Why people want to stay friends with an ex

romantic relationship

It is quite common that after a breakup, we still want to be friends with an ex. We have our own reasons to do that: maybe we still think the person is desirable, maybe we want to get back the friendship before the romantic love, or maybe we want to keep some good memories.

This choice may bring some benefits, but more often it can make things complicated. However, even we know it is not easy to stay friends with an ex, we still choose to do it.

To fully understand the motivation behind this post-relationship friendship, researchers from Oakland University conducted two studies. They find that there are 7 reasons for staying friends with an ex. The article is published in Personality and Individual Differences.

In study one, 348 participants who have experienced at least 1 breakup were asked to give 5 or more reasons why they might remain friends with an ex after a breakup. Based on their answers, researchers find 153 possible reasons.

In study two, 513 participants read the 153 reasons and rated the importance of each reason. After that, researchers conducted a statistical analysis called principle component analysis on the answers.

The result showed that 7 reasons were the most important for staying friends with an ex:

Reliability/sentimentality: the ex had some good qualities and the relationship was satisfying, e.g., she was a great listener, he was supportive, we had similar personalities, she made me a better person, I could trust my ex, etc.

Pragmatism: the ex had something valuable, e.g., she had a lot of money, I wanted money from him, they have attractive friends, they were a fallback plan, my ex was a good cook, they were a useful social connection, etc.

Continued romantic attraction: I still had feelings for her, I still wanted to date him, I did not want her to forget me, I missed him, I wanted to make his new partner uncomfortable, etc.

Children and shared resources: we had children together, he was my boss, we had shared property, we were living together, we had a pet together, my ex was pregnant, etc.

Diminished romantic attraction: I was totally over my ex, my ex was not that attractive, there were no hurt feelings, I lost sexual interest in him, the relationship was just a fling, we did not date very long, etc.

Social relationship maintenance: we shared a group of friends, we attended school together, we saw each other frequently, I wanted to show maturity, I wanted to stay friends with their friends, etc.

Sexual access: the sex was good, we still had sex from time to time, to keep having sex with him, etc.

A future analysis showed that Reliability/sentimentality was more important than all other factors, and that Pragmatism was less important than all other factors.

To men, to access sex and money/resources from an ex are more important reasons than that to women. No other gender differences were found.

Based on the result, researchers suggest that staying friends with an ex may provide chances for ex-partners to exchange desirable resources (love, money, information, sex, status) after romantic relationship is over. But it’s a big challenge to strike a balance in the relationship.

Citation: Mogilski JK, Welling LLM. (2016). Staying friends with an ex: Sex and dark personality traits predict motivations for post-relationship friendship. Personality and Individual Differences, In Press, Corrected Proof. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.016
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