
All of the other groups tended to be clustered in the middle when ranking importance.
There were differences in sex, too – men hung onto exes for pragmatic reasons and for access to sex more than women.
When it came to personality, Mogilski came up with some troubling findings: if your ex identified themselves as being dishonest or manipulative, they were more likely to want to stay in touch as friends for the practical reasons, such as sex, money or to get information.
His next steps are to consider how staying friends with an ex affects current relationships with a new partner. His guess is that personality plays a role in how this situation plays out, too.