Saturday, June 22, 2013

Can You Be Friends With Your Ex?


Saba7o/namaste LOVEanese! I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to blog again, but when you work 9 hours a day, the last thing you want to do is work more when you get home. Believe it or not, these posts generally take me quite a long time to do--anywhere between 5-10 hours total between researching, reviewing, reading, condensing the material, writing, editing, formatting, referencing, finding photos/video/media, and publicizing (for instance, I started working on this post at around 10:30 AM-ish, and only finished it at around 8:45 PM). Each post (particularly the research-intensive ones) are basically like a class paper. So, thank you for your patience! Perhaps I need to find a more adaptable/workable model now that I'm not in grad school anymore (and, thus, I don't have as much time to work on what I want), but I don't want to sacrifice quality.

Also, thank you for so many wonderful comments on the last post. The kinds of feedback I got were absolutely amazing. Just don't give up on love!

Before I begin with the post, as usual, I just want to highlight some cool resources/links I found over the past few weeks.

1. The first is about how beneficial hugging and physical touch is for our health and well-being.



2. The second contains some advice to NEVER take. These are some of the worst things you can hear. Generally, if someone gives you any of these cliche, overgeneralized, short answers--whether you're married or not--don't take them. It's scary because much of this is coming from friends or family most likely as well.

3. The third is an interesting take on why romantic comedies (rom-coms) have gone downhill, and actually regressed over time.

4. The fourth comes from Science of Relationships, one of my top favorite and most-recommended relationship resources out there. It's a summary of the top three predictors of successful relationships, including: positive illusions, commitment, and love. While love and commitment are self-explanatory, positive illusions are "useful cognitive biases that let you think your boyfriend or girlfriend is the greatest person in the world. Positive illusions refer to the way you see your partner and how you understand his or her actions." Check out the article for more information.

5. The fifth alludes to previous posts/my thesis, and regards the question: what is love? However, in this case, it's funny how sometimes science isn't as accurate as something else: children. This is an account of what love is based on 4-8 year-old kids, and it's truly touching.

6. The sixth is about how young Indians are turning to online dating to curtail arranged marriage. Also included in the article is an exposé by my friend Lakshmi over at Chai With Lakshmi on new ways that middle-class Indians are meeting potential partners in Bangalore.

7. The sixth is actually not the main article (although it is just as interesting in and of itself), but it's actually the slideshow at the end. I found that each slide has great advice that I suggest everyone reflect on.

8. The last could be a post itself, but since it already fostered a vibrant Facebook discussion, I just wanted to mention it here instead of dedicating a post to it. It's entitled, "Diamonds Are A Sham And It's Time We Stop Getting Engaged With Them." Here is a summary of the article: "Americans exchange diamond rings as part of the engagement process, because in 1938, [the American jewelry company] De Beers decided that they would like us to. Nearly every (American) marriage begins with a diamond because a bunch of rich white men in the '40s convinced everyone that it determines your self-worth. You think that you need to spend two month’s salary on a ring because the suppliers of the product said so. Diamonds are not actually scarce, make a terrible investment, and are purely valuable as a status symbol. Diamonds...are bullshit."



In response to the article, I stated that, while of course it's everyone's personal decision to make and there is a great social emphasis to buy a diamond since so many individuals are socialized into understanding that's just "how it works," there are things to consider. When many American (and Lebanese, and many other) couples are already in debt, expensive rings and weddings really are the last thing we need. It just goes to show that when it comes to personal finance, we have absolutely NO regard what is best for our children. People have agency. They can do what they want. But diamonds are arbitrarily expensive. Most people getting married (in the US specifically I mean) already have massive amounts of student loan and/or credit card debt. How is it prudent to tell them that they need invest in a worthless (money-wise) investment in order to prove their loyalty? I just don't think it's contributing to creating new marriages on a healthy footing. That said, will I buy one one day? Maybe, we'll see. But the sheer idea that you HAVE to definitely bothers me.

Feel free to share your comments about this below. And for more information, check out this in-depth article in The Atlantic.



Oh right, and that...

So, now that all of that business is out of the way, we can get into the heart of this post. As you can tell by the title, this post is all about ex's: ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-everything. I'm sure almost all of you can relate to this topic, regardless of your cultural background (although, bearing in mind the purpose of this blog, don't forget that a lot of people out there don't even have the luxury of dating, or the ability to divorce). I am also happy that this post can get back to the normal paradigm that has defined LOVEanon, and that is a review of a subject based on relationship research. As I said, most people have an ex-boyfriend and/or ex-girlfriend out there somewhere. However, can you and should you stay friends/connected with them after the break-up? This was actually a question posed by a friend, and he asked me to tackle the issue.


  You know what they're talking about...

When I did an initial Google search out of curiosity, I was blown away by how many results there were:

843,000,000 results!

However, it's not surprising. For years, I've heard of people grappling with the question. After I took that screenshot, I just wanted to see what some of the first few links that came up said. Again, I was surprised. Some of the advice from the different links didn't sound as bad as I had assumed it would actually. For instance, the two authors of the book DUMPED presented a 10-point list of things you shouldn't do after a break-up that I thought was sound advice. Another was this one from WikiHow of all places. It details some steps to take that could help preserve a relationship after the break-up, and has a nice video at the end as well (however, I suggest that before taking any of that advice, you check out Battegalia, Richard, Datteri, and Lord's (1998) very interesting study that analyzed various factors associated with breaking-up, and synthesized a script for relationship dissolution). This one's from the folks at eHarmony (an online dating service) that presents three reasons why it could be a good idea to stay friends, and three reasons why it may not be a good idea to stay friends. Lastly, this article out of Australia, it documented stories of different couples, and how they either remained and or did not remain friends. One of the best quotes was this: "Psychologist Dr Melissa Keogh told news.com.au there was no black and white when it came to developing a friendship after a breakup, but there was one golden rule: if you are still in love with that person, do not go there."


And let the funny photos related to ex's commence!


Of course, even if it appears to be sound advice, it doesn't necessarily make it so. And if you've read this blog long enough, you know what I'm referring to: none of it (aside from the quote from the psychologist and perhaps from the two aforementioned authors) is coming from relationship counselors, researchers, or experts. So, to get some research/expert-based perspectives, and to try and distil a more accurate answer to this question, I turned to--you guessed it--Science of Relationships (SofR). I found many articles from them on this subject, and I'll outline them below:


The first was a Q&A with the appropriately-named Dr. Tim Loving, a relationship researcher and psychologist, co-founder/frequent collaborator on SofR, and Associate Editor of the journal Personal Relationships. In other words, the guy's got some serious cred. In a response to a letter someone submitted asking about whether or not a girl and her ex-boyfriend should be friends (as they were), he discussed "cognitive interdependence" (Agnew, Van Lange, Rusbult, and Langston, 1998), or what is developed when we become more involved and committed to a partner. He concludes that the more you stay in touch with your ex and the more you do things with him/her, the harder it is going to be for you to emotionally and cognitively disengage from them. Moreover, bear in mind that love really is like a drug--in terms of how it affects our brain (Bartels and Zeki, 2000; Fisher, Brown, Aron, Strong, and Mashek, 2010). Thus, when you break-up (especially if it was an emotionally intense relationship), it's analogous to overcoming a drug addiction or quitting smoking, cold turkey.

RIP Mitch

Dr. Loving didn't necessarily say yes or no (and I think as we will see, there's often not one straight yes or no answer to most questions regarding relationship matters), however, he did shed light on the consequences of not respecting space. In another SofR article, Dr. Brent Mattingly offered some statistics to help frame the facts as well as six ways you can stay friends after a breakup that are supported by research. For instance, according to one study, "about 60% of ex-partners do not have contact with one another post-break-up (Kellas, Bean, Cunningham, and Cheng, 2008). He then gave the six factors that make it more likely for couples to stay friends after a break-up (otherwise known as post-relationship dissolution (or termination) friendship):

1. Being friends before the romantic relationship commenced.

2. If the breakup was mutual, or if it was initiated by a man (assuming a heterosexual relationship).

3. If they are still attracted to one another (however, it is important to avoid the often-doomed "on-again/off-again" relationships (e.g., Dailey, Rossetto, Pfiester, and Surra, 2009; Halpern-Meekin, Manning, Giordano, and Longmore, 2013).

4. If the romantic relationship was satisfying.

5. If there is friend, family, and social network support (something I have blogged about extensively).

(I purposefully omitted number six because I will discuss it later).

What do each of these tell us? He provides a great analysis of each as well as the references for where he gleaned the information, and I suggest you check out his words instead of my paraphrased ones because it's really interesting. But I will say that it adds even more layers to the complexity of finding an appropriate answer.


Of course, things are always easier if she doesn't have superpowers 

In yet another SofR article, researcher Samantha Joel offers research-based advice on how to get over an ex. She discusses detaching--similar to what Dr. Loving advised. Taking his and Samantha's advice further, in social psychological literature, a dominant paradigm within human interaction theories is attachment theory. It was developed primarily by English psychologist John Bowlby and Canadian-American psychologist Mary Ainsworth (e.g., Bowlby 1977, (1983) [1969]. For a more in-depth and detailed description, see: Ainsworth and Bowlby (1991), or read here and here), and then expanded to adult attachment relationships by Hazan and Shaver (1987, 1992). Initially, it described the relationship between children and caregivers, but Hazan and Shaver observed that interactions between romantic partners share similarities between children-caregiver interactions such as wanting to be close in proximity, feeling comfort in their presence, and anxious and/or lonely when they are apart. According to the authors, "attachment theory emphasizes the full cycle of relationships--their formation, maintenance, and dissolution--and the defining features of an attachment relationship include reactions to both the presence and absence of an attached figure" (Hazan and Shaver, 1992: 90).  Thus, understanding how attachment works as adults is key to navigating your personal feelings after a breakup that could ultimately determine how you and your ex-partner interact.

Examples of attachment gone wrong. Yeah... about that......

In the final SofR article I want to review, Dr. Amy Muise discusses whether or not you should stay friends with your ex on social media, most notably, Facebook. She mainly discusses how, often, social media is used to monitor your ex-partner, making it harder for you (and perhaps them if they find out) to get over that person and recover from the breakup. She also stated, "in addition, simply remaining friends with ex-partners (regardless of the amount of time spent monitoring their activities) had mixed consequences for break-up recovery. Keeping a partner on your Facebook friend list was actually associated with fewer negative emotions and less desire and longing for a partner; however, remaining Facebook friends with an ex was also associated with less personal growth following the break-up" (information cited from Marshall, 2012). In the end, however, she does not advise to either delete them or not.

I think you get the point. P.S. Guy or girl regardless, DON'T be this person.


Something that has been addressed until this point is that the majority--if not all--of these studies were specific to heterosexual relationships. But what about LGBTQ relationships? First of all (Kurdek, 1991) found no differences between gay and lesbian individuals in how they reacted to a relationship ending. Furthermore, non-responsiveness of the partner and absence/emotional distance were what mainly contributed to relationship dissolution. However, can they stay friends after a breakup? Remember the sixth point from the SofR article above? According to the author, "there is emerging evidence that gays and lesbians are more likely to remain friends post-dissolution than their heterosexual counterparts. Researchers theorize that this is because the members of the couple share membership in an oppressed/marginalized group (i.e., gays/lesbians), and there is a strong desire to maintain strong group bonds" (citing Harkless and Fowers (2005)).


With all of this information presented, what are the key conclusions? First of all, there is never a right way to break-up. In fact, I've always said, "there's no right way to break up, but there's a hell of whole lot of wrong ways." SofA seems to agree (they have an excellent article about the best and worst ways to break-up). Second of all, getting over your ex is incredibly important--both for your personal well-being as well as theirs. But also, it doesn't just affect you. It affects those around you--your friends, family, co-workers. It affects your future too. Think about it, if you're not over your ex, how is that fair to your future partner? Lastly, you shouldn't feel haunted. Being attached is a natural part of the loving process. But breaking out of the interdependence that is often fostered is a healthy way to attain emotional recovery. Jumping into another relationship isn't exactly wise either as rebound relationships often end up with someone getting hurt. 


So, why is this all relevant, and what is the final answer to this question of whether or not you can be friends with your ex? The fact is that the answer is: it depends. Why did you break up? What were the circumstances? Was it mutual? How long were you together? Were you friends before? What is your geographic proximity? Was the relationship abusive in any way? (and if so, I definitely don't recommend being friends). How does the break-up affect your social networks? Even things like how old are you, was it a marriage or a nonmarital relationship, each of your levels of maturity, how much you care about the other person, and, of course, what was the degree of attachment and love that you felt? As I said, there is no perfect answer. But the fact is, often staying in close contact with someone after a breakup (which are, without doubt, one of the most emotionally stressful experiences of being human (Sprecher, 1994)) can often exacerbate and prolong any feelings of discomfort, unhappiness, or dissatisfaction. If you broke-up, you probably broke up for a good reason, whether it was infidelity, incompatibility, or a host of other reasons, and you need to consider your own feelings as well as theirs. And remember, time heals all. Maybe you need time apart. But, again, that's something no one else can determine other than you and your partner. Bear in mind that, depending on who breaks up with who, there is also a power differential there, and regardless of whether they/you are hurt as well, undoubtedly, the feelings of the person breaking up won't feel as hurt as the person getting broken-up with (in general, anyway). If you want to preserve the friendship element of the relationship, communication is key. But so is respecting the other person's space. And negotiating between these two is tricky. I am not sure how to do so either, especially since it depends on the relationship and its dynamics. Whatever the case, I definitely recommend you cease physical activity at the least (i.e., stop sleeping with each other).


We should all strive to be like this, but especially if you're heart is broken, it is hard.


I apologize if the conclusion leaves you frustrated. Perhaps the question isn't so much of can you be friends with your ex, but should you be. I know it basically took over a year and half for one of my ex's and I to talk again, and now we're good friends. But I was also much younger, and I realize that as you get older, your feelings for someone not only often become more intense, but you have much more to lose because you invest more. So, there could be the possibility of resentment and other negative emotions that play out. Perhaps as you get older, it is harder to stay friends because when you were younger, you can just play off your mistakes as just that: "we were kids."

What are you comments? Are you friends with your ex(s)? Let me know! And also, don't forget to like LOVEanon's Facebook Page to get weekly posts with links, videos, photos, and other resources, or follow me on Twitter (@MikeOghia). 

And as always, spread the love,
-Ogie, MA

References:

Ainsworth, Mary D. Salter, and John Bowlby. 1991. "An Ethological Approach to Personality Development." American Psychologist, 46(4): 333-341.

Agnew, Christopher R., Paul A. M. Van Lange, Caryl E. Rusbult, and Christopher A. Langston. 1998. "Cognitive Interdependence: Commitment and the Mental Representation of Close Relationships." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(4): 939-954.



Battaglia, Dina M., Francis D. Richard, Darcee L. Datteri, and Charles G. Lord. 1998. "Breaking Up is (Relatively) Easy to Do: A Script for the Dissolution of Close Relationships." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15(6): 829-845.

Bowlby, John. 1983 [1969]. Attachment: Attachment and Loss (vol. 1) (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

----. 1977. "The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds. I. Aetiology and Psychopathology in the Light of Attachment Theory. An Expanded Version of the Fiftieth Maudsley Lecture, Delivered Before the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 19 November 1976." The British Journal of Psychiatry, 130: 201-210.

Bartels, Andreas, and Semir Zeki. 2000. "The Neural Basis of Romantic Love." Motivation, Emotion, Feeding, & Drinking, 11(17): 3829-3834.

Dailey, René M., Kelly R. Rossetto, Abigail Pfiester, Catherine A. Surra. 2009. "A Qualitative Analysis of On-again/Off-again Romantic Relationships: "It's Up and Down, All Around."" Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26: 443-466.

Fisher, Helen E., Lucy L. Brown, Arthur Aron, Greg Strong, and Debra Mashek. 2010. "Reward, Addiction, and Emotion Regulation Systems Associated with Rejection in Love." Journal of Neurophysiology, 104(1): 51-60.

Halpern-Meekin, Sarah, Wendy D. Manning, Peggy C. Giordano, Monica A. Longmore. 2013. "Relationship Churning in Emerging Adulthood: On/Off Relationships and Sex With an Ex."  
Journal of Adolescent Research, 28(2): 166-188.

Harkless, Lynne. E., and Blaine J. Fowers. 2005. "Similarities and Differences in Relational Boundaries Among Heterosexuals, Gay Men, and Lesbians." Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(2): 167-176.

Hazan, Cindy, and Phillip A. Shaver. 1992. "Broken Attachments: Relationship Loss From the Perspective of Attachment Theory." Pp. 90-108 in Close Relationship Loss: Theoretical Approaches, edited by Terri L. Orbuch. New York, NY: Springer.

----. 1987. "Romantic Love Conceptualized as an Attachment  Process." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3): 511–523.

Kellas, Jody K., Dawn Bean, Cherakah Cunningham, and Ka Yun Cheng. 2008. "The Ex-files: Trajectories, Turning Points, and Adjustment in the Development of Post-dissolutional Relationships." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 25: 23-50.

Kurdek, Lawrence A. 1991. "The Dissolution of Gay and Lesbian Couples" Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 8: 265-278.

Marshall, Tara C. 2012. "Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with Post-Breakup Recovery and Personal Growth." Cyberpsychology, Behavior, & Social Networking, 15(10): 521-526.

Sprecher, Susan. 1994. "Two Sides to the Breakup of Dating Relationships." Personal Relationships, 1: 199-222.

For further reading, see:

Stephen, Timothy. 1987. "Attribution and Adjustment to Relationship Termination." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4: 47-61.

P.S. I always loved this song about ex's (ironically, introduced to me by an ex):


6 comments:

  1. Thank you for mentioning my site, glad you liked it! :) Love your blog and very interesting article, you've made some great points!

    http://psychminds.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Nicole! I really enjoyed yours as well :) And I love hugs, so it was in great company. Feel free to follow/keep in touch on Twitter: @MikeOghia. Keep up the great work!

      Delete
  2. My ex and I are working at being friends.. and it seems to be working out for now. We broke up for good reason (too many religious conflicts) about 4 months ago but worked really well with each other apart from that. So now we're trying to make a friendship work amidst some much-needed boundaries - no sex. No physical temptations of any kind. No super-tight hugs. We do share a bit about the new girl he's engaged to be married to, and I do ask him for advice on what to do anf how to judge a couple of guys I've been introduced to.. I'm not sure how hard it's all going to get once he gets married (the lady he's engaged to already has a problem with him staying friends with me) , my future partner and his opinions.. and these are just starters. But I know my ex is a wonderful man and a human being. Just because we didn't make it as a couple doesn't mean we can't stay friends. (incidentally, I'm pretty good friends with a couple of other exes too).
    Reading your blog is heaps fun and interesting nevertheless. Shall keep you updated on this status on mine if it interests you! :) cheers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anon: Thank you so much for reading, and I apologize it's taken me so long to get back to you.

      Wow, that must take a lot of patience, and I'm sure it's hard. I really admire you for trying to get through it--though am saddened that religion had to be the thing that came in-between.

      How does he feel about being engaged to someone who isn't you?

      It doesn't sound like you two had a bad break-up (based on the stereotypical kind). I'm guessing neither of you really wanted to, but felt like you must, am I right? Please correct me if I'm not! Most people don't say their ex is wonderful haha. But that doesn't mean that person isn't, people may just not be right for each other.

      I'd love for you to keep me updated! And again, thanks so much for the kind words, I'm glad you like it :) <3

      Delete
    2. I've had a busy week too, no apologies necessary :)
      to answer one of your questions, days, even weeks go by without me giving much thought to his engagement to someone else. I know i'm ok and that i'll meet someone else to love and that life goes on. I don't believe that you can only ever love one person in one lifetime. And then, like a storm provoked, there are days I feel absolutely miserable. I ask myself questions like "how could this not work between us?", "why did he choose his religion over me?" , "how much more is he going to love his wife just because she shares his religion? .. it can't be all that much".. I sob, throw myself a pity party, talk to my girlfriends.. and then the next day i'm ok. I feel silly even, about the previous day's memory. And then I do what I think most self-respecting people do - I go on with my life.
      Now to talk about your other question - We didn't have a bad break up, no. Not the last and final break up at least. But we did have a bad breakup once before.. I've had more than my fair share of screaming, fights, angry episodes, unnecessary accusations... The whole jingbang. And so finally, when the main issue - the religion bit - could not be tackled, we were so exhausted from all the fighting, we called it quits amicably.
      I think that one of the biggest worries most women have, is that they are scared to end up alone. They would rather put up with hell, infidelity, the occasional abuse, horrible in-laws, un-accepting friends and a whole lot more than end up as the old lady who lived with her cats. And it took me a while to figure out that the only way to move away from that feeling is to love yourself so soo much that nothing or nobody can ever chalange that or take that away from you.

      Sorry for the rambling. I think i got a bit carried away.

      Delete
    3. Anon, first of all, you're not rambling at all. Second, I'm happy to listen and that you feel that LOVEanon can be a place for you to voice some of the frustrations, concerns, and feelings you have. So, on the contrary, thank you for sharing so much!

      I agree, the notion of a "true love" is largely false. We love many different people throughout the course of life. However, I'd say that each of those loves is different and incredibly unique, but also varies in the level of intensity (I think anyway).

      So, yes, you will meet someone new. But that doesn't negate the way you currently feel, which, as you mention, includes good and bad days. And while it's good to be strong, don't neglect to address your emotions. If they are there, they won't just magically go away.

      I understand about the break-up. Even if it wasn't bad, I'm sure it was still very, very difficult and hard. Do you still think he loves you? Did he ever?

      I agree, but think it's not just women. I think most people are scared of ending up alone, but of course in Arab society, single women have much more to lose than single men (socially and economically speaking). Women should empower themselves, work after education, and make their own money so they don't have to depend on men--nor should they. And men shouldn't have to depend on women either. While I'd argue a little dependency on each other is a good and even romantic thing, we all have to take care of ourselves, but dependency shouldn't be arbitrary or necessary.

      You're absolutely right though: love yourself! Even if it's lonely sometimes, it's fulfilling. And that's so much better, even if it goes against the standard of what society communicates is desirable or "normative." Just remember my post on "No Man is an Island." It's about exactly that.

      Talk to me anytime :)

      Delete