When You Can’t “Just Be Friends” With Your Ex

05 Jun 2007

When you have worked with abused women for some time as I have, it is easy to be clear, and clever, about their situation. When you’re standing on the sideline it’s easy to see the big, ugly picture and to feel detached compassion. 

When I think back to my own experience, I chose to take responsibility for my mistakes, my naivete, my frailties, because what I own I can change. I quickly learned that feeling sorry for myself would keep me stuck in victim mode, which is a dangerous, painful place to be. So I became quite clinical in the way I viewed that abused me.

I have no regrets about that. It worked for me. But in the past couple of weeks I have been reminded of parts of the picture that I was missing.

I the last couple of weeks I’ve watched a young friend navigate her way through the minefield of a break-up. It wasn’t pretty.

Abusive men generally respond to the news that they have been dumped in certain ways. These include:

  • Declarations
    of undying love. Suddenly your      abuser ‘morphs’ into a lovesick swain (or swine). Just give him one more chance and he  will be your perfect lover – for the next few days or weeks anyway, until  old patterns win out.
  • Abject  apology. He could have, should have, would have done better if only he ha  realized. (So, why, oh why, would you want to go back to someone who was so insensitive to your
    feelings? And yet we do
  • The  desire to be your friend. 
  • Threats and violence. Usually when he sees that his other behavior aren’t working.

My young friend has been spared the declarations of undying love. Instead her ex wants to still be friends, as she is ‘an amazing person’. Now here’s the thing: they weren’t friends in the first place. 

The friendship ploy is one that abusive men use frequently, without any sense of irony. If we accept the dictionary definition of a friend as ‘a person with whom one enjoys mutual affection and regard’ then an abusive relationship offers no foundation for friendship. And yet we are taught from an early age not to turn away the hand of friendship.

My young friend’s ex-partner has sent her repeated messages pleading with her not to ignore him, saying that he thought she was ‘better than that’ and asking for no more than half an hour, spent in his
company, sharing a coffee and some conversation. 

Of course there are strings attached. Of course he makes her feel bad because she will not comply with his request. 

Of course she would love to reply and justify her position. But she chooses not to do so. Why? Because even at her tender age she knows that they cannot be friends. 

She knows that what he actually wants is confirmation that he still has some power over her. Behind his protestations of friendship it is not hard to read the subtext of fury and frustration. If she
were to meet up with him he might be nice to her. He might play the lovesick swain, or the wronged friend or suitor, or he might revert to abusive type again, even before his coffee turned

He would, at the very least, see that his persistence had paid off and he would push for more contact and another meeting. Things would rapidly move into a downward spiral for her, a reassuring sense of his power for him. 

Leaving an abusive man is never easy. Women are most at risk when the relationship breaks down. 

It’s easy to see why you could argue that throwing an abusive man the sop of friendship might keep his anger in check. Naturally, he hates being ignored. But it remains the safest course of action. 

My young friend will not stop at ignoring her ex. She will notify the police that he is harassing her with texts, emails and phone calls. It is an ugly course of action to have to take, but far less ugly
than enduring weeks and months of whatever behaviours her ex-partner might choose to mete out, if she gave him the whip hand in the relationship again.

Every week I hear from women who want to ‘be friends’ with their abusive ex. What they are actually saying is code for wanting to have some kind of relationship with him that makes them feel good about themselves. 

So here is the bald, ugly fact: when your relationship with someone who made you feel bad about yourself ends, changing the name of the relationship and continuing won’t leave you feeling any better about yourself. 

A friend of mine used to talk about the  “same old sh*t, different wrapper” syndrome. As far as friendship with an abusive ex-partner goes, she wasn’t far off the mark. The only thing is, under the guise of
friendship you will be exposing yourself to even greater risk than you were before. 

When you decide to leave an abusive relationship you have only two choices: you can move on or you can go down. One thing above all others you must have learned in your abusive
relationship; there is no hope of compromise. The only compromise that was ever made was made by you. 

You have a choice: would you rather ‘be friends’ with your ex, or have a life and a future? Rest assured, you can’t have both. 


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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