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The #1 Thing That Determines Whether or Not You Can Be Friends with Your Ex

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When it comes to breakups, it's natural to want to stay friends with your ex. But pulling it off is a whole different story. Some people make it look easy: Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki, Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are all pretty much the epitome of Hollywood's #exgoals. After all, Garfield gave Stone an actual standing ovation at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars when she won—who wouldn't want that kind of support and encouragement from someone they used to share their life and love with?

But are these couples just the exception to the messy breakup rule, or is it really possible (and healthy) to stay friends with your ex?

For starters, staying on good terms with a former S.O. isn't actually all that uncommon. A Google Consumer Survey by Mic in 2015 found that nearly 57 percent of people report staying friends with their ex (although, it's worth noting this includes the 14.5 percent of people who stay friends solely through social media, which, as we all know, is more keeping tabs than a real friendship).

But whether it's healthy or not depends on the dynamics of your relationship and your reason for breaking up.

Not surprisingly, men rated sexual access higher than women did as their motives, but this isn't typically the main motivation for staying close after a split. "It's how committed you are to the person, rather than how committed you are to the idea of a romance with that person, that causes the friendship post-dissolution," says Laura VanderDrift, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University, who studies the dynamics of close relationships.

"The single best predictor of post-breakup friendship is how committed the two partners were to each other when the relationship was ongoing," says VanderDrift. That shared sense of self doesn't dissolve right away, so those who spent their relationship with their partner's best interest at heart will probably continue to have those positive emotions and have more meaningful contact with their ex post-breakup, she says. (Like welling up with tears when your ex wins the biggest award of her career, perhaps?)

VanderDrift's 2014 study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, found people were more likely to remain close with an ex if they had high levels of investment and high satisfaction during the relationship. Similarly, a 2016 study out of Oakland University shows the main reason people want to stay friends is because their ex is reliable or trustworthy, or because there is a strong sentimental attachment. Whether you're actually ready to transfer that sentimental attachment and happiness from S.O. to friendzone, though, is a whole different question.

But there are some caveats...

No matter how happy and healthy the relationship was, it didn't work for a reason, which means this person was also part of a massive negative emotional experience. "No matter how amicable the breakup, they always involve some amount of rejection," VanderDrift adds.

But you don't need to be friends ASAP. In fact, the Mic survey found roughly 28 percent of people say they'll be friends with their ex, but not till some time passes—and that is actually healthier for both your healing.

"People who make a clean break from their ex and stop communication altogether do have speedier recoveries from the feelings of love and sadness that accompany the end of a relationship," VanderDrift says. In fact, new singles who don't have contact with their ex are typically able to move on to a new relationship faster and recover their independent sense of self faster, she adds.

So how do you know when you're ready to extend an olive branch?

"When thinking about your ex no longer conjures negative emotions, you're probably ready for a friendship with that person, if you want one," VanderDrift says.

If the thought of grabbing coffee still fills you with anger, sadness, love, and wanting, then put down the phone. Those feelings will eventually ebb, she reassures, but the friendship won't be healthy until thinking about the person delivers more positive than negative emotions.

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