Can we still be friends? ...sometimes stepping back is better

July 20, 2000

Can we still be friends? ...sometimes stepping back is better

By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer

See also: People move on, but the wounds remain | Weathering the storm of a breakup

The tear-stained cheeks aren't even dry, the freshly-bruised ego a hearty shade of purple, when the hammer comes down:

"But I'd still like to be friends."


For a jilted lover licking a fresh wound, the words are like twisting the dagger even deeper. And while a pledge of friendship might seem like the right thing to do, sometimes stepping back is better.

"Most people try to stay friends after they break up, and I think they suffer. And the healing takes longer because of it," says Leslie Parrott, author of "Relationships: Making Bad Relationships Better and Good Relationships Great."


"People often try to stay friends because they're trying to do the right thing for the other person," she says. "All those TV shows like 'Friends' portray relationships like you can stay friends without much hurt, and that's not usually the case."

Instead, each member of the couple has different visions of what the relationship should be: The one who wants to be friends, and the one still clinging to something more.

It's a situation that can breed contempt as each person tries to please the other, making concessions to salvage some form of relationship.

"When you're in the most intense, emotional moments of a breakup, you're in a mode of protection, either protecting the other person or protecting yourself," Parrott says.

Eventually, something will happen to force the couple to confront conflicting feelings, says Edwina Barton with Catoctin Counseling Center. Often, it takes the form of one person entering a new relationship.

"Usually it takes some pain somewhere along the line for either person to realize they can't have it the way they want it," Barton says. "I think it's the pain both are trying to avoid, because it's hard to let go of a relationship, even if you want to remain friends."

Which is not to say staying friends can't be done. Sometimes, a couple decides together that they would be better off without romantic involvement, Parrott says.

"In every relationship there needs to be an ending and an in-between time before a new beginning," she says. "It's an individual process, but once you both get to that place of acceptance, you're on solid ground."

Regardless of the kind of breakup that takes place, each person needs to realize that the other is going to go through a difficult time, Parrott says.

"You really do go through all the stages of grief, depending on how much the relationship meant to you," she says. "You can't do a pain-free breakup, but you can do a healthy breakup."

Barton cautions that men and women need to brace themselves for the commitment any relationship requires, and the pain that results when the commitment disappears.

"It just takes work, hard work, to maintain," she says. "A lot of people don't want to put that work in. They just want it to be wonderful."

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