How To Tell If You’ll Stay Friends With Your Ex

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Photographed by Angela Pham.

By Dr. Benjamin Le

Commitment is obviously important for keeping a romantic relationship going. But it can also influence how previous partners feel about each other after they break up. While you might think that a more casual romance would be more likely to transition into a friendship post-breakup, new research suggests that people who were more committed to a romantic relationship have stronger friendships with their exes after breaking up.

The new study, conducted in Los Angeles, tracked the relationships of 143 individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 over the course of a year. The researchers analyzed data from participants who were in a relationship at one point during the study but had broken up by four months later. These individuals reported on different aspects of their relationships, including their levels of commitment to the significant other while they were an item.

Participants indicated the type of post-breakup relationship they had with their exes (e.g., no contact, friends, best friends, etc.), how much contact they had with that person, and the extent to which they experienced positive or negative emotions when thinking about their exes. Researchers combined each individual participant's responses to these three questions into an overall score representing that person's current level of closeness with the former partner. Finally, participants indicated how much they wanted to get back together with their ex and how likely they were to do so.

People who were more committed to a partner had stronger relationships after breaking up.

The research team found a link between participants' relationship commitment and how close they ended up with their exes: Those who felt more attached to their partners and wanted their relationships to continue tended to have better relationships with those partners after breaking up, compared to pairs who had been less committed.

Is this just because the more committed exes actually wanted to get back together? Not necessarily. The researchers found that post-relationship closeness between previously committed partners still held even when the pair didn't want to get back together and/or thought that was unlikely to happen.

It may seem unsurprising that you're more likely to stay in touch with that "epic" first love than with your summer fling. After all, an important part of commitment is wanting a relationship to continue. So, these committed relationships don't necessarily end; they just evolve into friendships instead.

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