Louise sits down with clinical psychologist look at the concepts of attachment, validation, power, comfort, attention, security and more in this episode of OPENHOUSE – with a dose of juicy stories along the way.

⇢ How to be friends with your ex – and whether you really should be trying to be?

⇢ What is the psychology behind what drives someone to want to stay in touch with your ex?

⇢ We explore validation, power, comfort, attention, security and more – why do we find it so hard to let go of these things?

⇢ Louise’s experience of bumping into an ex years down the line;

⇢ How a new partner coming into the scene impacts the experience.

Things also get deep in this exercise when Louise shares her feelings about her most recent ex boyfriend and Dr Tari Mack gives her some sobering home truths.

Let us know how you enjoyed the episode and be sure to share this on social media, as well as giving us a rating and review on Apple or Spotify.

Connect with Louise on social: @iamlouiserumball

Connect with OPENHOUSE: @openhouselife

Connect with Dr Tari Mack: @drtarimack

Sign up to join the OPENHOUSE mailing list to receive first access to all workshops, courses and live events: www.thisisopenhouse.com

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Music Sources

Vibe With Me by Joakim Karud http://soundcloud.com/joakimkarud

Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/-7YDBIGCXsY

Episode Transcript


Episode 31 – Can I be friends with my Ex?

Louise Rumball: Hi everyone, and welcome back to another episode of the Open House Podcast with Louise Rumball and the incredible Dr. Tari Mack. If you guys haven’t listened to all the episodes yet, we have a huge backlog of the most amazing free therapy content, if I may say so myself. These episodes are jam-packed with so much information from Dr. Tari’s entire career as a clinical psychologist and relationship expert and my entire life. I have basically shared everything I’ve learned and everything that I’ve worked through.

So if you haven’t listened to the last few episodes, episode 30 was on pacing and how to take things slow in a relationship, episode 31 which is the last. Episode 31 was on all things trust issues, and we have the most insane feedback on that episode. And today episode 32, we are discussing the very juicy question of, can you ever really be friends with your ex?

So, Dr. Tari, everyone is obsessed with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. From the moment that they broke up, there were always these will they, won’t they, will they ever get back together? But the media constantly tells us that they are actually just friends and they’ve had a very friendly relationship despite everything that they’ve gone through.

But when you look at them, you can tell that they’re not best friends. So today we are going to be discussing the 50 shades of friendship with an ex. Before we get into talking about some of my own personal, very juicy stories, I just want to ask you, can you ever really be friends with an ex? And this is the answer from a therapist. So let’s go!

Dr. Tari: You can only ever really be friends with an ex if you wholeheartedly want them to be happy without you. So friendship means that you care about another person so much that you have their best interest at heart. And so if you’re friends with an ex, that means that when they meet somebody and they fall in love, and they’re extremely happy that you wholeheartedly feel good for them. You feel happy for them. Now, how often does that actually happen?

I think it’s pretty rare. I think we often say, oh yeah, I’m friends with my ex, so we’re just friends, but that criteria isn’t really met and we actually are getting a lot of secondary needs met. It’s not really friendship in something else.

Louise Rumball: That’s just such an amazingly beautiful way of putting it is that friendship is about someone being happy, even if that is not with you.

So let’s get into the reasons that people try to stay connected with someone. Why they say, oh, we’re just friends or, oh, pretend that they can maybe have a relationship with them?

What’s going on deeper or more deep down?

Dr. Tari: I think one of the first reasons that happens is secretly we’re hoping we’re going to get back together with that person. But maybe that person doesn’t want a date us anymore, or maybe we both know we can’t be together. So now we’re calling it a friendship and we still get to hang out all the time.

But, secretly there’s still a wish and a hope that it’s going to work.

Louise Rumball: I feel really seen by that already because when my ex, when we would speak about how maybe we wouldn’t be together, we would always say, oh, we’re always going to be friends forever.

Like we can’t, neither of us going to be able to get rid of each other, there’s no way that this friends, this could, we could just go from this to nothing. And when you said that about when we just repurposing the relationship under the friendship umbrella. It’s made me realize like, oh yeah, that’s what we were doing there, like, that, wasn’t really a real friendship that we were talking about.

Dr. Tari: It’s denial. Sometimes they’re not ready to let go. So like, I like what you said, we repurpose it, we call it something else.

Louise Rumball: Literally we repurpose it. So I love that secretly hoping that you might get back together. What else, what are other reasons that people repurpose a relationship into a friendship?

Dr. Tari: I think sometimes it’s because we like the attention and validation that we get from our ex, especially if they want to get back together with us. We keep them around because we liked that feeling of power, knowing that somebody wants us and they’re hoping to get back together with us.

They’re giving us attention. So we call it friendship. We’ve set a boundary, but now we’re calling it friendship, but that’s not friendship. 

Louise Rumball: And for me, it can often go a lot deeper because when we’ve broken up with someone, that person has learned how to love us. They’ve learned how to pleasure us. They’ve learned how to care for us. They’ve learned how to handle us in the worst parts of our life, the best parts of our life, they can handle everything.

And I think that sometimes when something goes wrong, the first person you want to go to is them because they know all about your family and they know all about your job and they know all about your client or whatever is going on. Super interesting around the attention piece. Do you think that also goes into maybe wanting that stability still from them and trying to repurpose it under friendship instead of the relationship?

Dr. Tari: Yeah. And I think what you’re describing is comfort. Yeah, because we want that comfort and hopefully in any romantic relationship, there was an actual friendship as a part of that romantic connection. And so we try to hold on to just that piece and, take the romance out of it. So we can still have the comfort of that friendship, unfortunately, because of the history, because of the feelings, it usually does not work out cleanly that way,

Louise Rumball: The comfort piece is one that hits very close to home for me. And I think particularly with anyone that has been in a codependent relationship or anything even vaguely resembling co-dependent because what I found with my ex is, as I’ve mentioned many times like I was not in a good place when I met him.

I struggled with fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain disorder. So my pain was really bad at the time because I was going through a lot of emotional stress. My mental health wasn’t good. I had a lot of family stuff going on, and he just came in, and he comforted me and held space for me and loved me and carried me through it.

So when we broke up that comfort piece, the warmth, the ever reliable, that always stable, and that’s what I guess codependency is that always that whenever you need them, whatever happens. I learned to rely on him rather than learning to provide comfort to myself. And so, when that was taken away from me, it was really painful.

And my inner child, since I’ve learned therapy was left on its own cold, abandoned, lonely, scared, and fearful because I have been taking all of my warmth and comfort from outside of me. So my question for you is if this resonates with anyone? How can we look to provide that comfort to ourselves?

Is it when our exleaves, we need to find our home base, we need to reconnect and nurture a relationship with ourselves? Do we need to go to therapy? Do we need to talk about what we’re feeling? What happens then?

Dr. Tari: Yeah, all of those things. And some of us haven’t learned yet how to nurture ourselves, how to show up for ourselves, comfort ourselves, be compassionate with ourselves.

And that’s a really important life skill that unfortunately, most of us are not taught or shown how to do. And you mentioned feeling your feelings. So that’s a huge part of it, right? Letting yourself feel what you feel. Asking for help from those around you, therapy is a great option. But also, friends, family, asking them to come over so you can cry and also learning how to sit with the pain on your own, how to just feel your feelings.

Oftentimes we’re afraid if we like open that gate, it’s going to be a huge flood that then we can’t recover from, but we always. Find out that, every feeling is temporary. So if you let it come up and out and sit with it, eventually it dissipates. And once you learn that you get better at it.

Louise Rumball: I love that.

And in terms of practical application, in my own experience, I love what you said about how sometimes we’re scared to feel because it’s going to be like a tsunami that overwhelms us. So we suppress, we disconnect, we distract, but what I found with the really intense emotions that I went through in my breakup was I just needed two people that every single day I could check in with, and I have two girlfriends, I would just check in with them, a quick voice note or a quick message. Just saying, this is what I’m feeling today. And we still do it now. Every day we just check in with each other and this is what I’m feeling. And to have that, I was a little consistent, like a stream or river rather than a tsunami when you don’t share and then it builds up is really helpful to start also nurture those relationships around you that can be the rivers of support coming in from elsewhere, rather than it just being that one connection to an ex.

We get so reliant on them, and that’s natural. We spend so much time with them. Maybe we live with them; maybe we were even married to them. They take up a huge amount of our time.

But I think that what I’ve learned is instead of focusing on trying to mess with your ex, I think you need to be focusing on trying to be friends with yourself and the other people around you. That’s the way that you are going to hit on.

Dr. Tari: Absolutely. Absolutely. And this can become like coming back to being friends with your ex.

Sometimes, if we haven’t developed that, then we continue to look for that, to that person, even when they’re now in another relationship. And this is something I really want to talk about because can you be friends with an ex if they’re now in another relationship? It’s very tricky. You have to make sure that you are being respectful to the new relationship and obviously that your ex’s job too primarily. 

But you need to be honest with yourself because of there are feelings of jealousy or competition with that new person. Maybe it’s just someone that they just started dating. And all of a sudden you’re wanting more attention from them. Are you wanting to see, do they still like me?

Do I still have this power over them? That is not cool. It’s not kind. And it’s certainly not friendship. 

Louise Rumball: So you mentioned that sometimes we like to see if we can be friends with an ex either when they’re single or in a new relationship, just to see if we have that power over them.

And the reason I’m giggling is this is such a bad story on, and please you don’t want to judge me for this. But when I was in my twenties, I spent many years that man that we’ve spoken about a lot on the podcast in the Justin and Hailey codependency episodes and my solo episode about codependency. And we caught cold Turkey soon as we broke up.

Because, as I mentioned, I have never, ever been friends with an ex. I just don’t know how to do it. I don’t even want to do it. Nothing. So we bumped into each other. A couple of years later, he had moved on. He had a new girlfriend. I was single. We ended up hanging out cause we bumped into. And the same bar and he invited me to join for a drink.

And basically, at the end of the night, we ended up hooking up, and I didn’t even really want to hook up with him. It just felt like as a sober person, I watched him get more and more drunk and I watched his bar has come down and I watched him start to say things about the past.

Start to say, oh, I still feel X, Y, Z, about you. Or I still think X, Y, Z, that about you. And as we were hooking up, I just thought to myself, what am I doing? Like why am I doing this? It was almost I wanted to prove that I could do this or that I could still get him, or I could still want him to fancy me and that is so messed up.

And, he’s broken up with the girlfriend now, but either way, I felt awful after it. And this was all very much pre the work, but the power piece is so interesting, and I can’t help but think that when a partner gets a new girlfriend or boyfriend, that is something that around being superseded by someone else, are they better than me?

Are they prettier than me? Are they sexier than me? Can I? Do I still have a little claw in there? Can I pull them back? so I love the piece on power and I think for anyone that’s feeling that or the need, or want to put that in chlorine, what would your advice be? Is it that you just need to like fully step back and let them get on their life. Where do you go from there?

Dr. Tari: First of all, you shared that story, which is very vulnerable, but I think many of us have been in that same situation. It’s hard to see a next move on. And before we’re aware, we do things like that. If you notice yourself feeling that way, or maybe you’re doing these things right now, think that I always tell people, think about what would your highest self do cause you don’t need to waste time competing…

Louise Rumball: I was going to say pining Backwoods. 

Dr. Tari: Yeah.

Louise Rumball: You should be moving forward.

Dr. Tari: You don’t need to waste time. You don’t need that attention, that validation from an ex. That relationship is over and also you don’t want to be that kind of woman that is competing with other women, right? If you’re putting that energy out there, you’re going to get that from other women.

You want to be a woman’s woman. You want to be a safe woman, confident woman who’s looking forward. So just be gentle and curious with yourself why am I feeling like I want to win here and turn your gaze forward. No more looking back. Turn your gaze forward. There are plenty of people that are right for you.

That relationship is over. And if you have fears there that are keeping you from letting go or stories you’re telling you about yourself and your own worth, then just remind yourself the stories are not true. And there’s more waiting for you. 

Louise Rumball: Also, it’s not true validation. Okay, maybe they’ll flirt with you.

Maybe they’ll hook up with you the next day, like that’s gone, they’re still with that person. And actually, no, it’s horrible. It’s bad energy. It doesn’t feel nice. The next day I didn’t feel, oh yeah, great. Like he still wanted me. He still found me. I didn’t feel, I thought it’s told, I just, felt like why did I do that?

Whatever that, it’s obviously my own story, but I think that when we’re feeling that need for power, it’s actually a need for validation. It’s not where we should be going, because we need to be learning on looking forward and also just validating ourselves in the present moment and understanding that your ex is with someone else.

It’s not a reflection on you. And I think this actually ties into my more recent ex. Anyone listening will know that he just broke up with me out of the blue on the phone.

Never spoke to me. Never saw me again and I was really, really heartbroken. Really, really abandoned. I was desperate for a very long time, even up until like really recently, even, maybe still now that I want to be friends with him or I wanted to be friends with him.

And part of that was because we were friends before. There was a possibility we could rebuild a friendship. I think I was kidding myself if I’m honest. I really don’t think that is what we should be doing. But my point is that I wanted to connect with him because I needed validation that he didn’t hate me.

I needed validation that what we shared together was as beautiful as my memory had remembered it. And that he hadn’t left thinking, oh, I hate her. What a waste of a year and a half of my life, et cetera, et cetera. We want to know that they also like us and care for us and, grateful for the time we spent together.

Dr. Tari: Yeah. You want to know that it meant something, right. And that your experience of it can be trusted. I’m sure that it did mean something, but there’s, there was also a part of him you didn’t know about, you didn’t know that he was capable of treating you this way. That is a horribly painful and aggressive way to leave someone. And you also have to remember that when you say to yourself, oh, I wish we could be friends.

You have to understand that’s also a part of this person. And does he even deserve your friendship?

Louise Rumball: No, probably not. Uh, I think that it just ties back to the comfort piece. I think ultimately is that I miss the comfort of that friendship. I miss him knowing everything about me. It’s not actually the friendship that I want with him.

Like I don’t want to go and walk around London with a coffee and like talk about stuff. Really, if you like look into it, what I’m missing is that deeper feeling in your stomach, in your body like of safety, rather than the feeling of friendship, which is a bit more like light and bright and airy, I think.

Dr. Tari: But he’s not safe. That’s the thing. What you’re wanting doesn’t exist anymore because he’s proven himself not to be a safe person. Safe people don’t do that.

Louise Rumball: Yeah, you’re right. Hard truths to hear live on podcast, but it’s true. It’s true. So yeah, I think that validation piece and the comfort piece, two pieces that really resonate with me as well as that power piece, the third.

Let’s talk about now, something that I don’t relate to at all. So I have never ever had sex with an ex-boyfriend. I am weirdly proud of it. If you couldn’t tell. I always tell myself well done. That is one thing I have not done is I have never slept with an ex-boyfriend. So let’s talk about people that do. What happens when you break up with someone and you still keep sleeping together. Because for me, I’m like, hell no, that is just obviously just going to end. It is what are your thoughts on it? Why do people do it? Can you do it? What’s going on with that?

Dr. Tari: Obviously you can do it, but it’s not friendship. It’s something else.

Louise Rumball: Okay, just to clarify – fucking your ex-boyfriend is not being friends with them, again. 

Dr. Tari: No, it’s something else. And normally, when people are having sex with their ex, it’s also for one of the reasons we’ve already talked about, right? It’s like comfort and familiarity, hoping you’re going to get back together. Maybe it’s because you’re bored and you want to, again, you want to sleep with someone, and it could be validation too, but it’s never just the sex. Typically, and it never just stops with the sex. There’s feelings there. This episode is about, can I be friends with an ex?

Okay. So here’s the truth. If you’re sleeping with your ex, you’re not friends with them. It’s something different.

Louise Rumball: I love that. That’s so funny. Okay. So let’s get into some actionable tips and tricks for anyone that is trying to stay friends with their ex, wanting to be friends with their ex, or still connected with their ex.

So let’s say that they need to have a discussion with them basically saying, I actually need to move forward and I can’t get over you and I remain connected to you. How would you go about that? Let’s give people some soundbites.

Dr. Tari: You say, I’m realizing I’ve wanted to be in touch with you, even though we’ve broken up because I still care about you.

I like being with you. It’s comfortable being with you, whatever the truth is, but I’m also realizing I need to move forward. And I can’t do that if you’re still in my life and I’m still spending time with you, or we’re still talking. So as hard as it is, I need to set a boundary and we need to move on from each other.

And again, if this person really cares about you, they will completely respect that and let you go.

Louise Rumball: Interesting. Sometimes it just feels like when they phone, you need to pick up the phone because you want to make sure they’re okay.

But actually, if they keep phoning you, it’s actually not respectful and it’s not honoring or respecting that boundary that you’ve just done. So that is interesting. And I also think that when you have that conversation, you need to really stick and commit to it. And I think. Yes. A lot of life is about repeating cycles until you’re ready to break them.

But what I also realized as I’m getting older and going to therapy is, let’s just break these cycles a bit quicker. The second that you become aware of the cycle, let’s just break it because what’s the point in repeating it for a year. The second you become aware of it. I think you just have to be like, okay, I’ve got the self-awareness around this situation.

I’m basically staying in touch with my ex because I want validation or for power game or codependency, sex, hoping we’ll get back together and we’re not going to get back together and we shouldn’t get back together. So I’m going to have this conversation, set the boundary, block them on social media, which I really think everyone should be doing.

We’ve never spoken about this, but I personally just think you can all get over someone romantically if you’re just watching what they do. Do you agree with that?

Dr. Tari: Yes, I totally agree with that. That’s still a connection to them.

Louise Rumball: And we always say people that want closure actually just want connection and keeping any connection alive is not a great idea.

So yeah, I think you just have to commit to that cycle and be like, okay, I’m going to move forward. This relationship didn’t work for me, and I’m not going to just keep giving it a go.

Yeah. 

What about people that do decide to give it another go with the ex or people that are friends with the ex? And then they veer back into territory of, oh, look, we’re about back here again, like we’re sleeping together and we’re going to give it another go.

Do you think that just has to happen until you both realize that this is ultimately not the right relationship and we both need to cut this? Have you got any advice for people that keep getting back with ex is because they’re being friends in between?

Dr. Tari: Yeah. I think you’re just stuck.

Louise Rumball: I feel you said just stop. And I was like, that’s a good piece of advice.

Dr. Tari: No, but you’re blocking yourself and there’s fear. There’s fear underneath that. Whether you’re afraid of being alone, whether you have a few bad dates, so you go back to what’s comfortable.

You’re going to repeat that and repeat that until you decide, okay. I’m willing to hold out for a new relationship, and you can’t grow and change if you keep going back to your ex. And at least be honest with yourself, quit calling it a friendship, when you get together for coffee and just be honest, at least with yourself about what it really is.

I’m missing my ex. I’m bored. I need validation. I had some bad dates and I wanna, I want someone to, I want to be around someone that I know is attracted to me, whatever the truth is. Just be honest with yourself. Like, quit calling it friendship. Cause it’s not pure friendship.

Louise Rumball: It’s not.

And I think I see that a lot. If I go on a date and it’s not good that I miss my ex just for a little bit. One of my good friends feels the same way. Every time she goes on a bad date, it just makes her miss her ex. And I think understanding that sometimes we’re just needing or looking backwards for something that felt good.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to feel good again in the future. And if, how are we going to feel better in the future? Because the reason that we leave in these relationships behind is because we are opening the path energetically for someone that is even better than what has come before.

Dr. Tari: And just because you miss someone doesn’t mean you need to be with them, you’re gonna miss someone.

Louise Rumball: Yes, because you miss someone that means to be with them. I put this on TikTok this week. Just because you have a deep longing for someone does not make them your soulmate. Just because you have a deep longing for someone doesn’t make them your soulmate. It hit me so hard. People feel that because we feel something to someone that it means something that we should be with them, that we should look backwards, that we should get back with them, that we should be friends with them, that we should stay connected.

It’s not true. Literally, all inner child is just like, basically clinging out for a cuddle, like me pick me. I’m not all real adult self. So yeah. I love that. And I actually, for the first time ever, I don’t have anything else to say. I feel like we’ve gone through so much on this and on a topic that we’ve never ever spoken about.

So is there anything else from you that you would like to add?

Dr. Tari: It’s the most important thing is just really be honest with yourself and compassionate. If you’ve been calling it a friendship with your expert at something else, just own that, and then ask yourself, is this really serving me and helping me move toward what I really want?

Louise Rumball: And I guess the final point for me is that for those people out there to all friends with that. They truly feel nothing, no romantic connection, no longing validation, power, anything; they are happy for them and a new partner they’re respectful, then that’s amazing and well done you for being a self-regulated person and those people can also give us hope that maybe for a couple of us. It’s possible. I possibly think it’s not possible for me, but maybe one day.

Dr. Tari: Never say never. 

Louise Rumball: Yes, exactly. So a huge thank you to you. What an episode. Dr. Tari and I are working on something very exciting in the background.

So please do head over to thisisopenhouse.com. Sign up to the mailing list to be one of the first people to find out. And other than that, if you’ve enjoyed this episode, please do share to your Instagram story. Give us a rating on apple podcasts or Spotify, so we can continue to share free therapy with those who need it the most.

So thank you, Dr. Tari, I love you so much and I will speak to you soon.
Dr. Tari: Love you too. Bye.